The more words assigned to an object, the greater the object’s importance.
I know more hair-related words, in two languages, than I do words for discussing my finances–a sign that what sits on my head takes up too much head space. I’ve blogged about how being a “good girl with bad hair” is an intrinsic part of my identity, taught and reenforced by family and the Latino community. “Good hair” is an elusive aspiration that has diverted time, energy, mental focus, creativity, and money from goals that would have really moved me forward. The quest for “good hair” is just a relentless reminder that you’ll never be good enough.
A recent article expresses parallel sentiments. Pamela Paul contributes to the Cultural Studies feature of The New York Times’ Sunday Styles; “She Sounds Smart, but That Hair!” was published Sunday, March 29, 2015. The article points out that focusing on a woman’s appearance, whether or not she is of color, diminishes her accomplishments and capacities. The article includes a comment by Sally Kohn, a political commentator who has had her hair compared to Brillo after television appearances, that echoes my own past thoughts: “Really? Nobody was listening to me? They were just looking at my hair?”
Kinky. Nappy. Frizzy. Pasa. Nido de raton. Enjambre. Messed-up. “Black-girl” hair. Brillo. Wooly. Coarse. Damaged. Troubled.
I have accumulated this vocabulary over a lifetime. It’s been a long-time project to defuse those words. The process has taught me hard lessons, including that the words have been most effective because I’ve used them against myself.