Me, My Hair, and I (edited by Elizabeth Benedict)

It may seem excessive to devote an entire book of essays to the subject of hair, but each of these writers proves that there's plenty of ground to cover that goes way beyond appearance.  As Marita Golden says, "hair is not benign, it is important and potent."  Each of these essays illustrate that hair, especially for women, is not just something to be groomed and maintained, it's a signifier of one's history, personality, status, age, taste, health, the list goes on . . .  Although these themes ran through each piece, every story was unique.  Suleika Jaouad, who went through leukemia and chemotherapy at age 22, reveals how losing her hair made her feel like an outcast, and getting a "hair tatoo" made her feel empowered again.  Anne Kreamer decides to "go gray," and experiences a profound shift in her concept of time.  Anne Lamott finally finds her look with dreadlocks, after years of hairstyles that never felt right.  

Several other essays focus on parent/child relationships--one mother's confusion over how to "do" her biracial daughter's hair, a child's struggle with an abusive, Old World father who insists she cannot get a haircut, and other scenarios in which grooming hair is a loving ritual, or a painful argument each time.  Of course politics, social movements, and religion also play a role.  One woman leaves behind her Hasidic Jewish culture in which married women must shave their heads and wear a wig.  And an African American woman adopts a "natural," tired of straightening her hair in a forced attempt to be something she is not.

One essay also pays a much-warranted visit to body hair.  Other writers explore hair as a means of attracting a mate (also satisfying or displeasing a mate), their own hair perceived as a success or failure in their culture, or hair in relation to a sibling--a means of shared experience/closeness, or a source of envy.  This mutable extension of our bodies becomes an expression of independence, beauty, and nonconformity.  And yes, of course, numerous haircut experiences, frustrations, and triumphs are recounted that explore all manner of colors, textures, lengths, and styles.  This made for an enjoyable, diverse read on a subject for which surely everyone has a story to tell.        


Reviewed by: Maureen on August 14, 2016

Number of Pages: 316

Tags: Biography, Entertainment and Popular Culture, Essays, Memoir, Nonfiction