“Ask a woman about her hair, and she just might tell you the story of her life.” So begins the new book Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-Seven Women Untangle an Obsession ($27, amazon.com). Edited by novelist Elizabeth Benedict, this unique and insightful collection of essays reflects the many ways our locks matter, touching on everything from our sexuality to our mortality. Below, we’ve highlighted just a few of our favorite passages.
On “age-appropriate” hair…
“My hair is still long, no doubt inappropriately so for my age, but I am perhaps also of an age when no one dares—or cares—to say such a thing to me anymore. I’ve kept the highlights too, and they mask the gray that comes in around the temples during the long stretches in between my salon visits. Nobody will ever convince me again to do anything with my hair but what I want. My hair and I have grown into ourselves and know what we’re about.
The only one who ever has any hair suggestion to make is Steve. When I tell him that I’m off to the salon for one of my rare trims, he never fails to admonish, “Don’t let them cut too much off. I love your hair long.” Which, for the story of my hair, and now his, is another way of saying, And they lived happily ever after.” —Rebecca Goldstein, “The Rapunzel Complex”
On considering dreads…
“Dreadlocks would be a way of saying I was no longer going to play with the rules of mainstream white beauty. It meant that I was no longer going to even try and blend. It was a way of saying that I know what kind of hair I have, I know what it looks like, and I am going to stop trying to pretends its different than that. That I was going to celebrate instead.
But I was not ready; I continued to moussify.
No one knew the effort it took to make my hair look like it hadn’t taken any effort at all.” —Anne Lamott, “Sister”
On the power of style…
“I wanted to get a simple buzz cut, a preemptive strike against the chemo that would soon make my hair fall out for a second time. When I explained my situation by my barber, Miguel Lora, he suggested I take the buzz cut one step further by getting ‘hair tattoos.’ The idea of a tattoo scared me at first, but Miguel reassured me that he would simply use his clippers to groove a spiral design in the half-inch layer of hair that remained. ‘What the hell’, I said. After all, I had little left to lose. My new style made me look like I was tough, even when I didn’t always feel that way. I was adding armor, and I liked the way it fit.
As I walked out onto the street, a construction worker whistled at me. ‘Cool hair!’ he shouted. It was the first time since my diagnoses that someone had made a remark about my appearance that wasn’t cancer related.” —Suleika Jaouad, “Hair, Interrupted”
On Black hair…
“If you are a Black woman, hair is serious business. Your hair is considered by many the definitive statement about who you are, who you think you are, and who you want to be. Long, thick, straight hair has for generations been considered a down payment on the American Dream. “Nappy” hair, although now accepted in its myriad forms, from the natural to twists and locks, has long been and remains a kind of bounced check on the acquisition of benefits of that same enduring cultural mythology. Like everything else about Black folk, Black people’s—and especially Black women’s—hair is knotted and gnarled by issues of race, politics, history, and pride.” —Marita Golden, “My Black Hair”
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On hair stress …
“If I didn’t fret about my hair, something else would take its place. I believe we are born with a cup of affliction and it's our destiny to keep that cup filled at all times. If something terrible happens, I forget about my hair. When my parents got sick, my hair was a nonissue. But here I am, an orphan now, back to worrying about my hair. Not that frizzy doesn’t have an upside. On an airplane, I never have to ask for a pillow. In winter, my hair traps so much body heat I rarely need a hat. Caught in the rain, I look better as my hair flattens. Best of all my toddler grandsons love it. They squeal and pat it and lose their hands in it. If there’s anything better than Jack, Sam, and Miles patting my hair and laughing, tell me. You can’t, can you.” —Patricia Volk, “Frizzball”
From Me, My Hair, and I: 27 Women Untangle an Obsession, edited by Elizabeth Benedict (Algonquin Books).