Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Big Hair Day

Print by my cousin Pam Carriker
from her series of historical women

Related hair blogs:

Royal Hair
Scary Hair ~ Fortnightly
Scary Hair ~ Quotidian
Off to a Bad Start
Ad Hairenum ~ Fortnightly
Hair Today
Lililth, the Long - Haired Seductress
My Friend Hair

In these various hair blogs, I look at a number of relevant texts, including several recent novels, all featuring characters of greatly conflicted hair:

High Maintenance
by Jennifer Belle, 2002 (see earlier post: Highlights)

Miss American Pie:
A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s

by Margaret Sartor, 2007 (see earlier post: Memoirs)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2009

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett, 2009

In these novels, you can find all the major forces, with hair taking on each of the opposing roles:

Character vs Self
Character vs Other
Character vs Society
Character vs Nature / Fate

Altering the state of your hair as it grows out of your head is mostly a fight against Nature. Conforming to currently held standards of beauty -- or deciding not to -- is a struggle with Society. Standing in front of the mirror and cursing your hair for its defiance -- or giving up as it takes on a life it's own -- is a battle with the Other. Torn between judging yourself harshly or embracing the reality of your appearance? That's a conflict with the Self.

Chris Rock presents all of these conflicts in his wise and witty documentary Good Hair. He focuses specifically on the African - American hair industry, and the complicated, conflicted, costly quest for good hair, i.e., good / straight / Asian / white.* As the film demonstrates, the results can be fun and beautiful, but also disturbing.

For example, in her interview for Rock's movie, actress Traci Thoms questions:"To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary; why is that?”

Interior designer, Sheila Bridges (who is bald naturally, due to alopecia, says: "I think the reason hair is so important is because our self - esteem is wrapped up in it. It's like a type of currency for us." Beautifully and eloquently, Bridges models the possibility of rising above baldness rather than living against it.

I first learned of alopecia just last month, when watching the movie Grey Gardens (2009), in which Drew Barrymore portrays a character, the real life Edith Bouvier Beale (1917 - 2002), who faced the condition bravely with her glamorous collection of scarves and turbans.

Young Edith Bouvier Beale

Drew Barrymore as Edith Bouvier Beale

*That's white as in race not as in hair color, which is yet another area of social and personal judgment, prejudice, anxiety, conflict, and alteration.

In Susan Newman's The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It -- And Mean It and Stop People-pleasing Forever, hair coloring is the topic of one of her assertiveness training "Scenarios":

" 'You would look a lot younger if you colored you hair. Have you thought about it?'

What's going on here: Your friend is giving you her point of view, one you may not agree with. You don't want to be bothered with the time-consuming maintenance once you begin coloring your hair, and you're not unhappy with the gray. Rather than come back with a bard or show your annoyance with her for implying you don't look so great, be gentle. She'll get the hint that she's gone over the line.

Response: 'Thanks for the suggestion, but I like the gray.'

Alert: A friend will very likely back off when she realizes that you don't appreciate her beauty tips" (26).


Usually on the realistic side, Newman comes across as incredibly optimistic, even naive, in this particular scenario. Plenty of friends (or so - called friends), firm in their belief that artificial coloring is the norm, will not be dissuaded quite so easily.

[Note to self; not about hair:
"The Drifters" by Harold Pinter:
"You made of your friendship a tool to bludgeon me with."]

August Update
Check out Judith Newman's "Defense of Curly Hair" in The New York Times: "Making Waves, With No Apology" (and comments following)

September Update
My friend Eileen sent the following link:"Does Your Hair Have a Mind of Its Own?" and said, "Personally, I like that my hair knows its own destiny and follows it through!"

Debbie & Kitti: English Majors on Graduation Day
We had BIG hair before anybody ever heard of big hair!