Netgalley Purge 1: Me, My Hair and I | Book Review

I have about 15 electronic books that I downloaded from Netgalley that I planned to read and review and haven’t gotten to yet. However, I need to wipe the slate clean before I will allow myself to request anything new so I’ll be reading some of these galleys in the next few days. Some of the titles have since been released, and are so old that I now have finished copies of the books on my shelves but the process, I believe, will be cathartic. The first of these reviews is below:

 Me, My Hair and I is a compilation of essays written by twenty-seven women from almost as many ethnic backgrounds, about the physical topic of hair and the social hair-raising issues it can invoke. The essays are edited by Elizabeth Benedict and in her introduction, she says, “the hair choices we make for ourselves and others reveal who we are, the worlds we live in and how we want to be perceived.” While Benedict herself only contributes a single essay to the collection, much of the writings affirm her statement, that hair is personal and reflects priorities and care but also bigger issues like self image and mental health. Remember when Britney Spears shaved her head and the world knew she needed to take some time off her pop-icon status. Hair can be is its own gesture and political statement. When the Beatles shook their blonde locks on stage and sent teen girls into a tizzy. When a woman is undergoing cancer treatment and shaves her head and her spouse shaves his in solidarity, hair can be its own gesture of love.

The essays are written in a very conversational tone and I enjoyed the subject and presentation but after a while, some of the essays were a little repetitive.

For a brief look at the book, I’ll share my thoughts on the first two contributions:

The first essay is entitled Rapunzel Complex and was written by a Jewish writer and philosophy professor who shared how the different women in her life relate to her hair – she mentions her overworked mother who cut her daughters’ hair short to simplify the grooming chores; the daughter who asked her fo chained her hairstyle so she would fit one; the other daughter who asked her to change so she could stand out; and her own Orthodox sister who refused to cover her own tresses. A lot of what she shares in these lines probably echo many of the relationships we have and so makes this first essay very relatable. 

The second essay is Hair Interrupted, written by a mixed woman of Swiss and Tunisian descent who develops leukemia at age 22 and loses her hair during the treatment. Her story at once evolves from the classic immigrant story of a social misfit trying desperately to fit into the American landscape of peanut butter sandwiches and candy and instead takes on a more emotionally charged of life and death. In this essay, the author’s relationship with her hair is the evidence of how she deals with her illness, plucking out the few remaining strands when the chemotherapy takes effect, as a demonstration of her plucky courage to fight the disease with everything she has. 

Marita Golden attempts to explain the entire history of black hair in a few pages – the stigma of wearing Afro hair in its curly or kinky state when the world seems to prefer Eurocentric features, and the physical, financial, emotional, social cost of trying to adopt something that is not naturally ours or oftentimes, the price of not conforming to that ideal. While Golden does highlight a lot of the issues faced by African American women at some stage of their life, she is an older woman and thus isn’t quite representative of the current generation where natural hair has become less taboo and instead, is being celebrated in media. 

Anne Lamont explains why she as a white woman, wears dreadlocks and compares the experience to the rebirth in baptism in her religious upbringing (and Tim Robbins’ rebirth at the end of Shawshank Redemption movie).

In Frizzball, Patricia Volk says she has learned to live with her hair being the bane of her existence and almost welcomes it because it means nothing tragic is happening to her: “I believe we are born with a cup of affliction and it is our destiny to keep that cup filled at all times. If something terrible happens, I forget about my hair” she says. 

And in, And Be Sure to Tell Your Mother, Alex Kuczynski composes a research paper on the cultural attitudes towards pubic hair and how it is reflected in art, some of it a bit uncomfortable to read, and not just because one is wincing from visualizing the hair removal process. 

Read the book for more stories like these. I enjoyed some of the essays more than others but I recommend this compilation, especially for women who might think that their own hair woes are unique. If there is one thing this collection accomplishes, is to reinforce the idea that hair pride and insecurities plague women of all backgrounds.

Click here to buy a copy and I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Note: I received a free electronic version of this book from Netgalley in order to complete this review. 

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

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