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The politics of Hair

Compiled by Jordan King
Written by Carla Botha
Photographs by Mia McCarthy
Research by Carla Botha, Mia McCarthy, Yolanda Mdzeke, and Tarisai Madzorera
Dear strangers, gawking and staring will not make my hair grow back. Dear mister who once called me an “It” in Pick ‘n Pay, I would just like to say I still refuse to apologise for being me just because my hair and aesthetic does not fit in with your binary perceptions of gender. Dear Dad, I am sorry now my hair is gone it makes it harder for you to hide my queerness from others. Dear Mom, for the millionth time I did not cut my hair because you failed me as a womxn.

Hair is not just hair – it has never been. Hair is political, not necessarily by choice but because of the violent society we live in. The hairstyle one chooses is a statement. One can think of hair as the first introduction the world has of you – involuntarily people make pre-judgements on your character, often based on the way in which you style your hair. With a clear divide between what is ‘acceptable’, ‘presentable’ and ‘attractive’, and those going against the grain are considered lesser, untidy and rebellious.

Thus for many, hair is a constant battlefield against a normative narrative, which most likely never respected their existence. A narrative shaped long before they were born and one reeking of – and encourages assimilation into – whiteness, hetero-normative and cis-normative standards. This is all fuelled further by a largely conservative and untransformed society and its’ social rules. However, I must remind you these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Like many other social-political struggles hair is an intersectional problem. Meaning different bodies or groupings experience the issue differently because of the interconnected nature of oppression. Audre Lorde sums up the importance of being cognizant of intersectionality when she said “… there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

My hair is constantly being linked to my sexuality and gender, and the fact it is not unique. My privilege as a white person means I get to skip a lot of links between a political identity and hair. Black womxn, non-binary Black bodies and People of Colour are constantly pressured to conform to white beauty standards, society has deemed ‘acceptable’ and ‘professional’

Hair is about race, gender, sexuality, mood, the stage you’re in, the subculture you’re into, the status quo you’re challenging, the people you want to attract, the people you want to make angry, the aesthetic you like. Hair is about so much, but most importantly it’s about you, how it makes you feel, how it says what you want to say, and it forms part of your identity.

The Identity team is interested in your identity and we decided to ask you about your hair.



Ophelia Milton

“To me my hair represents a sort of freedom, because the way my hair looks is its natural state. Like I just shower and this is how it looks. By not straightening my hair, it doesn’t conform to the idea that straight hair is the only thing that can be beautiful, and I’m freeing myself in way, by allowing myself to just be natural. I don’t see my hair as political, I’m just letting it be in its natural state without forcing it to be anything else.”




Natalie Murfin

“I was undergoing a drastic hair change at the beginning of this year because I used to have really long dreadlocks which were problematic and I was just being an idiot, so I decided I needed to get rid of them. I was going to shave them off and dye my hair cotton-candy pink, but one day I was scrolling through a Buzzfeed page and saw a picture of Cruella Deville and I was like “she’s badass.” So I decided to go and do the Cruella Deville thing. Hair is very political, coming from someone who made the very ignorant decision to be a white person with dreadlocks, I’ve had to have some tough conversations with myself about what I am allowed to express, wear, and own. So yeah, hairstyles are extremely politicised, because if they’re embroiled in tradition, much like other aspects of tradition, they are open for colonisation and discrimination.”



Nangamso Ntsepe

“Before, I was low-key, ‘why would you decide to braid your hair and shave the sides’, but here I am now. It was about trying something different and new for me. When my hair is short and natural, it’s really important to my identity because it’s my own and it’s natural. I think my hair now, is edgy, so if it was a person, it would be Rihanna.”



Yonela Sifuba

“I wear my hair in an afro so it’s natural, it’s more than looking good for me, it’s embracing my natural look. The texture of my hair isn’t very popular because most people like the curly natural hair and I’ve got coils. Seeing a lot of other black girls embracing their own coils inspired me to do the same. I work hard to maintain my hair, so it’s a part of me, people know me for my hair. I like to see my hair as influential, so I can inspire people to go natural.”



Deepika Naidoo

“My hair is part of my identity as much as it is aesthetics, I use my hair as part of my outfit but I was also born with it, so its texture is part of my identity. My whole life I’ve had really long hair and then I decided to just cut it, it makes me feel liberated when it’s short. When you’re an Indian girl you’re supposedly supposed to have long hair, my hair isn’t and sometimes people look at me as if I’m strange because I’m Indian and my hair is short and I don’t enjoy that but I really enjoy my hair. If my hair was a person, it would be a really fierce, warrior type person. Like this anime character called Nana”



Unathi Balele

“My hair is about me being tired of combing my hair in the morning and this hairstyle is less effort. It is important to me though, my hair completes me, it makes me look good and I can do a lot with my hair.”



Thomas Kruger

“My hair has become an extension of who I am, it’s an art, it’s me wanting to rebel against the idea that guys are supposed to have short hair. In high school, people kept asking me to cut my hair and I just told them “no”, now people just kind of touch my hair a lot when it’s down. I couldn’t imagine myself with short hair and I wouldn’t want to ever cut my hair. If my hair was a person, it would be wild and pull me to places I didn’t really want to go, but I’d go anyway.”



Rafé Luke Green

“If I leave my hair the same for like three days, I get bored and need to change it up. People have this ‘you do you’ thing but in reality, when I get baes, people associate my hair with my masculinity and my sexuality. I’m not actually trying to say all that with my hair, for me it’s just like ‘hey this is something I’d like to try’. You need to watch Heathers, if my hair was a person it would be everyone in that film. Actually, it would be Heathers, Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Clueless, and not Pitch Perfect.



Usanda Mdhluli

“My hair helps me express myself, it shows that I’m me and not someone else, I’m an African person. I like that my hair makes me noticeable when I have my afro. If my hair was a person it would be Sasha Fierce.”



Mikeala Daries

“Before now, my hair was just me doing it the way other people expected me to, especially my family. We’re coloured and often in the coloured community, people put pressure on women to have straight hair. It’s so deep in my family that my mom wouldn’t take photos with me at my matric dance because she hadn’t straightened her hair. I stopped straightening my hair when I came to university because I didn’t have the pressure from my family and I’m so far away from them, so I felt like I could just be myself, whatever self that is. It’s weird that no one reacts to my hair here because at home people are always reacting to it. If my hair is straight it’s good but if it’s curly and natural then it’s untidy. I know it’s bad but at home I start feeling the pressure to straighten my hair again and I end up getting caught up in what my family thinks is appropriate without even realising it. If my hair was a person, it would be Jon Snow. He came back to life and realised he was the king of the North, and you know, so is my hair.”


Feature Image sourced from Clipartkid

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