Navigating the Politics of Weaves and Extensions

by Elaine Allen

webmaster of Nature Girl-Locks for the Natural Beauty

Weaves and extensions are a hot topic – one that incites strong opinions on both sides. There is arguably a stigma associated with weaving and extensions. A stigma that produces shame, incites condemnation, jokes and challenges cultural loyalties. The sociology behind the situation is complex – as are all issues involving a ‘cultures’ assimilation into a wider American culture. Finding an identity that satisfies on both a personal, and cultural level is tough – it’s a political and sociological mine field. It’s also a pursuit that has challenged African Americans since we were brought here..

How do we reclaim sorely missed cultural and ethnic ‘real estate’? How do we retain and improve upon the culture we currently have? How do we give it the credence and respect it deserves? And finally, how do we reconcile the demands we have for our individual standards of personal appearance with those of the demands and expectations our cultural ‘family’? The struggle is played out through a variety of situations including the clothes we wear, our speech patterns, our associations and even, the way we wear our hair. The reconciliation of that challenge is a personal journey the ‘solution’ for which can only ultimately be decided upon by the individual.

My business touches upon one aspect of that struggle – the hair.

Hair is a personal thing. Politics and culture notwithstanding, it is a persons ‘crown’. The importance and relevance of hair in every culture around the world since we decided to walk upright cannot be overstated. Finding the style that reflects how we ‘feel’ about ourselves is the focus of extraordinary energy, and clearly a fundamentally human preoccupation. Humans, regardless of ethnicity, want their hair to reflect who they are – we always have and I think it’s safe to say we always will…

Weaves tend to offend for a couple of reasons. On a cultural level because of what they appear, on the surface, to represent — A denial of ‘self’. A dangerous thing when a culture is fighting to reclaim and identify itself.

In response I tell my clients the following: Individuals define a culture.

You wake each morning and are fully aware of the color and cultural underpinning of the person staring back at you in the mirror. You know the color and culture of the parents who bore you and the family members with whom you’ve shared your life. You know, to some extent, the ethnicity of your friends and colleagues and you also know if it mirrors your own or not. Hairstyles did not communicate all of that.

I understand that for some the push to “go natural” is an attempt to love ‘the self’ – a difficult objective in a Euro centric society that mostly creates a fetish of black culture. But it is not a solution if an individual does not subscribe to that idea. Wearing an afro or dreads does not make an individual more culturally responsible if it does not communicate who that individual is for him or herself.

Be clear here: Whether you wear a dashiki or are ghetto glam, whether you wear your hair relaxed or in locks, one does not win you more “black power points” over the other. The struggle and challenges are the same regardless of your choice of adornment.

Now, in a practical sense weaves offend because, more often than not, they look unnatural and detract from the wearers physical assets. However, wearing a bad weave or extensions is not a cultural assault but rather, at most, a highly visible, but relatively harmless fashion tragedy.

The power of the choice lays in being well educated and making the choice that best suites your life. You don’t have to politicise your fashion choices. Quite the contrary, the real politics get played out in the calibre of person you are and the integrity with which you deal with others. One of the greatest shows of respect you can give your culture.

Find your look, whatever that might be — then rock the hell out of it!

The rest of us will just have to respect your choice. As we should..

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