Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Japanese hair-straightening: The follow-up

Kei has responded to my request for information about the seemingly oxymoronic, or at the very least improbable, "Japanese hair-straightening" trend. Her post is complete with pictures of and references to ethnically Japanese women who do, in fact, straighten their hair:

Phoebe asked, "Is it just that the minority in Japan without naturally straight hair feel especially bad about it, leading to an especially efficient hair-straightening process to fill that niche?" Basically, the answer is YES.

I am one of the minority that Phoebe speaks of; I was annoyed by my not-straight hair, and yes, this especially efficient hair-straightening process was created for people like me....

....I will say this in it and other relaxing techniques' defense: it may not seem a big deal to people with straight hair, or people who don't care about straightening their or anyone else's hair. Rather, these processes mean more to the people who want their hair stick-straight. Speaking from experience, I can say that it does make a significant difference to all of a sudden have manageable hair, and to not have to spend 30-45 minutes straightening your hair before you go to bed, before you go out, etc.

Read her whole post. I say this not only because I'm amused that someone of Japanese heritage has the exact same concerns about her hair (too poufy, too inconsistently wavy) as I do, but because she really does shed light on 1) the subtle things people want to change about their appearances, things no one else would notice--hair that would seem straight to someone non-Asian might seem excessively poufy to the person whose hair it is; and 2) the fact that women of all ethnic backgrounds apparently straighten their hair. The women you see walking around NYC, if not elsewhere, with stick-straight hair do not, by and large, come by it naturally. That African-American women often straighten their hair is common knowledge, and apparently there's a special term, "jair," for the straightened hair of Jewish women. ("Apparently" as in the NYT Style section heard one person say it and thus suggests it's a commonly-used term). But I also know women with ethnic backgrounds ranging from WASP to South American who straighten their hair, so hair-straightening is by no means just a Japanese, black, and Jewish thing.

Why is this so significant? Because hair often is seen as a political issue--natural and proud of one's heritage versus artificial and self-hating. But if many, many women of all backgrounds are doing it, at most it can be seen as a political issue insofar as men of all backgrounds seem to be spared from this particular chore. But as I see it, even if the fashion of straight hair comes from a desire to "look white" (absurd, given how few white people have naturally stick-straight hair, but I suppose not unlike the trend of blondness in that respect), society is improving if not only is this physical trait something that can be bought, but is something that even white and Asian women are buying. Natural versus unnatural ceases to matter, which, while it might sound upsetting for those reared on the rhetoric of Whole Foods, is actually a good thing in this case. I'd rather live in a society where, for a small amount of money, the desired look can be achieved, than one in which racial purity determines who's considered attractive.


Anonymous said...

What does "manageable" mean if not "socially acceptable", acceptable to "management" or those in charge. Society (in the sense of civilization, not socialites) is founded on the idea of repression, of moving away from offensive, if natural, ways to act, look, sound and smell, for the sake of getting along. Why the natural state of straight hair is valued above others is an interesting topic to consider, since those with less need to repress their natural selves would not naturally be those in power.

Anonymous said...

As one with "virgin" hair -- never colored, permed, or straightened -- I favor low maintenance in hair care. Then again, my hair is toward the straight end of the spectrum (it takes very hot/ humid weather to induce frizz). Even though many opt for hair straightening techniques, what of those who favor "curly" styles. Are women (and I recall in the 80s some men) who perm their hair rebelling in some way against society (and the idea of "white is most beautiful)? Trying to seem "natural" by doing something artificial to their locks, or just bored by their usual hairstyle? -- JM

kei said...

i just listened to prof. don lamb on NPR's talk of the nation!!! it's science friday!!! it was that droning, soft voice that takes you into deep sleep; he was talking about how old the universe is and gamma ray bursters. i turned around and blurted, "is that Don Lamb?!" to my co-worker at stacks. it most certainly was: cheers to astrophysics!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Wow, that's too much. So perfect that you were at stacks--was this by any chance during pre-shelving? Because pre-shelving and gamma ray bursts, when put together... yikes.