“Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-Seven Women Untangle an Obsession,” edited by Elizabeth Benedict
c.2015, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $16.95 316 pages
There once was a girl who had a little curl … Did you envy that nursery rhyme character? Or like many women, have you had a love-hate relationship with your hair since you were old enough to hear nursery rhymes like that?
Either way, you’re not alone, as you’ll see in “Me, My Hair, and I,” a collection of hair-raising essays edited by Elizabeth Benedict.
Is today a good hair day, a bad hair day – or a no-hair day? The bigger question: who’s happy with her hair? In this book, 27 women answer that as they weigh in on their tresses (or lack thereof).
“For women,” says Benedict, “hair is an entire library of information.”
“It’s always there, unless it’s gone or it’s hidden – and those absences tell stories too.”
Your story may start with your mother, the first decision-maker when it came to your hair. She might have snipped a few strands as a keepsake once; she may’ve forced you into a “pixie” you didn’t want, a curtain of hair you hated, a shaved head that culture demanded by your first birthday, or braids done expertly. Her choices then may still influence your ’do today.
Hair can be “good” or it can be “bad” and getting the former, for African American girls, often meant time spent in the family kitchen that “would double as a torture chamber.” Heated devices burned necks and scalps and rain undid everything in an instant. Getting one’s hair straightened was “controversial,” but the author states, “Whatever Black women do to their hair is controversial.”
Other cultures, other controversies.
Which brings up some good points: when it comes to our hair, everybody has an opinion on it – and most of them can’t help sharing. Also we may envy someone else’s hair, while she envies our straight-wavy-bouncy-curly-sleek tresses of another color-texture- thickness. We’re never happy with that which is on our heads – or anywhere on our bodies, for that matter.
So perhaps the thing to do is to embrace two facts: for women, there is no such thing as a “neutral” hairstyle. There’s just not. And, hey, whatever we do with it, we get second chances: it’ll always grow back.
Pick up “Me, My Hair, and I” and there’s one thing you’ll notice: as you comb through it, just about every one of these 27 essays resonates.
It’s easy, for instance, to identify with the women who long for a new hairstyle to go with a new life. Readers will know exactly what one essayist means when she says hair is love. We sympathize with descriptions of hair as it circles the drain, post-chemo; with memories of childhood pulls and tugs; with the waffling decisions to dye or not; and with the shake-our-heads comments that our hair draws.
Editor Elizabeth Benedict chose these essays wisely to reflect our tangled thoughts about hair, and I think you’ll agree once you open its pages. If you’ve ever cursed your curls, fought your ’fro, or loved your locks, “Me, My Hair, and I” will surely grow on you.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.