by Erickka Sy Savané
The short answer is no. By definition, “to hide” means to cover up or remove from sight. So if you put on a wig, you’re covering your hair, which is the same as hiding it. The question then becomes less about whether you’re hiding, but what you’re hiding because people hide different things for different reasons.
Take your friend who is an actress and goes out on commercial auditions as two different people. One is herself- a beautiful caramel sister with a short natural and the other is “Ayanna” a beautiful caramel sister with a big curly afro. She started going out as Ayanna at the suggestion of a friend who thought her short hair was limiting and she would book more if she changed it. Before long, Ayanna was booking commercials left and right, which was great, but there was a drawback. Now your friend had to wear the wig all the time, which gave her the stifling feeling of wearing a hat. “I never really understood the obsession with wearing something on your head that is essentially dead. It’s kinda weird.” Probably as weird as hiding your identity to become someone else. Imagine the pressure. The first time you saw her as Ayanna was at an audition. Since you hadn’t seen her in 8 years, your excitement caused you to scream her name from across the room. In an instant, she turned ghost white and disappeared from her seat.
Hey, you didn’t know that she was not your friend wearing a curly wig, but actually, Ayanna. Weird.
Hiding our identity isn’t the only reason we wear wigs. Sometimes what we hide is less obvious like in the case of Grandma Brickhouse. In her mid-sixties, she wears a wig every single day. “I can’t lift my left arm, so I throw that wig cap up there for convenience.” She has about 30 that she maintains by throwing them right in the washer. Who knew? She says her mom used to do hair as a side hustle growing up in Mississippi and would wash hers in Woolite. But as convenient as wigs are, she also wishes that she could cut her naturally fine hair into a short style. When asked why she doesn’t do it she reveals a story that happened when she was a kid. Once she took some scissors and cut her shoulder-length hair into a messy bob, and her mom went ballistic, beating her with an extension chord and telling her that it would never grow back.” It never did, and to this day Grandma Brickhouse believes that if she cuts her hair, it won’t grow back. How’s that for hiding fear?
The model friend
Remember your friend who went from wearing a wig every now and then to never taking it off. It was strange because she was a model back in the day and wore her hair in the cutest TWA before it was a thing. So what happened to that girl? Why was she covering up? It started when her life began to spiral out of control. She lost her job, her car and then found herself a few months behind in her rent. Wigs became the mask she put on to hide the chaos that was happening in her life. “The worse I feel, the better I try to look. So if you see me in a ball gown and tiara, with hair down my back, things are really f*cked up.”
The protective styler
Makes perfect sense. But what about women who say they wear wigs as a protective hairstyle? What are they covering up? Well, consider this idea that your hair is so fragile it needs to be protected from the outside world is just that, a cover up. Because surely with the right care- deep conditioners, regular cuts and even styles that tuck your hair away into a braid or bun, while still allowing your scalp to get some fresh air- you could lose the wig. The truth is, whether it’s a fuller version of your own hair or a complete transformation along the lines of Beyonce or her more eclectic soul sister Solange, you love the way you look in wigs. But it comes with a price.
You remember your own encounters with wigs back in the day when you were modeling. It was the Naomi Campbell era so at one point, if you were a black girl, you came to shoots with a suitcase full of wigs and hairpieces. On one hand, it was great because hair gave you a confidence that you’d never felt before. Imagine your inner drag queen coming boldly to life. Make room Sasha Fierce! But also imagine that world coming to a screeching halt as soon as you take off that wig. It always sucked going back to being you. Which explains why some people don’t go back. Why not stay in the fantasy forever? Well, because you can’t hide forever. Aside from the psychological effects of hiding, the fear of being exposed and the self-esteem issues that will still be there no matter how much you try to cover it up, there’s the fact that wearing a wig for long periods of time is just not good for your scalp. Even cockroaches see the light sometimes! Ever hear of actress Countess Vaughn’s wig story?
After 5 years of wearing lace front wigs, mama developed a severe scalp infection that caused oozing, discoloration and hair loss. But for months, she wouldn’t see a doctor because she didn’t want to stop wearing wigs. Eventually, she did seek help and stop she did, but it was a painful process that entailed her keeping her baldhead at home- no pun intended. There’s also Naomi Campbell. Who hasn’t seen the horrific photos of her missing hairline? What she probably wouldn’t give to go back to her original hair, but going back is that much harder now that there’s so little left. So she too continues to hide, but we all know what lies beneath.
That’s the funny thing about wigs. There will always be something hiding underneath no matter how hard we try to hide it.
What are you hiding beneath yours?
Erickka Sy Savané is a former model, actress and MTV VJ. She began her writing career in the late 90’s as a relationship columnist for Trace magazine and since then her work has appeared in Essence, Heart & Soul, Uptown (where she was an editor), clutchmagoline.com, mommynoire.com, xojane.com, and others.
Currently, she writes a social commentary blog called THE BREW (www.thebrewonline.com) and when she’s not doing that, she loves writing about the psychology of hair! Find her in Jersey City where she resides with her husband and two girls. Follow her on twitter and instagram