Love it or hate it, your hair is a big part of you. There’s a reason why we celebrate good hair days, obsess over dry shampoo, and get emotional over big haircuts; our hair not only affects how people see us but how we see ourselves. For many of us, it can be a point of pride, a source of envy, or the cause of major frustration. (Seriously. I watched my curly-haired sister spend years experimenting with an arsenal of products and tricks to tame her tresses.)
In Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, a book edited by Elizabeth Benedict, a group of women delves into what hair means across cultures, religions, races, and more. One fairly universal truth noted is that “a women’s hair is her glory,” as Maya Angelou says in the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair. It can reveal information related to race, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, social class, health, and more.
The stories in the book provide thought-provoking and often humorous accounts of the women’s personal experiences, serving as a window into different cultures and lifestyles. It’s fascinating to ponder just how much time, effort, and money is often invested into this trait, and why we consider it worth it. Me, My Hair, and I recognizes that hair is serious business, literally and figuratively.
Here are six intense lengths women go to or have gone to, all in the name of trying to achieve hair ideals, based on Me, My Hair, and I:
Owning a curling iron or a straightener brings the risk of burns, but they’re typically safer than the tools women before us had available to them. Marita Golden describes how she’d dread the times when her mom would use a hot comb on her so that she’d have “good hair” (or “white girl’s hair”), and the process sounds rough. Meanwhile, Katie Hafner mentions how her sister would use a clothes iron and ironing board to straighten her locks. I’m sure more than a few women have suffered bad burns thanks to both of these processes, but the idea was that the results warranted the risk.
Splurging On Hair Products
The amount of money spent on hair care is, frankly, insane. Patricia Volk highlights a statistic from Goldman Sachs that puts the dollar amount spent on hair products each year at $38 billion. $38 billion! It’s more than twice what is spent on makeup in a year, which comes in at a paltry (in comparison) $18 billion. As staggering as the number is, though, it’s not surprising. After all, with there being so many hair traits for women aspire to, there’s a lot for the industry to sell us on. Volk admits to being a huge consumer herself and lists $203 worth of products she had on hand at the time of writing. Sadly, “beautiful” hair doesn’t come cheap.
Using Potentially Dangerous Chemicals
With all that we put on our heads, we have to face the fact that we don’t necessarily know all of the long-term health effects of these products and treatments. Marita Golden points this out while discussing little kids whose parents have them get “relaxers,” a process that uses chemicals to straighten natural curls. Safety is definitely something to consider.
One author recounts her attempt to create the perfect bubble (aka a bouffant) using hair rollers, which made me cringe. If you’ve ever slept in rollers — especially the old school ones — you know that they’re not comfortable. When I was a kid, my mom had a pretty old set that I tried out a couple of times before learning my lesson. Not only did they press into my skull all night, they were reluctant to release my hair from their spiny clutches in the morning. Vast as improvements have been since then, rollers are a great as example of the inconvenience and discomfort many of us will put up with to achieve our desired look.
Trying Out Strange Tricks
Throughout Me, My Hair, and I, writers cop to bizarre hair control methods. A cute one is “a major hairdressing discovery” made by contributor Maria Hinojosa and her brother when they were 6 and 8 years old, respectively. The duo would put their mother’s stockings on their heads after they bathed and sleep that way to get hair that looked more like that of their friends. Stranger things have definitely happened, though.
The hair on your head isn’t the sole focus of the book. Let’s face it: there are also plenty of ideas out there about what body hair in general should look like. Alex Kuczynski’s section discusses the unexpected full-body wax she got while at a hammam in Turkey and what the hairless look represents in different cultures. Whether you’ve tried waxing your bikini region, your legs, your eyebrows, or somewhere else, I’m sure you’ll agree when I say that it’s an unpleasant process. (I’ll never forget the awkward bruising I ended up with the first time I tried taking care of my own bikini line prior to a beach trip. Not fun.) There’s a reason people say that beauty is pain.