Friday, August 2, 2013

A Hair Twist

Posted By on Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Women express themselves through their hair.  It tells our stories - it can even express a mood for the day. In many ways, it's a status symbol and in some cultures, it's your art form.  Hair is a blank canvas, some with naturally built in texture. You can color it, twist it, braid it, add to it, cut it or not have any at all - and that's a statement too.  Black women, for a long time, have struggled with the notion of good hair and bad hair.  (See Chris Rock's take on Good Hair for example).  Recently, within the last 5-7 years, it's been the trend to wear your hair in its natural state - to be proud of your own particular hair.  Black women are literally letting their hair down and not "relaxing" it with perms to make it straight as much. Natural hair is a huge movement right now.

I went natural two years ago. I wanted to explore what my hair looked like.  My mom permed my hair when I was four years old because it was too thick to manage she said.  When I told her I was going natural, she said I wouldn't be accepted in corporate America. She told me that this wasn't Africa and black women just don't wear their hair "out" in America if they wanted to be viewed as a professional.  I did it anyway and fell in love with my unique curl pattern. Now, 2 years later, I'm ready to find out what else my hair can do. What are the other options - what do women in Africa do with their hair and would it work for mine?

Wandering around in Indy's new "international marketplace", I found myself peering at a couple of African ladies braiding, locking and twisting hair in the back of a product shop. They looked so interesting. They were dark, adorned with beads and colorful cloths. They were smiling and speaking in their language, laughing. I made an appointment with them to do my hair two weeks later. Why not?

When I got to the shop, they proceeded to twist my hair and didn't ask for much direction from me. I tried to get a conversation going. I really wanted to learn more about their process, what hair meant to them. I noticed the lady braiding mine, Seena, had paint on her feet and a beautiful skirt on. I asked where I could get a skirt like hers. Chuckling, she said, "Oh not here, honey, you get this back home."

I told her my name was Mali, spelled like the African country. She told me that Mali was beautiful and that I'd love it.  I finally got her talking - she loved talking about where she was from.  She said that here in the States, people work for a living instead of just living. In her home, Senegal, there is a party every day and art. "Well, art is a part of our daily lives," she said. "It's in our clothes, in our hair, on our bodies; art is everyday normal." 

click to enlarge mali_1.jpg

I let her twist my hair for nearly four hours. Two hours in, she leaned over and said, "Let's put this in your hair, yes?" A long package of red dyed hair was dangling in my face and I quickly said oh no, no thank you. "Yes," she said. "It will be nice. I will try it and you tell me if you like it." I let her try it...  

Seconds later and convinced that getting Senagal-ese twists were enough without also trying red weave, I told her I'd keep one twist red but to please take the others out. It was interesting though. I'm sure she thought that I was much too conservative and maybe, to her, not very artfully inclined. The ladies carried on, sharing stories in French and using their small fingers to make beautiful hair creations.

I left the shop with a completely new look and a new outlook on our hair.  Our hair, in some cultures more than others, is an opportunity for a creative outlet, for art.  Each one different than the next.

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About The Author

Malina Simone

Malina Simone

Malina Simone Jeffers works to connect audiences and get people excited about Indy via local organization, Mosaic City. Mali sits on the B.O.D. for Big Car, Indiana Humanities and The Exchange at Indy Hub. Tagged “Arts up-and-comer” and “The Unsegregater” by the Indianapolis Star, and arts and culture winner for... more

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