Q & A with team 43.1 "Hair"

Interview by 
Chelene Knight, Mridula Morgan and Tamara Jong


The editorial team of issue 43.1 “Hair” threw each other some questions to help them dive deeper into their call: Intimate space. Roots. Growth. Identity. These are all things we think of when we consider hair. How does hair define us and affect the way we navigate the world? Our hair holds history, memory, tangible sacrifice, intangible inheritances, culture, fierceness, boldness, and sometimes even indifference.

How and why can hair be political?

Mridula Morgan: I believe hair has become a ‘marker’ to define ‘the other’, e.g. Black women are assumed to have ‘fros’, Chinese women have ‘blue-black shiny hair’ or ‘bowl cuts’, and South Asian women all have ‘long hair’. There is that concept of ‘straightening’ as well, in order to remove all traces of the natural.

Tamara Jong: This isn’t easy for me to answer because I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and we’re politically neutral. We aren’t supposed to mind what type of government we live under or vote. Since leaving, I realize I am affected by the freedoms (or lack) of the country I live in. I can dye my hair pink, shave my head or sport a mohawk if I wanted to but not while I was a Jehovah’s Witness. It would bring dishonor to God and my congregation.  When I was a Christian, my hair could be short or long as long as it was modest and conservative.

Chelene Knight: For me, hair has always been something that classified me within my family and within broader society. Being constantly misidentified because of how I chose to wear my hair was and is a big part of my every day. My family used to make me feel like I didn’t belong or that I was an outsider because I had “good hair” and although I think they meant it as a compliment, all it did was cause me to hide. There has always been so much pressure to fit a template, follow a trend, but I am finally falling into my own and ditching those ways of thinking. The same goes for body hair, so much pressure to conform.

Why is the theme of “hair” so enticing?  

MM: I think there is a romanticization of hair and it is something we can control and manipulate. We shape it, colour it, cut it, curl it etc. on our heads and shave it from our pits and legs. It’s seen as ‘enticing’ in a lustful/romantic way when we’re drawn to those we find attractive; and within a colonial context, an ‘othering’ of what we can’t have. Oh you have such gorgeous curly black hair—I wish I did too, potential translation = I desire your hair but not your brown/black skin.

TJ: We do spend a lot of time taking care of it. Keeping it clean, conditioning it, combing it, cutting it, coloring it. It can change how we’re perceived, whether we look professional or modern. Cutting it can make you look like a different person. It can be a disguise for a secret identity like Clark Kent/Superman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.

CK: I am fascinated by growth. No matter how many times we snip ends away, say goodbye to locks, and start over, the growth does not stop. It’s a forever process. I think deeply about what hair can hold, hide, and share. There are definitely stories in hair.

I don’t know how to ask this exactly but I wonder about hair and femininity. That if we have short hair, we’re hiding femininity or masking it somehow. And of course, I don’t think that’s true and even if we are, it’s our hair goddamn it, lol. I think of the Bible, where it talks about how long hair brings glory to herself and then to God. (Sorry for the long story about the question I want to ask).

MM: This is a gender/sex thing that I love turning on its head! My parents didn’t want me to cut when I was little. I had to fight for it and finally, when I was 12 or so, got a bob. Since then I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve experienced the different reaction from others when my hair is a pixie vs. long—everything from the way they look at me to talk to me. I agree with you Tamara, it’s my hair & my goddamn business what I do with my hair hence, I’ll keep the pixie and fuck your concept of me and my femaleness/womanhood.

TJ: I used to ask my dad not to cut my hair Chinese because I’d get teased.  I had short hair that got longer and longer and then I’d get asked if I was Indigenous. I wonder about rulemaking or accepted norms and who gets to set up these rules. And who gets to define who I am because of my hair and the way I wear it and why do I let them?

CK: I do associate long hair with femininity but that’s because I fell for the nonsense that society has ingrained in us as the norm. But as I change and grow, I experience myself for the first time and in that learning of myself everyone around me has to then re-learn me. And there’s something really powerful about that. When I think of femininity and hair, I think more of the body and what we are told is “acceptable.” I am learning to care less about what is assumed of us if we choose to reside outside of the lines.

What’s our earliest memory of hair? (first haircut, parents brushing our hair, etc.) I remember my dad cutting our hair on a bucket in the bathtub. Naked butts and all, lol. 

MM: Same as above, long hair to my butt until I was 12 or so. My paternal grandmother reminded me of how they had to ‘pick my head clean’ before I boarded the plane for Canada to ensure we got in! :-D

TJ: I remember my dad cutting our hair on a bucket in the bathtub while we sat shivering and naked. He was our hairdresser for the longest time. I think I tried to cut my own bangs once and plucked off my eyebrows (they’re hair too after all). The good thing about hair is that it usually grows back.  

CK: I remember my mom telling me that when I was three, I covered my entire body (including my head) in body lotion.     

How does our relationship to our hair change over time?

MM: My hair is greying and I’m bombarded everyday with images/media shout-outs to colour it or leave it and let it grow to look ‘elegant’ in my senior years. People make comments such as, ‘oh, you can afford to leave it as your grey is coming in so nicely’. Quite frankly, I don’t colour it as I’m lazy and prefer a wash-style-go; I have other commitments that squeeze me for time; and I prefer to ‘look my age’ and resist stereotypes as to what older South Asian women should look like/be.

TJ: I don’t think I dyed my hair until my late twenties. I was never one to fuss with my hair. My sister sometimes curled my hair and I had a few bad perms so I could get some volume. My mom always had her hair done up. She dyed it, had perms, wigs and elaborate hairdos. She reminded me of a movie star. I still dye my hair, but sometimes I don’t care about it as much as I used to. I feel like it’s less important to me.  

CK: I totally answered this in  an earlier question but I don’t think it’s the relationship that changes, but instead our ideas around what our hair, bodies, and minds needs to look like. We have to allow ourselves to change shapes. It’s a glorious thing.   

What cultural prescriptions/stereotypes of hair are “turned on their head” (punny, lol) when we begin to question them?

MM: I think I’ve already answered this above. Questioning concepts of what hair is desirable & acceptable and allowing for diverse expressions will help us to ‘turn stereotypical concepts on their head’.

TJ: You make a good point Mridula. Examining these prescriptions/stereotypes with regards to hair will help us dig deeper than just accepting what the beauty norms should be for ourselves and others.


What about women and facial hair?

MM: I read about this sometime back and I found this to be so interesting… Why are we so freaked out about women and facial/body hair? There’s a desire to erase it from female bodies, make them into these barbie clones into what is acceptable. All about ‘cultural norms’, I think, and power-control-manipulation of ‘others’.

TJ: Wow, Mridula this article was so good! I like what Balpreet said, “By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions.” I remember when Celine Dion started off, people made fun of her big eyebrows. I used to say Celine doesn’t pluck her eyebrows either but my friends told me, I’d look nicer if I got them tweezed and so would Celine. So I gave in. So you have Celine Dion with this amazing voice and people are criticizing her thick eyebrows! I don’t know why the hair on women’s bodies bothers people, probably because the media feeds us what beauty is and what it isn’t. It makes me think of the bearded lady from the circus who was labeled a freak. People paid money to see her, so sad. Meanwhile, men grow huge playoff beards, have Movember, and if you google hipster, you’ll get a ton of beard hits. So maybe people equate hair with masculinity.

CK:  I will say this plain and simple: all bodies are beautiful. Hair, no hair, I don’t care! (sorry for the rhyme lol).   


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