Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chop vs. bob, in three acts

I was recently describing my latest haircut to someone over the phone, who referred to the style as a "bob." I was taken aback. Even though yes, I totally went and got a bob - technically went and got another bob, after various others had grown out. But a bob, to me, sounded so outdated. A helmet style. I don't want to look like Louise Brooks!

Shortly thereafter, I saw this "Into The Gloss" post, where Emily Weiss insists that her haircut (an earlier version of which is, sigh, the look I was going for - I have now twice shown this photo to my hairdresser) is a "chop" and not a "bob." It's the it style of the moment, this "chop," although I get to be one of those people who are like, I've been getting (or self-inflicting!) this haircut since forever. Well, on and off since a party in college, at which time Karlie "The Chop" Kloss was probably a fetus with no haircut to speak of.

The difference between a chop and a bob, as I understand it, is that a chop looks like (or is) what one is left with when someone with long hair just chops it off to chin-length or thereabouts. No layers, no hairstyle. This would be a bob. This, a chop. The chop is so-very-now because it's the inevitable response to the previous it-look: ombré. The chop is the haircut you kind of know you'll eventually need, once you bleach the tips of your hair.

The chop, then, is effectively a bob that has not been meticulously styled.


Which brings us to a challenge: all hair textures can be forced into a bob, but a natural-looking chop, not so much. The chop is thus an incredibly undemocratic hairstyle - a celebration of wash-and-go.

But women of all hair textures are seeking - and getting! - the chop. It just takes some effort to look effortless. Garance Doré could only join in the fun with the help of one of those keratin treatments. "Into The Gloss," meanwhile, in a post with the misleading title, "How to Work the Curl," profiles another woman who went down that same formaldehyde-strewn path.

The two women a) emerge with chic hairstyles, and b) really defend their choice, in a way that suggests curl-flattening is embarrassing, an admission of self-hatred. And this is not only politicized for African-American women but also, apparently, for some who are ethnically Italian-Algerian or Cuban-American. Both women don't merely describe how they got their hair just so, but preemptively address those who would call them traitors. But traitors to what, exactly? Is this spillover of black women's hair politics onto other populations? Is the reason so many non-black women want straight hair related, on some level, to anti-black racism? Just how sinister is all this?

My sense is that (Ashkenazi, American) Jewish women may see going blonde as political, but less so straightening. This may have something to do with how often Jews have naturally straight vs. blond hair... or it may not. (In my own family, straight hair is fairly common, but I'm not aware of any Jewish relatives with hair lighter than light brown. But there are plenty of blond Jews, so.) Or - more likely - it's because when we learn about the Holocaust, the dumbed-down version we get as kids is that Jews were hated for not being blond.

At the same time, some Jewish women are wary of straightening because the flatironed look, esp. with long hair, is considered "JAPpy." And... there are too many levels to analyze there for this blog post not to become a dissertation in its own right. Is the"JAP" with straightened hair more self-hating than the Jewish woman who fears being thought a "JAP" and leaves her hair wavy/curly so as to avoid fitting a Jewish stereotype?

My own hair, if I let it air-dry, with the chop haircut, emerges something like this. Very 1930s. To those (with stick-straight hair) who'd say, 'that's awesome!', let me just point out that it's not a style that even remotely goes with anything I wear, anything anyone these days wears. (Much like how the celebration of curves is supposed to require embracing a late-1950s silhouette.) Because of the particularities of hair texture, I can easily achieve the "chop" styling without exposing hairdressers - or myself for that matter - to toxic chemicals. Which means that as much as I'm thinking, formaldehyde, really?, I'm not really in a position to judge. Also, I have no idea what's in tsubaki oil-meets-hair-iron fumes, nor do I want to know.


And now, the defending of the indefensible: on women who do not (or do not every day) embrace their natural hair texture. Let me be clear, I also defend women who do so (as in, every day), and understand why it would likely be better if more of us did. So:

1) Often enough, for us women with shall we say textured hair, an attractive straightened look is much easier to achieve than an equally or more attractive one that embraces the essence, but not the often frizzy and inconsistent reality, of a natural hair texture. Lots of women with naturally curly hair who wear their hair curly have actually straightened and then curled their hair. Or they've partially straightened it - done a partial blowdry or partial relaxing. Either way, the curls you're seeing have little to do with the curls that come naturally to the woman in question. Others have undergone complicated rituals involving diffusers and all manner of expensive curly-hair-specific products - products that may not straighten, but definitely smooth. We cannot assume that curly=less effort, or that curly=true to one's natural texture.

2) And when do we even see what "natural" hair texture looks like? The idea that shampooing hair daily is "natural" is - and this should be obvious if you think about it - a construction. As is the idea that this approach is "low-maintenance." There's a fairly consistent societal notion of what constitutes "good" hair, and it requires plenty of artifice for those with fine-and-grease-prone "white" hair, depending how one defines artifice. Daily shampooing isn't (for most routines) some kind of hygiene essential, but merely a way to bring volume and gloss to certain hair textures. If you have a style you can do and then forget about for days on end (which was convenient during Hurricane Sandy, when the hot water went out for a week!), you may well be putting less product and time to the cause.

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