365 Days of Hair

If you were offered a once in a life time opportunity to leave the comforts of home and travel around the world for 12 months studying the topic of your dreams, would you do it? What would you study?

Fortunately, I have this chance. Starting in a few short hours (3 hours and 16 minutes to be exact)  I embark on what is sure to be the journey of a lifetime, and my chosen topic– hair! But, why hair?

What a woman’s hair says or does not say about her has long been used to define her identity, beauty, and femininity, especially for Black women.  Hair represents a woman’s glory, her beauty, and serves as the doorway into her inner identity. Because of its importance, much time,  effort, and social clout is placed in it, making it a highly debated, cantankerous, and volitile subject in the black community.

In the United States, women of color have struggled with societal beauty standards for hundreds of years. For these women , hair takes on a role larger than merely ornamental decoration; it is a manifestation of the struggle and burden that black hair has represented in creating a black identity in a white dominated culture. The norms for women’s hair in particular are simple; the longer and straighter, the better. Because of globalization, more black women are able to attain long straight hair in order to satisfy white beauty standards, however, at what societal, ethnic, and gendered cost? I beleive that the export of Indian hair has further complicated the relationship between a black woman and her hair, particularly the way in which she constructs her own identity. Hair has become much much more than just hair.

During my Bristol year, I will follow the global movement of Indian hair to its major export cites around the globe. I hope to learn about the types of hair products used by women of color and the impact the West has on international beauty norms. Most importantly, I will explore how Indian hair is used to create women of color’s sense of self within their culture and community.  I will investigate the politics of hair through the power relations surrounding its use, and how and why hair that is shipped around the world shapes culture.

In each country, I will spend time with hair exporters, product manufacturers, stylists, and consumers tracking the global route of hair and product demand. I will volunteer in salons, sweeping floors, shampooing and learning styling techniques; in supply shops, taking inventory and tracking shipments; in companies, learning the business of hair. This year will definitly be filled with lots of hair if you couldn’t tell already.

This blog is my attempt to share my adventures with the larger community, track my journey, and help make sense of a multi-billion dollar industry rooted in women’s vanity. So as I get ready to go, I know there is so much more out there than meets the eye. While nervous, I know I must continue living life like a calvary charge! Enjoy the blog, and please email me along the way!

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