Hair is a touchy subject. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession (Elizabeth Benedict, 2015), it’s that none of us have the hair we want. You may be jealous of the woman with the long, straight, thick locks and she may have spent a childhood fighting with the overabundance of flat hair. You may envy someone’s springy curls and she may have traumatic memories of frizz and broken combs and painful tangles. You may admire someone’s hair for being “exotic” and all she may know is that for all of her life, her hair marked her as “other.” We are united in our search for “perfect” hair, but our definition of that is as diverse as our own selves.
The beauty of Me, My Hair, and I is that it affords women of all types to share their hair stories. I know I have my own. As a half-black, half-Mexican child, my thick curly hair has refused all attempts to conform to any one definition. My soft ringlets belonged in neither camp and, oh, did the world let me know it. “Straighten it,” they told me. “Cut it off and get a weave,” they told me. “Is it real?” they always asked, yet failing to ask if they had my permission to touch it. Most people laugh as they look back on the terrible hair choices they made as a child, but I look at my school pictures and cringe, knowing that my hair choice was made for me by an ignorant stylist who, in the first big chop of my waist-length hair, decided to give me something resembling a puff. “A cute little afro,” is what she called it. What it said to me – what it still says to me – is, “You’re not black enough. We need to make you blacker.”
That was over 20 years ago and that haircut still hurts.
The good news was that it only took until I was about 18 for me to accept my hair and learn to wear it in all its curly glory. It is what defines me, both physically and emotionally – it takes a certain resolve to resist the push to straighten, color, twist, braid, or put any chemicals on my head to make my hair other than what it really is. Though I don’t put much stock in it, I do take a certain amount of pleasure from the women who come up to me, begging me to tell them my secret so their stick-straight hair can be like mine. (“Be half-black?” I want to shrug and say.) I enjoy, modestly, the men who tell me I have the most amazing hair they’ve ever seen. (Take that, Patti Stanger!) In the end, though, all that matters is how I feel about my hair and I’ve come to love my it for what it is – different, undefinable, CURLY. And, no, I do not want it to be straight.
All of this is to say: Read this book of twenty-seven women dealing with culture clashes, political statements, love, aging, loss, and self-acceptance all through their hair. You will find yourself mirrored amongst these pages. I know I did.