A Case Of Art Imitating (Black) Life

HairTouch_Locs

Anyone who has ever harbored a secret desire to touch a black person’s hair got a free pass today thanks to the performance art piece “You Can Touch My Hair.” The exhibit was presented in Union Square by Un’ruly, a website devoted to the black hair experience. I watched as three brave models with different hair types willingly subjected themselves to stares, questions and yes, petting from random strangers. Controversial? Yes. Brilliant? Absolutely.

I don’t care if she has a massive mane of curls, a ‘fro, locs or a weave, at some point in a black woman’s life, she will experience unwanted hair touching from a curious white person. It’s a maddening experience, and it even happens to celebrities on live TV. The team behind Un’ruly, editor-in-chief Antonia Opiah and her sister and publicist of the site, *Abigail Opiah, view the exhibit as a catalyst to help fix the root of the problem: the widespread lack of knowledge about black hair. The piece was inspired by “Can I Touch Your Hair?” a popular blog entry that Antonia wrote for The Huffington Post. Antonia, who lives in Paris, was not present at the exhibit, but Abigail was there to oversee the spectacle. “This display is an experiment to see if, given the opportunity, will people actually come up and touch our hair and ask questions. It’s something that always happens anyway, so why not? I’ve worked at an all-white PR agency and I went to an all-white school–I’ve always been a topic of discussion. People have said things to me like ‘Oh my god, you only wash your hair once a week? How do you do that?’” says Abigail.

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The models, from left to right: Malliha, Joliana and Jade

While I was there, I only saw two people that actually dared to put their hands in the models’ hair, but Abigail said that the show was attracting a diverse group of participants. “So far, it’s been an equal amount of black and white people touching. The black people come up and say, ‘Oh yes girl, I know!’ or ‘You look fabulous.’ There have been some men coming up, too. But the whole point of this is to get the dialogue going,” she says.

GuyTouching

This guy isn’t shy.

I could talk for hours about my own experiences with offensive hair touching. I remember being in the third grade when a rowdy boy in my class came up behind me and gripped the pigtails that stuck out from the side of my head. He pretended to twist them, as if they were motorcycle handlebars, and yelled “Vroom, vroom!” I was a super-shy little girl so it was even more mortifying to be mocked and laughed at in front of my classmates. Little did I know that was only the beginning. I became a pro at answering annoying questions about my hair-washing habits when I was in junior high and high school. And as a grown woman, I’ve dealt with varying levels of white-coworker inappropriateness sparked by the Afro that I had for seven years and the down-to-my-butt weave I wore one summer. And there was my brief stint with braids last year. Oh, the stories I could tell.

Although I’m sick of the never-ending politicization of black women’s hair, I’m all for the “You Can Touch My Hair” exhibit. The Un’ruly team has taken something offensive and turned it into a teaching moment. Love it or hate it, the show provokes strong reactions from a wide variety of people. Isn’t that exactly what great art is supposed to do?

“You Can Touch Me” will be on display in NYC’s Union Square on Saturday, June 8th from 2 – 4 pm. If it rains, the show will be rescheduled for the same time on Sunday, June 9th. 

Related: The “Can I Touch Your Hair?” Issue Makes Its Way Into Primetime TV

*Updated 6/11: A previous version of this post listed Abigail Opiah’s title as managing editor.
Three Nagging Questions About Season Three Of The Walking Dead

Now that I’ve had a chance to digest Sunday night’s dramatic season finale of The Walking Dead (although I’m still mourning the unexpected death of one of the major characters), my mind has turned back to a few questions that have been bugging me for weeks.

1. Did Andrea somehow manage to find a curling iron? I know life in Woodbury is much cushier than at the prison, but in many scenes, Andrea’s hair looked awfully pretty for someone living in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. See Exhibit A below, from episode 13, “Arrow on the Doorpost.” Her curls are a little too perfect–like they got some help from a  Hot Tools curling iron. Which, of course means that Andrea also had access to a secret working power outlet.

AndreaWalkingDead

2. Why hasn’t Michonne lost her signature headband yet? We know Michonne is a woman of few words. We know she is a badass. We know that she can handle her sword like nobody’s business. But one thing we don’t know is how on earth has she kept that one headband for this long? That thing never slides off her head, not one little bit. Even when Michonne is chopping off walkers’ heads like crazy, her trusty headband stays put. Amazing.

