It took maintaining this blog to realize how much I love talking about hair; the more extreme or edgy the coiffure, the better (think Marie Antoinette hair stylist Odile Gilbert). This is interesting, as I’m quite the wash-and-go girl in real life. Perhaps, then, I view fantasmic hairdos, really any hairdo slightly more complicated than the ponytail, as feats of magic.
Continuing a previous discussion of what the racial and/or ethnic connotations of Rihanna’s, Cassie’s, and Amber Rose’s unusual hairstyles (which, BTW, did anyone notice how cute Cassie looked next to P. Diddy and designer Zac Posen at a recent event?), I wanted to highlight two more women of color who like to play with their hair (keeping in mind, as Cassandra astutely pointed out in a previous comment, that these ladies’ hairstyles speak to their classed positions as pop musicians).
First up, Janelle Monáe, whose style I highlighted earlier. While on tour with twee psychedelic group Of Montreal (a band for whom she is also a fan), she did a shoot and interview with PAPERMAG. I really love her self-possession and poise here. She seems totally unflappable and completely in control of who she is and what image is trying to project. Dig the way she takes the compliment when the interview mentions that others have hyped her as a 21st century Grace Jones while at the same time pointedly stating that becoming Grace is not her goal, as they are different people (subtitle reads: “Just because we’re two black female pop singers with fades doesn’t mean we’re interchangeable”).
I also find Monáe’s hair care regimen fascinating — she washes her hair with orange juice, maple syrup, and salt to form it into “a bushel of fun and elegance.” I hope my interest in how she maintains her hair and forms it into a pompadour doesn’t scream “Oh my! Look what the black woman does to her hair!” As a white woman, I don’t know how widespread these sorts of treatments are, or if they only work on certain kinds of hair. But I find the idea of using non-cosmetic products toward cosmetic ends and wonder how common and shared they are.
The other woman I wanted to mention is Shingai Shoniwa of The Noisettes. In the music video for “Never Forget You,” a song which evinces a clear indebtedness to the girl group era, we see Shoniwa perform and preen with several different pompadours, as well as a set of Afro puffs.
(As an aside, did anyone else notice the Fabric of My Life crawl at the bottom of the screen when they watched the music video? So, that’s a way Cotton Incorporated, through DDB, are getting the message out. Interesting.)
I think the diversity of hairstyles on display suggest that women of African descent (Shoniwa is British Zimbabwean) may use their hair as a marker of identity, but how that identity is constructed is varied, discursive, and unpredictable.
Just as playing with hair could potentially challenge traditional, white beauty standards and how women of color cultivate (and control) their image, I likewise find it heartening that Shoniwa is the lead singer of a band, a mixed-race, mixed-gender band at that (it isn’t evident from the music video, but Shoniwa is also the bassist).
While I don’t think these women resolve gender, ethnic, and racial tensions intrinsic to the mechanization of the beauty and fashion industry, I do think they challenge it by daring to be themselves, whoever they feel like that may be on any given day.