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barbara walters and cross-cultural hair relations

July 30th, 2006     by Thea Lim     Comments

I’m a strong proponent of the belief that the personal is the political. Hair: massively political. But lately, with the help of Barbara Walters, I’m learning that hair is not only the arena for personal political battles with things like sexism and consumerism, it’s also a great stage for racism!

From birth we learn that hair is one of the most important expressions of “feminine beauty.” My battle with hair and popular perception has been fraught with enough neuroses and over-analyses to give Woody Allen a run for his money (do you think Woody has hair issues?). For a long time I wore it really short, which was shocking where I grew up. I think a lot of people thought, horror of horrors, that I might be (gasp!) a lesbian. But when I realised that I was wearing it short not necessarily because I liked it, but because I was trying to rebel against how ladies are supposed to look, I was disturbed to realise that whether you’re rebelling against hair facism, or conforming to it, you’re still being controlled by it. The drama! The anguish!

What happens when you throw race into the mix of this wildly complex issue, considering that women of different backgrounds have very different hair types? I am often told by people who aren’t East Asian how lucky East Asian women are to have such beautiful manageable hair. As an East Asian woman, I say this is poppycock! My non-East Asian comrades who covet the apparent easy Asian hair have been shocked to hear that one the most recent crazes to sweep that side of the continent is “hair rebonding,” where women cheerfully pour face-burning chemicals on their allegedly manageable hair to make sure it stays stick straight.

For a hiliarious/horrifying example of one woman totally mis-managing cross-cultural hair relations, witness Barbara Walters and co. on The View alienate Brandy and Tanika Ray here, and then you can watch them tell Mo’Nique that she’s gross because she doesn’t shave her legs here. I laughed! I cried! I mostly cried!

Tags: body politics, media savvy

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