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How I Turned my Hair into Paper

Apila Pepita is a 24yo non-binary (they/them) illustrator and comic artist from Helsinki, Finland. Apila speaks about their attachment to their hair, its relationship with identity and routine, the significance of removing hair from the body and utilising it in craft and the feminist issues close to their heart.

I have been taught by the media and others around me that a woman is only pretty with hair. I always felt I was ugly if my hair was hidden under a hat or tied back. I needed my hair to make me feel pretty. Going bald scared me, I didn't know if I would be pretty anymore. I put a lot of effort into my hair, I dyed it many times a month, washed it and styled it every day. I expressed my artistic style by coloring my hair and styling it in crazy new ways. Hair was a form of self expression for me and I thought without it I would just be a blank canvas, that nobody would see my personality without talking to me. I have always been a very shy person, talking to others didn't come easy to me. Hair was always something I could talk about with others and my crazy hairstyles were a great conversation starter. I was afraid I would lose a part of myself alongside the loss of my hair but in reality I gained a new pride in my personality and no longer relied so much on my looks after shaving my hair off. 

Hair is so strongly linked with beauty and femininity and has strong connections to the female experience. I hadn't used my own hair in craft/art before making it into paper. Using something you have grown yourself in your own craft and art is incredibly powerful. I had dyed my hair many times and taken good care of it for many years, combing and washing it. This act of nurturing had imbued so many stories into my hair, seeing it become something new after being cut from my head was an important part of not only the creative process, but the process of change and liberation.

Throughout this project, many questions arose. Hair is a fiber that can be used in creating textiles just like other fibers, in my eyes hair is a material just like other material. People often use animal hair in paint brushes which are used to create art so why not use human hair as well? Why is there some kind of scary aspect to using human hair? Are we afraid of hair from an unknown source, who did it belong to before? Was it cut from their head with force or donated with consent? Aside from being an avid feminist, I also feel strongly about animal rights, this brings me to question the complexity of hair as a personal object attached to ownership. The animals have a right to their hair as much as we do and we shouldn't steal from them. Why does society not share the same notions in regards to animal hair, fur or feathers? 

Identity and equality are paramount to my art making. This upcoming year, I’m going to take action to raise awareness of non-binary gender identities and fight for their jurisdictional recognition in Finland. There is still a lot of work to be done to bring non-binary people’s stories into the general conversation. We are slowly getting there and I believe that in the future gender will no longer be a defining aspect of an individual. Everybody will be equal no matter the way they choose to express gender.

Words and images by Apila Pepita