Michonne

3. Who cuts Carol’s hair? Her short ‘do is slightly longer in the back now compared to what it looked like in season one, but still. Semi-regular trims must have been happening otherwise her hair would have grown into a little bob at this point. Same goes for the guys on the show. Their hair is noticeably shaggier, but not as wild as I would expect. So who acts as the prison hairstylist? My money is on Beth. I can picture her singing one of those haunting ballads she loves so much while carefully snipping away at Carol’s or whoever’s hair.

Carol_WalkingDead

You can tell that I’ve become desensitized to all the blood and guts on the show because instead of being grossed out while I watch, I sit there and think about this silly stuff. Can’t wait to see what happens to Rick and the gang next season!

Photos: Gene Page/AMC

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The Price We Pay To Be Pretty

 

Could your desire to feel gorgeous be costing you your health?

I missed this interesting piece in The Atlantic last week, about 1930s movie star Jean Harlow, and how she suffered for her bleached blond hair. The tragic, yet intriguing story made me wonder if women will ever stop risking their health for the sake of looking beautiful.

In the story, writer Taylor Orci describes the toxic mix of chemicals Harlow used to get her signature hair color.

Harlow, towheaded as a child, insisted she was a natural blonde, but her stylist knew differently. “I used to bleach her hair and make it ‘platinum blonde,’” Alfred Pagano, hairdresser to the stars, once said. “We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes! Can you believe that?”

Orci goes on to suggest that there’s a chance the actress’s untimely death at age 26 could have been caused by her frequent exposure to ammonia and bleach—she might have died from dyeing.  Even if it wasn’t the homemade hair color that killed Harlow, the concoction probably had some sort of negative impact on her health. Yet she endured the painful lightening process every week because she believed her success in the film industry depended on it.

We could blame ignorance for her behavior and say that Harlow and her well-meaning stylist were just working with what they had at the time. But even now, women embrace products that are likely to be harmful. For example, they fork over good money for Brazilian Blowouts that contain cancer-causing formaldehyde, relaxers, which have been linked to fibroids and perfumes with hidden ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. I’m guilty of knowingly using iffy beauty products, too. I’ve relaxed my hair on and off for years, and I have a pretty big collection of fragrances (although I don’t spritz myself every day).

Not everyone is aware of the risks associated with some of the beauty products they use, but I bet even women who’ve been informed don’t necessarily ditch everything that’s potentially bad. The desire to feel attractive is a very powerful, complicated emotion—one that apparently causes us to do questionable things.

Is there anything in your beauty stash that could be a health hazard? Have you ever stopped using a product because you learned that it might be toxic? ‘Fess up, please.

 

Three Ways To Rock Shaved Sides (Yes, It’s Doable In Real Life)

If you feel so inclined to give the shaved-on-one-side hair trend a whirl, here are a few ideas for the bold and the bashful.

1. Go All-Out. That’s exactly what 24-year-old Tiffany Mendez, who I spotted on the street, is doing with this hairstyle here. She’s so committed to her daring look, that she shaves her head every day. And can we talk about her awesome teal streak? She’s showing it off brilliantly with a side-swept braid. I like the mix of toughness and femininity she’s got going on.

2. Try One Close-Cropped Section. Rihanna’s version is still very rock n’ roll, but in a tamer way because her hair is only buzzed-off above her ear. I love this style on her, but I know I can’t get too attached–the woman is known for her constant hair switcheroos.

3. Fake It! Channel your inner bad girl (for a day) by copying the faux undercut style seen at the Tracy Reese Spring 2013 runway show. Hair pro Jeanie Syfu gave the models a shaved effect by creating a hidden, low cornrow braid on one side. So sneaky, yet so chic.

Are you into the shaved sides thing? Yay or nay? Personally, I love it.

BTW, I think Lil’ Kim-inspired hair and colorful Afros are pretty cool too!

Spotted: Three Cropped and Colorful Afros

Who says you need dip-dyed ends, a wig or bright extensions to get in on the crazy hair color trend?  I met three awesome women on the street who are doing it their way. Check out their chic, natural ‘dos.

This haircut on Souki, 27, is more like a fauxhawk ‘fro, which is edgy enough on it’s own, but the violet color takes it to a whole other, insanely cool level. I like the contrast with the dark hair on the sides.

