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- A Stuijt
- Retired South African medical journalist, ex-Sunday Times of Johannesburg.
Picture: Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko
By Adriana Stuijt. Can hairstyles tell others about our political affiliations and cultural heritage? Ukraine's beautiful prime minister has exchanged her 'ethnic braids' for the classic hairstyle of Roman/Greco goddess, Aurora. What message is she sending to her people? Her new classical Grecian hairstyle prompted the national news agency UNIAN to devote a special report to her new look. And the Hungarian-language news website Index.hu also reported Mrs Tymoshenko appearing at Ukraine’s weekly government meeting wearing her hair without its trademark braid.
Her personal website also devoted a series of photos showing the PM arranging her hair in its new style, which is parted at the right and combed straight, then tied in a bun at the back.
Her braids expressed the Ukrainian identity:
In past years, Tymoshenko’s website, under the section “real braid,” showed readers that her long plaits were indeed her own hair. In 2007, the politician appeared in the Ukrainian parliament with her hair down, which caused quite a stir, so she promised not to do it again.
Tymoshenko, now 49, apparently refused to join the trend among female politicians to cut their hair when approaching 50, and has been using her long hair to her political advantage, making the braided hair her own trademark. Until now. Tymoshenko said the Ukrainian nationalist poetess, Lesya Ukrainka, inspired braiding her hair.
Her latest inspiration however came from the nude statue of the Roman/Greco goddess of the dawn, Aurora - who also was the goddess of new beginnings.
Thus this politician’s new hairstyle also may be sending a powerful message to her people: signaling a new Dawn, a new beginning for her small nation which after years of struggling against Soviet oppression, have now rejoined their European heritage – which is, after all, based on these Greco-Roman traditions.
LIBERATING WESTERN WOMEN: VIDAL SASSOON
Western women have been expressing their political statements in hairstyles before this, however. During the 1960s, there also was the famous Vidal Sassoon bob. Sassoon, a British-born hairstylist, invented this delightful, free-swinging hairstyle to release women from the painful horrors of the teased-back, ‘permed’ coiffures of the 1950s.
He first created these modern hairstyles to go with the hip fashions of Mary Quant, one of the most influential people in the 1960's fashion industry. This London-based fashion designer is often credited with helping the rise of "Swinging London" and the mod fashion wave. But her fashion would not have been nearly as powerful in its impact on Western women, if it hadn’t been for Vidal Sassoon’s fabulous bob. He launched hairdressing academies and wrote an influential book, Cutting the Hair the Vidal Sassoon Way, in which he also quite by accident, describes how he also managed to free Western women from the confines of the destructive perms and teased-back hairstyles of the 1950s. Women who wore the Sassoon bob were telling the world that they also were ‘ liberated Western women’.
And during the 1960s, that was a dangerous statement to make in public for most young women, who in those years, weren’t even allowed to open their own bank accounts or apply for their own passports without their husbands’ or fathers’ permission…
In the USA-launched protest movements of the 1960s, virtually every American, and indeed Western belief and value was suddenly being questioned. Feminists were especially outraged that (male) historians had allowed stereotypes of women to substitute for a more searching look at women's experiences. In response, scholars of every sort began to examine old bits--and new--of American history, culture, and politics. Among some, retrieving women's history became almost a mania. They located and published such source materials as women's letters, diaries, and other writings. Biographies, usually of well-known white women, also appeared. Gradually, analysis broadened to include studies of women in the American Revolution or the depression of the 1930s, suffrage, education and equal employment and equal payment rights for women.
At one memorable event in Washington, DC which I also participated in, huge numbers of young women marched into a large local bank with filled in applications for their own bank accounts – without their male relatives’ written permission. And I also noticed that most of them wore Sassoon bobs. The bank called in the riot police. But our point also was made.
Afro’ - a powerful political statement in USA
In this context, one specific hairstyle also became a powerful symbol of national identity for African-Americans. The "Afro" hairstyle of the 1960s and 1970s identified its mostly youthful wearers as supporters of various radical movements such as the Black Panther Party. The Afro hairstyle was however first made world-famous by black US revolutionary Angela Davis.
The Afro is a hairstyle in which the hair extends out from the head like a halo, cloud or ball. This may or may not include wearing such afros long, to several times the diameter of the head. An afro - which was never seen in Africa, as Africans have traditionally always preferred to braid their hair -- requires very curly hair. For many people of African-American heritage, it also became a powerful symbol of freedom in the United States.
The Afro wasn't new but it did identify directly with the slavery history of so many black Americans: it was first seen in the USA in 1860s, when showman P.T. Barnum brought women from the Caucasus who sported this so-named “Circassian Beauties’ hairstyle.
Slaves from the Caucasus:
Picture left: American showman P.T. Barnum brought women from the Caucasus who sported the Circassian Beauties' hairstyle which was very similar to the later Afro adopted by radical black American movements. These Circassian women during the duration of the Turkish occupation of the region often became slave concubines because of their purported great beauty.
Circassian beauties were women of the Caucasus mountain range in Circassia, Northern Caucasus. A fairly extensive literary history suggests that Circassian women were unusually beautiful, spirited and elegant, and as such were desirable as slave concubines during the Turkish occupation, sometimes known as "Moss-haired girls", exhibited in sideshow attractions in the United States by P.T. Barnum and others. PT Barnum marketed these women to white audiences in the United States who were in those years , captivated by the "exotic East."
Whatever its origin, the Afro hairstyle became an icon of African-American youth culture during the 1960s and into the 1970s. The Afro's use mellowed in the seventies to become engrained with the African-American music culture, such as the Jackson Five singing group.
The Afro vanished in the early 1980s -- to be replaced by wavy shorter hairstyles or jheri-curls which remain hugely popular among youths worldwide. The Jheri curl is a hairstyle that was particularly common and popular in the African American community in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s.
Africans have been braiding their hair this way for centuries, however it was introduced into the United States by Willie Morrow and named after Jheri Redding, the man who made it popular.....
Meanwhile, the Afro currently also shows a slight resurgence as retro-chic among modern youths -- but it still remains a political statement in the United States of America, too.
And of course nowadays there’s a huge variety of hairstyles among youth cultures, collectively described as Punk – in clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry, and body modifications of the punk subculture. Punk fashion varies widely from Vivienne Westwood styles to styles modeled on musical bands like The Exploited. The distinct social dress of other subcultures and art movements, including glam rock, skinheads, rude boys, greasers, and mods have influenced punk fashion. Punk fashion has likewise influenced the styles of these groups, as well as those of popular culture. Punks use clothing and hairstyles as a way of making a statement.
But I also recently photographed this obviously very happy woman named Nienke, who visited Dokkum recently with her husband, each on their own motorbikes. There’s only one way to describe Nienke’s style -- total freedom from any conventions about how ‘old people’ should behave, dress or look like…
And she also very clearly could care less what her hair looks like… nor what people might be ‘thinking about her’. And isn’t that’s the best style of all?