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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

‘Amid the changes, it was all I could control’: Women recount their evolving relationship with hair

What do women feel about their hair? What influences their decision to keep long hair or go bald? How does their mental health impact how they treat their hair? 

Written by Shubhanjana Das | Jaipur |
January 28, 2022 12:30:56 pm
women and hairWomen from across ages, professions and the country share their relationship with their hair.

Women’s relationship with their hair is one that is as personal as it is public. Our hair has dictated our self-esteem throughout history, literature, philosophy, and religion. How a woman feels about and perceives her hair is and has been linked to and treated as a symbol of her femininity, identity, freedom, and beauty, super-imposed with those of society and its conventions.

But, what do women feel about their hair? What influences their decision to keep long hair or go bald, dye or straighten it? How do their mental health and body image impact how they treat their hair?

Read what women from across ages, backgrounds, and the country had to say about their relationship with hair.

women and hair Aritraa Dey

“I remember getting my first mohawk in second year of college. I was 20, bored and rather not confident with what my face looked like. The story was the same as most women of today who get their first drastic look change — it was a break up. Thankfully, one which I have been wanting for the longest time and I treated myself with that cut. And my hair experiments have not stopped since then.

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But last year with the pandemic hitting, I lost the privilege of visiting a salon every time I felt out of place. Along with a lot of other anxieties, which included academic setbacks caused due to year loss, my one source of light became seeing my hair grow. I liked the idea of looking at it each day, seeing the shaved side grow and looking at endless YouTube videos of how to make hair grow faster or reduce hair fall. I would say it was almost manic behaviour. But somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that amid everything that was changing, all I was in control of was my hair.”

— Aritraa Dey, she/her, 24, master’s student, Kolkata
women and hair Bhanumati Jariwala, photographed by her granddaughter Mithila Jariwala.

“Combing her hair has been like a ritual for her. It almost seemed like a meditative process. Also, now that I think of it, it was her me time, her way of self care. All of us grand kids have seen her do it growing up. She also loved to comb our hair. She would oil our hair and comb it for us. Now, because of her health condition, she is unable to comb her hair herself. On her birthday earlier this month, she got up with a big smile and in a feisty tone said, ‘It’s my birthday, I will comb my hair’, and no amount of wheezing stopped her from it.”

— Bhanumati Jariwala, as shared by her granddaughter Mithila Jariwala, she/her, 88, Surat, Gujarat
women and hair Pranavi Chhikniwala in Varkala, Kerala.

“I’ve been a digital nomad for over a year now which means a lot of travelling is involved, followed by adjusting to the weather, water, and humidity at every place. My hair is naturally curly, and although not high-maintenance, it reacts to hot and humid temperatures quite strongly.

I started my journey in South India with Karnataka-Goa-Kerala. The sun, humidity, and my lack of enthusiasm for haircare due to a constantly changing lifestyle all showed on my hair. I used to notice how when I move to the mountains, it wouldn’t take much to take care of my hair, but as soon as I made my way back home to Ahmedabad or Delhi, my hair would wilt and lose all curls entirely, which is quite disheartening, as I have always perceived my hair as a prominent part of my personality. You know, people who didn’t know me would refer to me as ‘that curly-haired girl’. And losing my curls more often than not means a slight degradation in my confidence. After these three states, I came back home for a bit and that’s when I started experimenting with natural products using my nani‘s recipe of hair packs, tried different shampoos, hair spas, and other natural therapies. And after a bit of trying and testing, I found the perfect things for my hair. And today, I’m in Mussoorie, and I like to think that I have got the hang of the needs of my hair.”

— Pranavi Chhikniwala, she/her, 25, content and marketing professional

ishani ray

“I’ve always been very confident about my hair. I’d regularly trim it and grow it out too for my classical dance performances. I coloured my hair a few times, but thankfully it didn’t affect my hair unlike what most people around me had warned me about. But then there was a pandemic. And it was towards the end of 2020 and early 2021 where parts of my hair just turned white. Mostly because of stress regarding the future, my education. My gap year between bachelor’s and master’s led to a lot of hair fall, too. It took me a long time to realise that it was largely because of my mental health.

In college I finally had a say on how I wanted my hair to be. I coloured it red four years ago, which was always a dream. And till now, people blame colouring as the reason for my hair damage. Clearly, mental health isn’t a determinant to many people still. My hair being like this deeply affects me, and I’ve tried looking for safer alternatives when it came to hair products. I’ve also tried to follow a hair-care regime. And, resumed therapy to take care of my mental health.”

— Ishani Ray, she/her, 23, master’s student, Kolkata

farheena khan Farheena Khan.

“I’ve been wanting to go bald or get a buzz cut for about three or four years now. But I just don’t think that I had it in me. I just thought, ‘how could I, would I be able to pull it off? What would my parents think?’ And so I just never did it.

But in October 2020, I moved to Goa. I felt more free, more confident, and less judged. So I just got up and went ahead with it. I think that there was this voice from inside of me, which gave me the courage and told me that if I did this at this point in my life, I would be able to pull it off and go about life without worrying how I look or how people perceive me. And when I did shave off my head and I looked at myself in the mirror. I really really liked it. I felt like I was always supposed to have this haircut and I loved how it looked on me. I love how it made me feel.

Why did I do it? Earlier when I had long hair, I felt it would always hold a large place in my self confidence. I felt like if I go bald, the vanity that sort of comes with how I look would go away. Another one of the reasons was that I also when we used to go swimming every day, some days days I simply could not go into the ocean because I had just washed my hair that day. I had to match my swimming cycles based on which day my hair was washed. I just felt like ‘wow, if I go bald, I can swim whenever I want.’ That also seemed like a good enough reason to do this.

Going through a heartbreak was also one of the reasons why I wanted to shave off my head. But, like I said, I had not found the courage to do it yet because there was so much societal pressure from my family and some friends. When I would bring it up with my friends, some encouraged me, some discouraged me, some said that it would look really good, while some said that I might not be able to pull it off, that the process to get it all back is going to be really long

My mother obviously did not take this kindly. Her first question to me was “Takla hoke aa gayi hai, abhi shaadi kaun karega?” (“You’ve gone bald, who will marry you now?”) When I went back home, my relatives asked me, “Have you started modelling now?”, or “are you looking to be a boy now?”, and more weird questions.

Another thing I noticed was how people told me ‘Wow, we think that you are so gutsy’ or ‘it’s such a daring thing for you to go and shave your head off’. If it was a boy who had hair as long as mine and shaved it off, I don’t think anybody would bat an eye. But when I do it, it becomes about me having to be the strong person to be able to pull it off. I guess that’s because our society expects my beauty to be correlated to my hair as a woman.

–Farheen Khan, she/her, 28, pastry chef, Goa

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