If you were to take the sexy wine-colored lipstick shade of the moment and turn it into a hair color, you would get this look, seen on Aisha, 22. It’s bold, warm and looks great with the classic shape of her cut.

To get this shade, Tiffany, 30, used Adore Semi-Permanent Hair Color in Purple Rage. But who knows what color she’ll go with next! “Before this, my hair was platinum blonde,” she said.

Would you ever dare to dye your hair purple? Or some other wild color? 

P.S. You should hear some of the annoying sh%t people say to women with short hair. It’s ridic.

 

8 Kick-Ass Hair And Makeup Looks From Afro-Punk (These Girls Are AWESOME)

You wanna know where all the cool kids were hanging out last weekend? Afro-Punk, that’s where. The eighth annual multicultural music festival happened in my ‘hood this past Saturday and Sunday so I had no excuse not to go. I don’t know what I enjoyed more: the bands or the people-watching. Check out some of the bold beauty statements I spotted.

Love this diva’s hot pink lipstick and adorable side buns. And get a load of her eyebrows–they’re full and fabulous.

Braids were everywhere at the park, but this girl wins the award for Longest Braids Ever. I’m gonna steal her little scarf-around-the-head idea. Too cute.

Another great braided style worn with a casual tee and a beautifully bare face.

 

Pair winged-out eyeliner with edgy hair and what do you get?  Retro-punk.

 

Unexpectedly pretty: Matchy-matchy makeup and earrings.

I’m a fan of any woman with the confidence to rock black lipstick. Homegirl is killing it!

This look screams “1990s house party” and I love it.

The headband is super-girly, but the sunglasses and fuchsia lipstick add a dose of attitude. Nice!

So there you have it. And that’s just a tiny sample of the insanely stylish peeps roaming around the Afro-Punk festival. Which of these looks do you heart the most? Did you go to Afro-Punk?

All photos by Ibra Ake for Beautycism.com

 

Pretty In Print: The Fantastically Tousled Hair Seen All Over The J. Crew Catalogues

We all have our weird beauty obsessions (don’t we?) and mine is messy hair. I wrote about it a lot—maybe a little too much—earlier this summer when I was substitute blogging for Glamour.com. I can’t help it! Undone styles really speak to me. That’s why when a new J. Crew catalogue shows up in my mailbox, I fixate on the models’ hair. It’s usually roughed up, just the way I like it. Here are four looks from the last two style guides that I’m really into.

1. In the August issue: Bedhead with a classic sweater and statement necklace.

2. Also from August: Teased, playful strands with a girly dress.

3. Spotted in the September issue: A windblown style with bold glasses.

4. More messy hair from September: Disheveled updos and sweet party dresses.

Cool, right? There’s something rebellious about pairing a roughed up hairstyle with polished clothing that I love. And I’ll admit, I’m also drawn to disheveled ‘dos because they validate my lazy hair tendencies a little bit. No shame in my game!

Have you noticed the carefree hair in the J. Crew style guides? Are you a fan?

 

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Gabby Douglas: The OTHER Beauty Feature That’s Scoring Her Tons Of Buzz

So now that Gabby Douglas herself has told the world to stop all the “stupid, crazy” talk about her hair, let’s move on to a different topic. There’s something else about Gabby’s looks that gets a lot of attention. It’s one of the main things (besides her historic Olympic performance and inspiring backstory, of course) that’s helping her rack up millions in endorsements. Any guesses?

I’m referring to Gabby’s smile. It’s pretty dazzling. Like, light-up-the-whole-Olympic-stadium dazzling. I love Gabby’s megawatt grin, and I’ve noticed that in articles about her future money-making potential, it keeps coming up.

From Advertising Age:

No matter what she eventually earns, there is no denying her star power today. Along with her charming smile, Ms. Douglas has a certain every-teen quality that makes her an immediate hit.

From Essence:

It’s her amazing smile and girl-next-door appeal that has instantly made her America’s Sweetheart and a model spokeswoman for any brand – cosmetics, shoes, sports drinks.

From CNNMoney:

“She’s the new darling of America,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising and author of Sports Marketer’s Scouting Report. ”She has the look, the great smile, and seems like someone who could be a compelling pitch woman of products to teens and pre-teens.”

From Bleacher Report:

Corn Flakes is a great start for the 16-year-old. Her bubbly personality, warm smile and care-free attitude are things that almost every company looks for when promoting their products.

