Cut your hair or let it grow out, dye it or show it gray, sport a mane or cover it up. These are daily acts by which millions of women claim their identity, try to integrate, fight for their rights or respect regulations on which, too often, they have no say.
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was arrested last September by morality police in Tehran for breaking the law requiring women to cover their hair. She was apparently not wearing her veil properly. A few days later, .
Some Iranian women started showing their hair and cutting it. Since then, women from various countries and cultures have shared images and videos of themselves cutting their hair to show their support.
Hair means so much more
The culture has many references in which hair is linked to strength, power, punishment or even intelligence: from or to . In that last shot, it turned out that while it’s not true that blonde hair implies less intelligence, very few blonde people reach Fortune 500 leadership positions.
Today, there is a proliferation of images and videos on social media of women championing all sorts of causes with different head and body hairstyles. Of these, those in which some women shave their heads as a sign of sisterhood with relatives and friends with cancer are particularly poignant. Some are .
Everything for love…
A religious or political question
Some beliefs impose or recommend shaving one’s hair during marriage, and covering it with scarves, hats or wigs in the name of “modesty”. Series such as make these practices visible, in this case in the Hasidic Judaism of the Satmar community.
Other artists reflect in their works the passive or silent rebellion of many women who use shiny fabrics and accessories, or very flashy blond wigs. This was the case of the Iranian in works like (2008).
Miss Hybrid 5 by Shirin Aliabadi, 2008.
reminds us that hair has become one. A clear example is the Afro style, linked to the struggle for civil rights. For Gibson, in this case since the beginning of slavery, when certain haircuts were imposed to erase people’s culture and basic rights.
Hair can be considered in some cultures. It features in songs such as “” or “”. Mena Fombo, with the “” campaign, helps people understand why something as innocent as touching a stranger’s hair can generate deep unease and be a sign of racism.
No. You can’t touch my hair! Mena Fombo, TEDxBristol. Cut it or grow it for a long time?
The image of a woman with a shaved head is usually associated with illness or punishment. It is rare and often shocking. This is reflected in the impact of .
Most did it to portray their characters and some say it was “liberating”. However, for a minority, like Sinead O’Connor or Adwoa Aboah, it was also a way of confronting stereotypes and commercial pressures for female beauty ideals – ideals that Frida Kahlo challenged with her (1940) after her separation from Diego Rivera.
Not all justifications involve shaving your head. In my own work, I have tried to bring together the different aesthetic, political and religious connections of hair for the women in my family.
In (1994), Lorna Simpson explores how people are commonly identified, judged, and categorized by their hair, especially African Americans. María Magdalena Campos-Pons uses long hair as an element of self-recognition and reconnection with her Yoruba roots in works such as (2007).
Interestingly, by the Yemeni artist, who deals with the social disappearance of women in her culture; a work as powerful as it is devastating.
The Hijab series: Mother, Daughter, Doll, by Boushra Yahya Almutawakel.
The latest work by a controversial artist to stand out is that of aleXsandro Palombo, who painted outside the Iranian consulate in Milan to show his support for Mahsa Amini.
The graffiti disappeared the day after it was painted. He repainted it, but with a more provocative and aggressive expression and gesture, a treatment of the subject which differs from the female artists I have cited. Women in art tend to be forceful but more subtle when using their hair to advocate political or identity issues or their most basic rights, such as being able to show it off without fear of being killed for it.
This article was originally published in