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Hair today

Sarah Dean

Apologies for the wet hair everyone, I just got back from the hairdresser. I did exactly what I do every time I have my hair cut: when they held up the mirror at the end to show me the finished style, I nodded, smiled and said thank you, while secretly hating everything about my new do. I then rushed home and immediately washed my hair, obliterating every trace of unguent and 'product', undoing the stylist's diligent half-an-hour of blow drying to get things back to my usual lank normality.

I don't have confidence in the hairdresser because I can't see anything without my glasses, so I have no idea what's being done, and because often I am too intimidated to say what I really want, which is 'shorter than it is at the moment, but not so short I look like a 10-year-old boy'.

My best ever hairstyle was the undercut I had during my 90s adolescence. Initially my Dad persuaded his barber to shave half my head and then I got my own clippers. (I know what you're thinking - yes I looked totally rad like a member of Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and yes inexplicably during that time I didn't have a boyfriend.)

I recently watched the brilliant documentary Good Hair, made by the comedian Chris Rock. This insightful and entertaining film unpacks the politics and ethics of the multi-million dollar black hair industry. The high street where I live in South East London is lined with hair salons specialising in black hair, offering relaxing, straightening, braids, weaves and extensions, including a Christian-run salon called 'Crown and Glory'. Watching this film really put my vanity fuelled angst into relief compared to the complex political, financial and historic choices that black women are faced every time they sit in the stylist's chair.

Weaves are a popular alternative to relaxing hair, which involves evasive and painful chemicals. But weaves are far from straightforward. There is the obvious ethical issue of the source of the real hair, which is usually women in India living in poverty, who give their hair to the local Hindu temple as a sacrifice. The temple then sells the hair on to dealers, who make millions. Then there is the issue of cost. Once the customer has paid the initial sizeable outlay to buy the weave, there is the cost of attaching the piece, which can take hours as it is sewn onto your own hair. This process has to be repeated regularly to keep the weaves attached and tight and the cost mounts up. In his documentary Rock speaks to women in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the US who are in thousands of dollars of debt in order to have 'good hair', a widely used term that stems from the historic notion that natural black hair is bad hair and needs to be more white to be fixed.

In the US, black commentators and campaigners (including church leaders) have spoken out about the cost of weaves and the importance of changing perceptions, so young black girls see their natural hair as beautiful and God given. Christians need to keep their minds on the higher things of this life - obsessing about your looks is to be avoided - but it is vital to empower young women of all colours to value their God given beauty, uniqueness and equal place in God's kingdom.