Thus far, the culture of hair in this community has been defined by the women as believing that hair should be uncut and that having uncut hair gives them an authority over the angels. However, there is a bit more to it than that. As one participant, Natalia, said, “Uncut hair defines an Apostolic woman within the community, but our ‘Pentecostal hairstyles’ mark us to people in the world.”
The term “Pentecostal hairstyle” does not indicate a style that worn only by Pentecostals, but describes a variety of hairstyles, mainly up-dos, that are fairly elaborate and typically include a type of pouf. One participant, Esmeralda, described the hairstyles as “reminiscent of the hairstyles of 1960s beehive” and another participant, Heather, stated “I was rather upset when I saw that girl Snooki wearing a ‘Pentecostal Pouf’ because as it becomes popular in the world, it loses its association with us Apostolic women.”
Several of the women who were raised in this religion stated that they often felt they pressure to wear their hair in a certain way, especially when they went to church conferences and youth camps where they would be exposed to other members of their same faith. At the same time, they expressed the need they had (and still have) to be seen as an individual in the midst of all the elaborate hairdos they believed they were expected to do. Carol explained it saying,
“At youth camps it was like your hair had to be runway ready. Your hairstyle had to be of a certain caliber but you didn’t want to have your hair too similar to your neighbor’s hair. And this really didn’t really change too much as I stopped going to camps and started attending women’s conferences. What changed was the attitudes that women had towards those who chose not to pouf their hair. As women mature they tend not to care about each other’s hair, but many still focus on making their own hair have the ‘Pentecostal essence’, something that distinguished them as being part of the group.”
A similar idea appeared as Leah (whose family came into the religion when she was a young child) described her first trip to her district’s youth camp:
“My first youth camp was an interesting one because none of the girls at my church told me that it was such a formal occasion. It wasn’t until the first morning when several of the girls woke up an hour early to have enough time to fix their hair that I realized that it was going to be a completely new experience. My thought was “camp=relaxed=ponytails”, maybe a few curls for evening services, but this was not the case for the majority of the girls at the camp. Most had a small pouf and a simple bun for the daytime and larger pouf and very elaborate bun for the evening services. From the first day, there was a sort of segregation between girls who wore the poufs and those who didn’t. I thought that this was because of the familiarity between some girls who knew each other because they came from large youth groups and that the hairstyle was just a popular thing in their group. But as I began to talk to different people, I realized that most of them were barely familiar with each other and there were quite a few new faces that year. It hit home for me that hairstyle mattered when one of the girls, who was a few years older than me and was regarded by the others as someone who knew how to do hair very well, offered to fix my hair for the final day of camp. I agreed because I wanted to see how one of those hairstyles would look on me. On that day, I was treated very differently by some of the girls who hadn’t spoken to me throughout the rest of the week. Now, while this was the case for me at my first camp, at other camps I’ve been to, the hairstyles have been much simpler, like ponytail simple. It seemed silly to me that I was ostracized by some because of my hair, but that was back when I was maybe thirteen, in general girls of that age are very aware of their appearances and religious beliefs don’t necessarily change that level of consciousness.”
Here, three very important aspects of this culture of hair emerge: hair as a means of preserving cultural/religious identity, hair as symbolic capital, and the Lolita effect. The first will be addressed here and the latter two will be addressed in a separate post.
As Leah explained, it was not until an older girl at her youth camp did her hair and showed her how to do it that she learned the style for herself. Now that Leah has children, she says that it is important to her that her daughter knows how to do Pentecostal hairstyles from a young age. She mentioned that her mom never liked her doing the styles because she feared that so much teasing of her hair would cause her hair to be damaged beyond the point of repair. She adds that while she won’t allow her daughter to tease her hair to create a pouf, that she has learned several other ways to create it using various hair clips and, she added reluctantly, even using Bumpits. She wants her daughter to have a sense of pride in her religious heritage from a young age and says that the uniqueness of Pentecostal hairstyles is a way for her daughter to show that pride to people “in the world” and express her individuality to people within the community.