[Iqra Dahir Abdi | Contributing Writer]
It is the one thing we have in common: hair. Looking around the University, it appears to be the one continued difference too. Some like it up, some down. Others wear it straight, curly or wrapped up in a bun. Whatever your preference, something influences hairstyles and it may be your ethnic region that does most of the influencing.
Why do we have different types of hair?
Ever wondered why hair types vary more than the British weather? It’s because every human hair contains a follicle. It is this follicle that determines the way your hair will grow. Imagine that every strand of hair is tube with a follicle inside. As your hair gets longer, the follicle guides it into a shape. Oval shaped follicles produce wavy, curly or coily hair, whilst a circular follicle produces straight hair.
That’s the simple mechanics of hair growth out of the way, but in reality things are not that simple. Ethnic background, diet, hair care and age all contribute to the way your hair grows. This means that you can see a range of differences between two people with the same hair type – a great example is curly hair, two heads of curls never look the same.
What are the different types of hair?
Hair type can be broken down into four categories, (aside from long and short), these are: straight, wavy, curly and coily. A number scale is used to measure hair types. Straight hair is considered to be in the 1A-1C spectrum. Wavy hair sits in the 2A-2C range. 3A-3C is used for curly hair and 4A-4C for coily hair. The A-C is an indicator of how much your hair sits in the category.
Attached to your hair?
It would be an insult to just place hair into categories and ignore what hair represents. For most people their hair is a part of their identity; something unique and original, solely owned by one person.
Hair and religion are also connected. Hair, or the lack of, can have significant meanings in some religions. Hindus shave the heads of their children when they are around four-years-old. By doing so, they are learning to be humble and devoted to their religion. Adults also shave their heads, this is mostly done on pilgrimage as a symbol of surrender and humility.
Hair can also be an accessory: a complement to your outfit. The media and hair companies often market hair in this way. You can colour, add extensions and style your hair into various looks. Hair is a powerful tool – take Halloween as an example. A Storm from X-men outfit is rarely complete without an icy blonde wig!
Hair from a global perspective
Hair is practical: you can do anything with it. Around the world different hair styles are considered beautiful and traditional.
Hair is seen as a symbol of women’s beauty in Africa. In West Africa traditional hair styles include the tying of a string to elongate the hair, so it appears like spikes. More modern West African hairstyles include box braids, twists, an afro or a weave. Hair from this region is commonly categorised between 3C-4C.
Traditional East African hairstyles include complicated braiding patterns, these can sometimes have a tribal significance or signify special occasions. The Afar tribe in Ethiopia use butter to curl and moisturise their hair. The Hamar tribe, also in Ethiopia, curl their hair using a mixture of butter and ochre clay. In most cases, the butter and clay hold the natural curls in place. East Africans tend to have hair within the 3A-4C region. Modern East African hairstyles include wearing the hair in it natural curly state or having the front section plated with the back out in its natural state.
Asia is a massive continent and the trends in hair vary within regions and cannot be separated into east and west. India and Japan are two contrasting countries in terms of hairstyles.
Japanese traditional hairstyles consist of an up-do with ornaments or sticks placed into the hair. It was thought that these sticks and ornaments warded off evil spirits. With the modernisation of Japan, hairstyles are now toned down. With most Japanese people falling into the 1A or 1B hair category a simple bun or medium length hair cut with a fringe is favoured.
In India hair is used to complement traditional outfits such as the saree. The preferred hair length is long to medium. It can be placed into a bun, a side swept plait, left down or curled into a half-up half-down style. Whatever the choice, Indian women favour completing a hairstyle with some flowers.
Hair textures in the South America tend to vary, hair types from 1C-4C can be seen due to the difference in heritage. Brazil is known for its lively samba music and relaxed atmosphere. The hairstyles tend to reflect this. Wavy cuts, blow dried hair, dreadlocks and weaves are most common in Brazil.
Traditional Native American hairstyles were dependant on the tribe. The most common included some women dying the middle of their hair with bright colours and simple flowing hairstyles accompanied by a pair of braids. Native American men wore long braids or shaved heads. This basic style was manipulated in numerous ways to reflect the tribe a man belonged to. Hair was considered to have symbolic importance in Native American tribes. Modern Native American hairstyles are worn with long sweeping braids. Many Native Americans still place an importance on their hair and only cut it when in mourning.
Hair it ends!
Taking a journey with hair throughout the world reinforces the symbolism of hair. It can be used to symbolise beauty, strength and status. Each part of the world will have their own set of values and norms. Think about you own hair, what does it mean to you? Have British values and norms influenced the way you wear your hair?