"I wear a weave and to tell you the truth, I haven't really experienced a lot of stereotyping from my peers, but people who don't know me sometimes just assume that I've got money. I didn't choose this style because I wanted to be associated with the whole image, I just think I happen to look a lot better with a weave than I do with my own hair. I work in fashion where different people wear different styles, and mine's a weave." Mpumi, 25 Straight hair is generally linked to businesswomen dressed in power suits, says Prof Coplan. These women choose this particular style, he says, because it is deemed more appropriate in the mostly white environment in which they work. The problem is, of course, that as a result all black women with straight hair, particularly weaves and wigs, are thought to be wealthy... or BEE wannabes. And even if she doesn't wear a weave or a wig, if her jet-black hair is always relaxed bone straight, Miss Silky Straight is presumed to have an identity crisis because she still fries her hair by regularly dousing it in chemicals. The stereotype says she's a lawyer, businesswoman, works in the corporate or banking sector, or was born with a diamond-encrusted silver spoon in her mouth. She's rarely seen in anything other than designer togs and immaculately tailored suits. She wears heels every day, sports acrylic nails, drives a German car, and will only date high rollers like herself. But the wealthy corporate woman isn't likely to be seen with anything other than a conservative style in a neutral colour – never platinum blonde, says salon owner and stylist Brian Warfield. 'The platinum blonde hairpiece or weave is associated mostly with hood rats and prostitutes. It's not classy at all.'
"Afro-centric hairstyles are about saying I know who I am and where I'm from" says Nakedi Ribane, author of Beauty: A Black Perspective The current crop of natural styles like the Afro, twists, cornrows and plaits are associated with a strong affinity with Africa, says Prof Coplan. The Afro was the style that typified the 70s African American black consciousness movement, which was all about black liberation and pride. The Afro gave women the idea that you could have long beautiful hair without having to put chemicals in it. Now, of course, we have the African Renaissance, which is encouraging pride in all things African and many people are interpreting this as a move away from processed hair. Natural hair is particularly popular, says Ribane, among artists, poets, musicians or people thought of as intellectuals and creative thinkers. Think Thandiswa Mazwai and Lebo Mashile. In stereotypical language, this honey rocks only natural hair. It doesn't matter if she has an Afro, cornrows, twists, plaits or a short schoolgirl cut; she doesn't fry her hair. The theory is that her taste in music ranges from neo-soul to jazz to 'politically correct' hip-hop. She's supposed to be well versed in all subjects related to Africa, love poetry and wear Afro-centric clothing and accessories. Soul sista is most likely an activist, designer, artist or actress. Jah Lady: "Because of my dreadlocks, people do assume the obvious. If they don't say it outright, they fish to see if I'm a conscious person, whether I smoke ganja or if I'm into poetry and listen to Lauryn Hill. "I think there is a certain awareness or state of mind you've got to have to wear dreads. Going through the whole process definitely gave me a sense of pride about my hair, because I was accepting my natural hair.' Lerato, 25 The hairstyle with probably the most universal association is dreadlocks. When you see them, you think Rastafarians, reggae and Bob Marley. But that image, says Warfield, is changing. "I think dreadlocks have become more widely accepted and don't have that stigma they once had, because people are wearing them differently. People will only assume you're a Rasta if you dress the part." "He has a point. Geri Rantseli has dreadlocks and I doubt if anyone thinks she's a Rasta in her power suit. Author Ribane agrees that dreadlocks, or locks, are now seen more as an option for wearing your hair naturally, rather than being seen as you making a political statement. But even so, locks still have Rastafarian connotations. To those versed in stereotypes, Jah Lady's Lauryn Hill-inspired dreadlocks are a mix of shabby chic and precision styling. Hers are designer locks with the thick Rastafarian edge, so they're well twisted, spritzed for sheen and dyed jet black for great colour. Like the Soul Sista, she's made an informed decision to go 'natural' and loves to associate herself with Rastafarianism. She most probably listens to Bob Marley and 340ml from Mozambique, but is also known to be quite the hip-hop head.
I am not my hair:
"I don't know if I'm making a statement because I'm bald. Shaving off my hair was about just being too lazy to deal with it any more! "But people do look at me differently now. I think they don't know what to do with me – whereas before, when I had natural hair, so much was assumed about me before I'd even opened my mouth." Yandisa, 23 If you want a hairstyle that comes with no baggage and will allow you to just be the individual you are, may we suggest you shave it all off? Honestly. A woman with a bald head, says Prof Coplan, is really saying something about her individuality. Warfield's view is that because many women see hair as their crowning glory, having no hair is seen as making a very bold statement. This look is harder to stereotype, which, of course, is part of its appeal. Is she recently bereaved and following the custom that dictates she must shave off all her hair? Or is she a breast cancer survivor who has undergone chemotherapy, like the hero of India Arie's song? Either way, she's very brave to walk around with no hair. This non-conformist could be a pantsula who loves kwaito, or a woman simply trying to model herself on Skin from Skunk Anansie – in which case we can expect to find anything from Floetry to Neneh Cherry in her CD shuttle.