A distinguished novelist gathers together essays that attempt to untangle the complicated relationship of females to their hair.
The book contains 27 thoughtful essays from a diverse group of women writers who offer insight into why hair matters. Benedict introduces the topic by observing, “for women, hair is an entire library of information,” about everything from self-image and sexuality to cultural values and interpersonal relationships. Writer and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein follows up by showing how the different colors and lengths she has worn her hair have revealed her struggles as, among other things, “a freethinker trapped within Orthodox Judaism” and an artist trapped within academia. In her essay on black female hair, Marita Golden suggests a woman’s ethnicity can make hair inextricably bound to issues of “race, politics, history and pride.” The way women treat the hair that grows on other parts of their bodies can also reveal a great deal about what passes for beauty and desirability, as Alex Kuczynzki shows in her comparison of the depilatory practices of Muslim cultures and the increasingly sex-obsessed culture of the West. Hair can also play a role in familial relationships. Linguist Deborah Tannen suggests that hair is one of the elements that mothers and daughters fixate on in each other because each regards the other as a mirror image and therefore worthy of “scrutiny that they otherwise reserve for themselves.” For Anne Kreamer, hair—and in particular, graying hair—is a barometer of mortality that is either to be praised for the way it reminds wearers of “the passage of time” or boldly colored as a fighting statement against mortality. This collection is not only unique for the subject matter it addresses. It also provides cultural commentary that is by turns insightful, humorous, and moving. Other contributors include Jane Smiley, Anne Lamott, Siri Hustvedt, Myra Goldberg, Honor Moore, and Adriana Trigiani.
Surprisingly engaging reading.