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‘Whoever holds the scissors wields the power’: An auto/biographical reflection on my ‘Hairstory’

‘Whoever holds the scissors wields the power’: An auto/biographical reflection on my ‘Hairstory’

Owusu-Kwarteng, Louise (2020) ‘Whoever holds the scissors wields the power’: An auto/biographical reflection on my ‘Hairstory’. Women's Studies International Forum, 82:102405. ISSN 0277-5395 (doi:

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This paper provides an auto/biographical account of my hair journey, with specific emphasis on my hairstyle changes, and their ‘inextricable links’ to my identity and self-presentation (Bankhead and Johnson 2014) at different stages in my life. In doing so, reference is made to the work of Anthony Giddens (1991) Erving Goffman (1950) and Judith Butler (1990). In addition, I discuss how for Black women, ‘hair’ is also a continual source of political debates. These centre on whether particular styles (e.g relaxing (chemical straightening), and/or weave), mean we present ourselves in ways reflecting European (often hegemonic) beauty standards, rooted in longstanding negative representations of ‘tightly curled’ African hair. Conversely, are growing numbers of Black women (including me) who opt for ‘natural’ hair, choosing to present ourselves in ways which consciously reject hegemonic standards of beauty? Or are these hairstyles simply a matter of choice and/or convenience? Drawing on the work of Black Feminist researchers Teihasha Bankhead, Tabora Johnson (2014), and Cheryl Johnson (2009), I describe ‘brushes’ with these issues in Black hair salons, which impacted on my experiences in this context. Other issues, such as extraordinary lengths of time spent waiting to be seen are discussed, alongside power relationships existing between the hairstylist/salon owners and the clients, arising from these situations. In doing so Foucault’s notions of power (1984) and Freund and Maguire’s discussion of time and power (2003) are referred to.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: performativity, black hair politics, identity, impression management
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Applied Sociology Research Group
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Department of Literature, Language & Theatre
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2021 16:39
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: REF 2

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