A sociologist looks at why hair matters so much and what our concerns about hair have to say about who we are, as well as who we hope to be.
In researching her subject, Weitz (Sociology/Arizona State; ed., The Politics of Women’s Bodies, not reviewed) held two focus groups with women over 50 and two with teens—one of heterosexuals, one of both lesbians and bisexuals—and she interviewed 74 girls and women varying in age, ethnicity, social class, religion, sexual orientation, and, of course, hair color and style. After an all-too-brief introductory chapter on the history of women’s hair, she turns to these conversations to examine what they reveal about the role hair plays at various stages of life, from childhood to old age. With liberal use of quotes, she demonstrates how young girls are taught to value hair, how the media affect teenagers’ ideas about appearance, and how they use their hairstyles to explore their identities and make statements about their desire to fit in or stand out from the crowd. Subsequent chapters explore how hair figures in women’s intimate relationships, sometimes becoming a battleground for power struggles, and how women adopt certain styles to compete in the job market. Weitz also looks at the camaraderie provided by hair salons, where women develop warm relationships with their stylists and with other women. Women who have lost their hair through illness share their feelings about baldness, revealing the impact that hair loss often has on one’s self-image and self-esteem. Similarly, women whose hair has faded to gray or is thinning out discuss how these changes of aging affect their perceptions of themselves and the different ways they cope or elect not to cope with them. Weitz acknowledges the pleasure hair gives girls and women, but she is deeply concerned about the cultural expectations about female appearance that lead to obsessions about hair. Her aim is to free girls and women from what she calls “the bonds of the beauty culture,” and her final chapter, aptly titled “No More Bad Hair Days,” offers some advice on achieving this goal.
Not much new here—at least for female readers—but should provide women’s-studies classes with points for discussion. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)