From Forbes:

She has a golden smile, and thus would be a great face for a corporate campaign.

From ABC News:

“That infectious smile and the joy — when you are trying to market a product, that’s what you want,” Miller said.

 So take that, hair haters! I’m sure Gabby will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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And The Award For The City With The Coolest, Sexiest, Most Wonderfully Diverse Fashion Week Of The Season Goes To…Sao Paulo

OK, so why haven’t I ever paid attention to Sao Paulo Fashion Week before? It’s been around since 1996, but it’s been completely off of my radar until now. Apparently, I’ve been missing out big-time.

Seriously, once I started looking at the pics, I could not stop. I got sucked in by striking, African-inspired details, ginormous statement accessories, bright colors and, of course, those models’ bodies–they’re ridic.

As for the beauty statements, they were, well…beautiful. And refreshing. We’re talking big Afro wigs, winged-out-beyond-the-brows liner and models with all different skin tones. From what I’ve seen, this season of Sao Paulo Fashion Week is what all fashion weeks should be: diverse, cultural, artistic and sexy. I really, really, really want to go to there. Here are some of the looks that got me all obsessed:

1. From ivory to dark chocolate, all complexions were represented on the Adriana Degreas catwalk.

2. At the New York and European shows, there’s often a one-weave-fits all attitude backstage. At FH for for Fause Haten, the models got faux ‘fros. Now that’s a cool twist.

3. I love the pairing of two extremes at Andre Lima: crazy-extended eyeliner and massive (and hopefully light!) earrings.

4. This model knew exactly how to work this orate mask at the Lino Villaventura show. Hot!

5. More awesomeness from Adriana Degreas. This is head-to-toe edgy perfection.

6. Um, I would kill for the butt on this model at the Movement show. Seriously, I think offing another person would be a fair trade-off. I’m not kidding. I kid, I kid.

7. Blame it on my African roots, but this headwrap worn at the Neon show is calling (very loudly) to me. So is the model’s grape lipstick. I doubt I could pull off either one in real life, but I can dream, can’t I?

Yep, I can see SPFW becoming a much bigger deal globally in the near future. I know I only showed you a snippet, but what do you think?

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The “Can I Touch Your Hair?” Issue Makes Its Way Into Primetime TV

I’ve been hearing good things about ABC’s new show Don’t Trust The B—- In Apt 23 so I decided to watch it last night. I expected it to be funny–and it was. But I didn’t expect to see an all too familiar hair issue depicted so hilariously in a scene involving a black male character with an Afro. The episode is worth watching for that moment alone.

People need to keep their hands off of Mark's hair!

In the scene, one of the main characters, June, brings her friend and fellow coffee shop employee, Mark, with her to the Korean church she’s been attending. After the service, June and Mark hang around to talk with the pastor. A few minutes later, June leaves and Pastor Jin says to Mark: “Can I touch your hair? You look like Obama.”

To which Mark replies: “Uhhhh…I have to go the bathroom.” And abruptly walks away. I cracked up.

When this happens in real life, it’s frustrating and offensive. But when it’s portrayed in a tongue-in-cheek way on a sitcom, you have to admit, it’s pretty funny. I would love to know whose idea it was to include that dialogue in the script–was it the writers or the actor, Eric André, who is also a comedian? Either way, it was spot on.

Black women (and I guess men, too!) with Afros and locs have to put up with random requests like Pastor Jin’s from strangers all the time. It’s maddening. This subject came up at a panel discussion about black beauty that I went to on Sunday. One attendee with big, curly hair spoke about how awkward it can be trying to figure out out how to respond in those situations. You could avoid it altogether like Mark did or you could be blunt like Thembi Ford, who wrote an essay for Clutch Magazine in March called “No, You May Not Touch My Hair. No, I Do Not Feel Guilty About It.”

At the event, a fashion designer on the panel suggested someone make a t-shirt that says “Don’t Touch My Hair!”  I could have used a shirt like that when I was a child. I endured a lot of unwelcome hair-touching because I was too young to know how to deal. (You can read about what I went through here.) No one has tried to pet my hair in years, but I just got braids, so who knows. Maybe I should brace myself for the inevitable.

Has anyone ever asked you if they could touch your hair? What did you say? How did you feel? Has this ever happened to someone you know? Go ahead, blab  in the comments section below. 

 

 

 

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