Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Buenos Haires

A few years ago I spent a summer month teaching art history tutorials in Florence, Italy. One of the paintings I discussed was Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery. You’ve all seen the painting, if not in person, than in various forms of reproduction, and I’m sure you would have no trouble recognizing the goddess and her long blond flowing locks.

In art history, Botticelli’s infamous Venus is a topic for many themes, one of which is sexuality. Now I could go into all the details about the sexual symbolism, how she is standing on a shell, etc., but I’m sure you get the picture. What what I really want to point out here is her hair and its undeniable sensuality: hair that blows in the sea breeze, hair that coils around her neck like a serpent, and hair that she uses to cover up her nudity (which of course only serves to accentuate it). It is in fact next to impossible to imagine Venus without her long hair.

It is also difficult to imagine women from Buenos Aires without their long hair. It’s pretty hard to miss when you come here to visit, but when you live here it’s in your face, both literally and figuratively, every day. Almost ALL the women have long hair. Some of them have reeeeally long hair. Some of them simply don’t cut it.

Where I come from, there are groups of women who don’t cut their hair, but they tend to live on colonies and only wear dresses. But that’s another post for another blog entirely.

What I have realized is that hair here, as it has historically, acts as a kind of sexual currency. Take my gym classes for example, which some women actually attend directly after going to the hairdresser. Instead of the North American custom of tying long hair into a ponytail to keep it out of your face while exercising, they leave it down, long and flowing, so as to be able to flip it around during the classes and be that much more appealing. It is quite something to behold. Sometimes when I’m on the treadmill I watch the classes going on through the windows and marvel at all the hair flipping, and wonder if it doesn’t get rather hot with all that hair in there, but then I note that I am one of the few women who is actually sweating in the gym.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not dissing the hair. I’ve never seen so much long beautiful hair before, and I’m not sure what their secret is. Maybe it’s all the protein. In any case, I do not have the penchant for having long flowing hair. Thin, wispy, and unfortunately frizzy in this climate, I’ve never hated my hair more. So what’s a girl to do? Well apparently, chop it all off.

Enter Ryan Oakley from Canada, stylist to the expat community and advocate of not looking like everyone around you. He is a master at hair and I for one don’t know what I would do without him over here. (Only in Buenos Aires do you get back from your haircuts at 1 a.m.!) Not that I needed to work hard at looking like a foreigner or anything, but now that my hair is shorter than Justin Bieber’s, it seems more obvious than ever.

I must admit, it feels a bit bare. And I guess long hair is a kind of security in a clothes you like it clothed Venus. Moreover, while the other women are flipping and coiling and twisting their tresses, I’m left empty-handed.

But in the same light, it feels rather empowering to do your own thing. And fresh – just in time for spring (please let it be spring soon!). After all, it was the style guru herself, Coco Chanel who said, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”