Hair can be a such a huge part of one’s identity; I, for one, enjoy the fact that I can imitate my pseudo-medieval feminist paradise fantasies in follicular form, and the fact that I learned to braid hair at the age of eighteen communicates, I think, quite a lot. And that’s not even touching on the political implications of hair, especially African-American hair. But it’s hard to ask other people about their own journeys with their hair, because I tend to assume that I’m the only one who cares about such things and it’s also a little impolite. But today’s selection is a whole book of such reflections! Glorious!
Rapunzel’s Daughters by Rose Weitz
The first book to explore the role of hair in women’s lives and what it reveals about their identities, intimate relationships, and work lives
Hair is one of the first things other people notice about us–and is one of the primary ways we declare our identity to others. Both in our personal relationships and in relationships with the larger world, hair sends an immediate signal that conveys messages about our gender, age, social class, and more.
In Rapunzel’s Daughters, Rose Weitz first surveys the history of women’s hair, from the covered hair of the Middle Ages to the two-foot-high, wildly ornamented styles of pre-Revolutionary France to the purple dyes worn by some modern teens. In the remainder of the book, Weitz, a prominent sociologist, explores–through interviews with dozens of girls and women across the country–what hair means today, both to young girls and to women; what part it plays in adolescent (and adult) struggles with identity; how it can create conflicts in the workplace; and how women face the changes in their hair that illness and aging can bring. Rapunzel’s Daughters is a work of deep scholarship as well as an eye-opening and personal look at a surprisingly complex-and fascinating-subject.
Eva at A Striped Armchair, from whom I took the recommendation, really enjoyed it, although she found that Asian-American women weren’t particularly represented. Liz Miller at Bookslut enjoyed the sociological aspects of the book, but found the interviews a bit disconcerting; “the passive acceptance of the standards by which the world judges a woman is more than a little disquieting“. Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times hated it, finding that an interesting concept was very poorly executed. (She also refers to sociology as “so-called sociology”, so I don’t think she cares for the discipline…) Kirkus Reviews found it to add nothing really new to the conversation, but still decent.