Tag Archives: hair

The Venus Flytrap: When It Comes To Hair, There’s Another Type Of Conditioning

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In the middle of a match at the WTA Finals in Singapore against an opponent she would go on to defeat, the tennis player Svetlana Kuznetsova sat down during a changeover and requested a pair of scissors. Without a mirror, she reached behind her head and began to hack off inches of her thick, tightly-wound braid, grimacing with effort.  As she took the last few snips, the crowd began to clap.

She didn’t loosen her braid first, or go off the court to cut it. The shorned locks remained on her chair for the rest of the match.

This wasn’t the first such occurrence in the sport, however. As an article on Tennis.com says: “Andy Murray cut the front of his hair during a defeat to Rafael Nadal at the year-ending 2015 ATP Finals in London. Boris Becker trimmed his bangs during a four-set Wimbledon semifinal win over Ivan Lendl in 1988.” What made Kuznetsova’s action unusual enough to make headlines was that she had defied an implicit beauty convention. Watching the video of her chopping off her hair gives one the same awe as seeing pictures of Alicia Keys sans makeup or the dancer January Low onstage, bare-bellied, at seven months pregnant.

An athlete’s practical decision to save her game shouldn’t elicit a “wow”. The braid was heavy and kept hitting her in the eye; her performance improved after the trim. (Bobby pins? Retying? Who cares – it’s just hair, it’ll grow back!) But we’re taken aback, even if for only a moment. Half that “wow” is in admiration of Kuznetsova’s dedication. The other half is pure conditioning. It’s why we’re surprised on some level every time a woman rejects an aesthetic ideal. All the more when the rejection itself isn’t a performance or a statement, but just the simplest and more obvious thing to do.

This calls to mind women who do far more radical things that expose and challenge the policing of hair than simply cutting off a few negligible inches. The classical dancer Geetha Shankaram-Lam, for example, is completely bald by choice. Harnaam Kaur and Balpreet Kaur both sport full beards to honour religious reasons; the former is a model, and the latter became famous for her gracious response upon being shamed on Reddit. The actor Cameron Diaz spoke up in favour of pubic hair, hardly a trivial declaration considering the cultural impact of pornography.

“It’s just hair,” I wrote earlier. But is it? Like the rest of the female body, it’s policed and sexualised. Its figurative power goes beyond beauty and aesthetics. How it’s worn on the head is taken to speak on behalf of everything from one’s sexuality to one’s spirituality. Whether it is depilated or otherwise on the face and body is taken to speak on behalf of everything from one’s sanity to one’s upbringing.

We have much to ponder over why Svetlana Kuznetsova taking a scissors to her braid during a tennis match is almost a spectacle. Would you do it? Why or why not? Our musings can teach us much about how we see ourselves and others, and how we want the world to see us.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on October 27th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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The Venus Flytrap: In Defense of Developing World Diva Hair

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I have oppressed woman hair. No, not “oppressed hair”, as Alice Walker famously put it; the ceiling on my brain cannot be blamed on the chemicalisation or colonisation of my locks. I mean I have the hair of an oppressed woman, heavy duty developing world diva hair. Think Draupadi. Think Dravidian Rapunzel. I have hair that practically demands sitting on a swing and gazing wistfully at a world of dangerous things like riding side-saddle, or smiling beatifically in Amar Chitra Katha comics while undergoing trials by fire for the love of incredibly undeserving men. (Such activities are much better scapegoats for the ceiling on my brain).

But why should I apologise? Not everything needs to be forced through a feminist or subaltern perspective, you know. Remember that line, my similarly-styled sisters: it sounds a lot better as a defense than, “Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m beautiful, hate me ‘cuz your boyfriend thinks so”. And if you must know, I have oppressed woman hair as reclamation, damnit! It’s subversive to be traditional in a world of peroxide and pageboys! These tresses are radical aesthetics, deliberate declarations! They are avant-garde, anarchist, insurrectional… and just incidentally, quite pretty.

I know hair is political. But I think above and beyond that it is deeply, deeply personal. I wear mine messy, letting it be as schizophrenically curly or straight as it pleases. When I am healthy it shines black. When I am not it dries brown. I used to trim it myself, until I stopped wanting to trim it at all. It’s a gorgeous disaster – which happens to be my favourite kind. But I promise you I comb it. Most days, anyway.

I discovered I had this ridiculous hair ten years ago, about the same time I started wearing a fake nose stud, before my parents – modern folks who continue to be deeply disappointed by the bindi-wearing, diamond-nostriled, handloom-sareed miscreant I turned out to be – let me pierce it for real. I’ll never forget that day. I loosened my hair to retie it in a classroom and someone said she wished she had my “beautiful long hair”. That’s when I noticed it myself. I was thirteen and nothing about me had ever been beautiful in my life.

So you see why I can’t let it go.

There are things which come with the acceptance that one is, herself, a complicated country, a feral thing. My developing world diva hair is one of those things, for me. I’ve seen how, subconsciously, it has been part of my semiology. I have tied it up to desex myself. I have worn twin braids to appear innocuous. I have worn it like a wild thing and been that wild thing. I am not the only kind of woman I know, mine is not the only femininity. But this is the only kind of woman I know how to be.

A woman friend of mine recently went bald, and a couple of days later, fell off the bed and injured her newly shiny cranium. On the upside, it was easier to check for bumps.

“You do realise,” I told my bed-bouncing friend, “That your autopsy report will have the words, ‘jungle sex'”?

“What a great way to go,” she grinned (emoticon-ally, that is. World Citizen is just a euphemism for people whose entire social lives are conducted via technology). I couldn’t disagree – that’s exactly what a badass bald babe wants on her Wikipedia memorial page, anyway. I guess a simpering traditionalist like me, in the event that all other attempts at infamy fail, could just hang myself by the hair.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

Nursery Rhyme For Brana Bono

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Posted this on a more private space this morning. Thought I’d share it here, just for fun.

Medusa-seduca, you declared,
and crossed your legs at tea.
Rapunzel-schmunzel, I shrugged.
You don’t mean little old lady me?
But don’t take me at my bashful blush,
I was only feigning surprise.
I think we already know: my hair is
a certifiable home-wrecking device.