The ICT Tac only lasts 45 seconds and the young woman in it, a TikTok user @lunafairy.ir, didn’t say a word. The silence vivifies the decisive sound of the scissors cutting her thick hair.
“Please raise the voice of the Iranian people to the world,” read his caption. The hashtag is “#mahsaamini”.
In other ICT Taca woman wearing a black hijab grabs a pair of pink scissors, then cuts a piece of the fabric hanging over her shoulder, section by section. “Today, exactly two years ago, I started wearing hijab,” @persianziba wrote in the caption. “Today I cut my hair for #mahsaamini.”
Users in Iran and around the world have cut their hair or hijabs onto the platform in a radical act of self-reliance that 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was denied. On September 13, Iran’s “morality police” – a force that terrorizes citizens (mostly women) for what it sees as a refusal to abide by Iran’s strict dress code, in particular the compulsory wearing hijab- arrested Amini for not wearing her hijab properly. They then sent her to a ‘re-education’ center where she would receive ‘advice’ on how to dress properly. Three days after her arrest, she was pronounced dead. Iranian officials say Amini died of a heart attack – but her family say she had no pre-existing heart conditions.
After his death, Iranians took to the streets to demand justice for Amini and to call for the abolition of the morality police and the hijab law. So far there have been eight victims reported, made up of protesters and pro-government militiamen. Videos are circulating of Iranian women protesting by take off publicly, and even burn, their hijabs ― an act of defiance that could cost them their lives. The movement is also active on TikTok, where Iranian diaspora women cut their hair and head coverings as a sign of solemn solidarity.
The protests sweeping Iran and the rest of the world are just the latest in a powerful resistance to a history of authority politicizing and controlling women’s bodies. But it’s also a show of deliberate resilience in people struggling to reclaim their identity, whether that means cutting their hair or covering it up.
France, a nation plagued by endemic Islamophobia despite being home to largest Muslim population in Western Europe, is part of this past and present. He has long waged a war on the hijab, banning them (along with other visible religious symbols) from French public schools in 2004, then banning full face coverings from public places in 2010. And last month, the French Senate introduced ‘anti-separatism’ which would ban minors from wearing ‘any conspicuous religious sign’ – such as the headscarf.
These bans have been presented as a pursuit of total secularism, and the most recent amendment seeks to prohibit “any outfit or garment that would signify the inferiority of women over men”. It’s kind of ironic that a government trying to eradicate oppression on women as a whole can’t see that banning Muslim women from wearing what they want completely negates their attempts to “liberate” women. .
Faced with this glaring contradiction, people have hit back with #PasToucheAMonHijab – which translates to #HandsOffMyHijab – a hashtag that accompanies selfies and photos of people wearing hijabs and headscarves. These photos are a joyous and powerful celebration of identity and body choice, two things the French government has deprived Muslim women of.
At first glance, the politicization of hair in Iran and France may seem like two sides of a coin: one nation mandates the hijab, the other bans it. But their motives are the same. “To be (hijabi) or not to be (hijabi) is the business of no state or man,” the writer tweeted. Yassmin Abdel Magied. Yet this concept seems to be too radical for governments around the world, which continue to be befuddled by the mere notion of bodily autonomy and choice.
Hair has also served as a radical device to stand up to political or social authority. During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, afros were a proud display of black identity that racist American structures attempted to erase.
“Afro styles became intrinsically linked to civil rights, as natural hair became an important symbol of the movement and its ‘black is beautiful’ philosophy”, hair historian Rachel Gibson told Vogue.
And Seth Cardinal Dodginghorse, who has family ties to the Tsuut’ina Nation in Alberta, Canada, and was raised to wear his hair in braids like many aboriginal men do, grew up with the idea that cutting her hair is a tribute to those her family has lost. So when he went viral for cutting off his braids in protest against the construction of a highway through his family’s land that would eventually displace them, the message was clear.
“With this, I leave a piece of me with the road,” he said without hesitation during the highway ceremony in the clipas Calgary ministers and officers who stand uncomfortably behind him look on.
If there’s anything our past and present have shown, our relationship to hair varies by identity and circumstance. However, what each of us decides to do with our hair has sociopolitical implications. AMini’s death is a horrible stain on women’s rights and freedom of choice. But the response to his death is a lesson, albeit a painful one, in the willful perseverance of protesters — on TikTok and IRL, in Iran and beyond — that people are not a reflection of their governments.
digital creator Cyrus Veysi said it best: “I hope one day you will see the beauty of Iran and not the headlines that have made our country an enemy,” they wrote. “And I hope one day you will see the wind blow freely through the hair of all the resilient women who choose to let their hair down.”