Ask a woman about her hair, and she just might tell you the story of her life. Ask a whole bunch of women about their hair, and you could get a history of the world. Surprising, insightful, frequently funny, and always forthright, the essays in Me, My Hair, and I are reflections and revelations about every aspect of women’s lives from family, race, religion, and motherhood to culture, health, politics, and sexuality.
They take place in African American kitchens, at Hindu Bengali weddings, and inside Hasidic Jewish homes. The conversation is intimate and global at once. Layered into these reminiscences are tributes to influences throughout history: Jackie Kennedy, Lena Horne, Farrah Fawcett, the Grateful Dead, and Botticelli’s Venus.
The long and the short of it is that our hair is our glory—and our nemesis, our history, our self-esteem, our joy, our mortality. Every woman knows that many things in life matter more than hair, but few bring as much pleasure as a really great hairdo.
I first heard tale of this book while listening to this episode of the Get Booked podcast, offshoot of the Book Riot family. This podcast is one of the best things I’ve started listening to and brings me great joy on a weekly basis.
This book is the ultimate way to tell the stories of women, how we feel about our hair says a lot about our culture, our families and ourselves. By reading this book, I feel like I have a much deeper understanding of other cultures and these women in particular.
Our hair regimes are very personal and asking a woman you don’t know how she achieves her ‘do is like walking up to a stranger on a bus and asking what colour undies they’re wearing. That’s why reading this book feels a little illicit, very bold women are sharing their hair stories and each story varies in content.
The issues dealt with in these stories are HUGE and it shows how our hair really is important, it tells people who we are and what is expected of us.
Each woman who contributed to this novel was very eloquent and had a powerful story to tell, I have to say that I consider each one to be someone well worth reading in the future so I have that to look forward to!
This book is a must read for all women looking to feel a bond of sisterhood with all manner of other women, many parts of the stories are oh-so-familiar and may help shed some light for you as they did me.
My Hair Stories
- My first hair story is about THE HAIRCUT.
In primary school, I’d grown my hair long and down to my waist. It was reasonably thick but very fine and as far as I can tell, pretty easy to manage as I was a fan of the french braid to keep it out of my face and all of the detritus I seemed to get smeared on my school uniform. However, my mum had decided that it was time for a grownup haircut to see me through the transition to secondary school. By which she meant, get her old school friend to chop off my locks and give me what she insistently called a ‘wedge’ but in fact looked like a mop head.
I’m pretty sure I started hyperventilating at one point and both the hairdresser and my mum looked at each other once the deed was done… it wasn’t a good look. Between them or for me.
We went back to my grandmother’s house where my 10 year old cousin was waiting to issue a verdict. I was very vulnerable at this point and when he finally stopped pointing and laughing long enough to tell me that I looked like a boy, I knew that my life was officially and dramatically over.
Put it this way, it was *mumblemumble* years ago but I’m still devastated by that horrible ‘do and incredibly glad that only 1 photo seems to exist from that era – though there is one from about 3 years later with some pretty horrendous featherage while it was still growing back in.
What I learnt from this? If I should ever have a daughter, there will be no dramatic haircuts without her express permission and agreement. It is only hair, but it’s our own hair and part of our identity – we should have total control.
- This story is about the HAIR LOSS.
My mum was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and she went through chemo, suffering every single side effect it had to bestow upon her. The cold treatment they offered to try and keep her hair intact was unpleasant and didn’t do a blessed thing so she thought ‘fuck it’ and shaved off the lot.
On a side note, she went to the hairdresser with both used at the time to ask for the shave but dear Debbie refused. Because it was too upsetting for her. Suffice it to say that neither of us go there any more.
This is why my mum, for all our issues, is my hero. She took control of the situation and got rid of her hair instead of letting it fall out, she didn’t hang around and umm and aah over it, she just got rid.
Then came the hats to try to cover her head, presumably gifts from various people, but mum doesn’t like wearing hats so ‘fuck it’! She rocked the buzz cut from the start and wore it proudly in public, though I know there were dark moments when she was on her own.
Not so very long after her diagnosis, I had a breast cancer scare of my very own and naturally one of the things that I did worry about (unnecessarily, thank fuck) was losing my hair to chemo and if I could be as proud and kickass as my mum.
So, with a clean bill of health on the cancer front, it came as a real kick in the ovaries when I noticed my hair was falling out. In the shower, in my hairbrush, on my pillow and freaking EVERYWHERE – long hair and hoovers are an awful combination too so it was extra traumatic to have to clean out the filter halfway through vacuuming a single room.
After a few weeks of pretending it wasn’t happening and stubbornly (and so very wisely) refusing to ask Dr Google what could be the problem, the gaps in my ponytail finally convinced me to go see a doctor.
After blood tests to check my thyroid was doing it’s job properly, it was narrowed down to stress (stress?! STRESS?!! Who’s stressed?!) and iron deficiency – so my medical advice was to take iron supplements and chill the fuck out.
I alternately take turns doing both because my memory is crap and stress is one of my full time hobbies and I’m glad to say that after another 6 months it slowed down and grew back in. I haven’t had a haircut in 18 months because I’m too scared that the fuss will cause it to drop out again but eventually I’m going to have to give in – it’s all grown back in at different times and lengths and ‘split’ doesn’t really describe the ends of my hair any more.
2 thoughts on “Me, My Hair and I by Elizabeth Benedict”
Wow! Your personal stories has me feeling all kinds of emotions and relating with you on so many levels- You have convinced me, I have to get this book! You know, my brother in law had the same thing happen to him, not only did he start losing his hair, he lost his eyebrows- doctor said stress, it came back months later. Stress does some horrible things! Glad you had the power to not ask the internet! Love this post! Love the stories~
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Glad you liked! Stress really is insane, I started going grey at 21 (the year my mum was diagnosed) and was all over the place, the shedding started a couple of years later and just kept going. It’s lovely and thick again now but I think I prefer my split ends to losing it again, wild red hair is who I am even if I’m naturally a wavy brunette 😄