Friday, April 17, 2015

My Unintended Social Experiment: HairGate

“The most violent element in society is ignorance” – Emma Goldman

This week, I unwittingly found myself the conductor of a social experiment. How did I conduct such a high academic enterprise without even meaning to?

I wore my hair differently.

Yup. It’s that simple. You see, every day I straighten my hair. Otherwise it curls. And I don’t mean little tip-up-at-the-ends Carol-Brady-flip curls. I mean serious volume, brush-both-sides-of-the-doorframe curls. Disaffected 90’s grunge hair. Because of this, yes, I’m very attached to my hair straightener.

This week my hair straightener began acting up. I turned it on and it smoked. Not because of product build-up on the plates; it was smoking from the cord. Oh crap. That’s not good, I thought. I immediately unplugged it and helplessly watched the cord melt off. It was 9:30 at night. I had work the next morning.

Ok. Curls it would have to be.

Curls, Day 1

This was me the first day I wore my hair curly. Not too bad, right? Of course, keep in mind some of it had already been straightened before the Death of the Hair Straightener. I’d slept on my hair, and that managed to flatten some of it out.  I am so far out of my comfort zone here. Before this day, I hadn’t worn my hair curly for years. Possibly decades.

 Curls, Day 2. They're growing.

This is the next day. Yes, the hair is bigger. It was a combination of f actors, really: I had just showered that morning, it was dreadfully humid outside, and there was no straightening involved this time.

This is the hair I sported for the next two days before I was finally able to replace my hair straightener. Several people did compliment my hair, some people looked at me and simply pointed out that my hair was different (thanks for that…I had no idea), and others just looked at me and blinked.

What I found truly incredible about these Three Days of Hair, were the things some people said to me, or asked me. This is the unwitting social experiment of it all. Over the course of the past three days, but mostly when the curls were at their peak on the last two days, I was asked or told the following at least once, and some more than once:

- You [finally] did your hair today! I got this one from a lot of people, two of whom actually used the word “finally”. I “do” my hair every day (unless I wear a ball cap). Ironically, these were the days I didn’t “do” it.

- Your hair is different. Gee, you don’t say. Damn curls must’ve just appeared there when I wasn’t looking. How ‘bout that? Is this a true/false statement? How am I supposed to respond to this?

- Are you dating someone? As if the only reason I could possibly have for changing something about myself is for a man in my life. But no. I’m not dating anyone. Why? Do you know someone? (haha, kidding…sort of…)

- Are you going through a breakup? No. Again, my hair does not revolve around my status as a Plus One.

- Are you a Gypsy? I swear to God. Has no one ever seen a white person with curly hair before?

- Are you really Jewish?  *sigh* I don’t even know what to do with this one. Maybe you’ve missed the cross I wear around my neck every day, which would make me the worst Jew ever. And I didn’t know curly hair was a sign of The People.

- Are you part black? Oh my God. Didn’t you ever watch Mean Girls? You can’t just ask someone this question. Three people asked me if I am part black. Three. I can only assume it’s because of the curls. It certainly can’t be because of the pasty skin that I rock. Thanks for playing, and I would proudly own it if I were, but no, to my knowledge, I’m not.

Are any of these assumptions or questions appropriate? Why would anyone feel free to ask them of me – suddenly – simply because my hair was different? And why would they need to be asked at all? Is my ethnicity anyone’s business? Is my relationship status? Maybe I just wanted to change my hair. Maybe I will again, even if my hair straightener doesn’t break. As I get older, I’m learning to embrace the curls. I actually kind of liked them this week. Why is society so judgmental of the least difference, the least quirk, in others?

I spend 30 minutes each day straightening my hair. That’s almost four hours of my time a week wasted to make my hair—what? More adult? More professional? I’m turning it into something that it’s not to be perceived as something “more”. I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t be afraid to be anything other than what I am: me.

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