Waxing, shaving, weaves, extensions, going au–natural; how women style their hair is highly commodified and politicized. Learn more about such topics with PAGE—the Penn Association for Gender Equality—at their annual “Love Your Body Week” exhibition, a celebration of self–love and women’s empowerment.
The COLOR + HAIR exhibit debuts Monday, November 12 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Philomathean Society Gallery, on the fourth Floor of College Hall. The exhibit showcases paintings, drawings, poetry, and essays about the relationship between Penn women of color and their hair. During opening night, artists will discuss their pieces and the inspiration and personal stories behind them.
Tanya Jain (C '20), Director of Programming for PAGE, is the driving force behind this year’s theme. She says, “We wanted to create a space for women of color to discuss issues with body hair and colorism.”
Tanya says her goal is to keep PAGE an inclusive space, especially for women of color who have been historically overlooked in feminist discourse. ”This year we reached out to Sister–Sister, Spice Collective, and Mujeres Empoderadas to collaborate in collecting artistic submissions. Previously our organization primarily catered to white women—now we have a more intersectional focus, with more programming for women of color.”
The art pieces are diverse and personal, touching upon specific yet widely experienced struggles of female identity. How do women control what is considered unruly, wild, or unacceptable within the narrow Eurocentric definition of beauty? Do we wax or shave because we like to do it or because that’s what expected of us?
Madison Pettaway (C '21), the Education Chair of PAGE, is helping organize the event and the topic is close to her heart. “I’ve been taught that my hair takes up the wrong type of space. I’ve been taught to control my hair," she says, adding that colorism has shaped her relationship with her hair.
“When I was growing up I was valued for my eurocentric features—light skin and 'good hair'—which is fucked up. But even then I had relaxed hair, starting when I was just eight years old. I thought that straight was beautiful, wavy was beautiful, anything but my hair,” she says.
Madison continues to navigate perceptions of black hair and says, “Now I have natural hair, but it’s a challenge with job recruiting. I’m not sure how to style it but stay true to myself. Black hair is politicized. Straight is civilized. Straight is professional.” She hopes the exhibit will foster more discussions about beauty and intersectional experience.
Visit the Philo Halls this Monday at 6 p.m. for COLOR+HAIR. If you can’t make it Monday, the exhibition will be up all week, from November 12 to 16.