Students took a study break last Monday night to hear two students speak about topics that are personally meaningful to them. To kick off this semester’s weekly Food for Thought series, Ned Wang ’18 presented on the role of fashion in setting beauty standards and Ama Gyamerah ’17 discussed the culture of hair extensions.
Bowdoin Student Government’s Academic Affairs Committee runs Food for Thought as an opportunity to showcase student interests and viewpoints that might not come up in class discussions. Chrissy Rujiraorchai ’17, vice president of the committee, says she sees the series as “a way to channel creative energy.”
The lectures take place in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library’s Nixon Room, and each speaker has 20 minutes to speak about whatever she or he wishes. In past years, students have lectured on the history of superhero comics, on diabetic squirrels on campus, and about why Beyonce is queen. Wang and Gyamerah were nominated as the first speakers this semester.
Wang used clips from the film The Devil Wears Prada to show how fashion worships thinness. He referred to the Mona Lisa, an iconic woman he argued would be considered “puffy by today’s beauty standards” in spite of her celebrated image in the aesthetic world.
“During the Sexual Revolution, women decided to reinvent their self-image and no longer look like simply a mother or a child-bearer,” he said. “The Barbie Doll came along to accentuate a woman’s slim waist and breasts, mimicking the Coca-Cola bottle shape.”
Wang argued that ever since this cultural shift, the fashion world has been predominately composed of skinny models.
For this reason, he claimed to have a love-hate relationship with fashion. “I love fashion because it’s something that makes me feel good. Fashion is a modern art and the fashion industry celebrates the aesthetic. However, I hate that the fashion industry sets standards for beauty. What gives them the authority to set standards?”
Gyamerah delved into the culture of hair extensions and their significance to the African-American community. She began by discussing how British colonists classified black or “kinky hair” as “closer to sheep wool than human hair.” These days, our society perpetuates the perception that social and professional opportunities are only attainable for those with straight hair. So many African-Americans believe that their natural hair is unacceptable, she said.
While women have historically worn hair extensions or weaves because of this internalized distaste for natural hair, Gyamerah suggested that people have varying motives for wearing weaves. “We go to school in Maine. Cold hair is not good for black natural hair,” she said. “Getting a weave preserves the wellness of hair and also saves us money. Weaves also help with hair growth.”
Gyamerah elaborated on different types of hair extensions, as well as their cost. “Getting your hair done can range from $40 to $160, but Beyonce spends over $100,000 on her hair extensions,” she said.
Gyamerah’s interest in hair emerged during her first year at Bowdoin when she realized how little her Bowdoin peers knew about hair extensions. “When I first came, I came in with braids. I went home during fall break and got a weave, and everybody started asking me, ‘How did your hair get that way?’ and ‘Wait — that’s not your real hair?’”
She said she sees her relationship with her hair as her way of connecting to home. “Now that I’m at Bowdoin, I feel more of a connection to my hair, which in turn connects me to my home in New York City,” she said.