A number of readers commented on last month’s post about hair. It’s interesting to me that most reached out to me in private. Here are some of the comments I received:
So I just read your blog post quickly. I know you don’t like stereotypes (who does?), but I can’t resist telling you that I thought you were Jewish the first time I met you. And it did have something to do with your hair, but also with your way of being. I love Jewish-looking hair myself and wish I had it! Sorry if I’m being lazy in this short cut.
Loved the post!
My response: Thanks. I wonder, too if there can be some sort of recognition of ethnicity/culture–a reading of multiple clues such as hair, gestures, etc. Whatever it is, I don’t believe it can be a simple reading of physiology. Regardless, I wear my hair proudly!
Another reader: I had to respond to what you said. Growing up Jewish, I knew/was told that Jewish hair was different. I could never (nor could any of my family or friends) wear the straight bob. I always wanted Veronica Lake’s hair. Straight, just hung there, no body. (You may not know who Veronica Lake was, but if you go on the internet you would probably get a picture of her.) I had thick hair – not curly. It is only recently with all the straighten products that one can have that straight look. I, and all my friends, had our hair thinned. We certainly wanted to look like the movie stars. Straight hair, small noses. I never thought it was a way to stereotype someone. It just was the way it was. Didn’t all young girls want to look like the movie stars? I was grateful when Barbra Streisand became famous. Although she never had the “Hollywood” image she was glamorous, which kind of made the big nose, thick hair seem more acceptable.
The question I occasionally ask myself – Why growing up didn’t we question any of this and just accepted it?
Interesting that we both used Veronica Lake as our archetype for hair. She was thinking of this:
When I referred to Veronica Lake, I was thinking of soft, luxurious curls like this:
More than likely, any wave in Veronica Lake’s hair was added with curlers.
And an exchange with a third reader who is not Jewish, but has full, curly hair: A wonderful essay that resonates with many things I’ve heard about my hair my whole life. You know, in Poland I had always been told I had beautiful hair. Then I came to the US at 18 and was surprised to hear that my hair was “frizzy” and apparently in need of stuff(s) that would get rid of that undesirable quality. I was thinking to myself then: “What? My hair is unusual [in Poland] and great, it’s crazy to say that anything about it should be “fixed.” But in the US, it sounded like in that particular situation (I’m talking about one person) my hair was seen as almost African-American or something. Then I realized “frizzy” was a concept here; it had never been in Poland, at least not in the Poland of my youth and childhood (where there were almost no “products” whatsoever to begin with).
My response: That’s really interesting. I think you know I’ve always loved your untamed hair. You are from the generation that was tired of the relative homogeneity of Polish culture, and would find your amazing ringlets exotic and beautiful. And it’s really interesting to learn that “frizzy” is an American concept. It’s definitely something I grew up trying to control.
Her response: I mean we have had ways to talk about thick wavy hair that’s out of control, and these days there are definitely “products” for “frizzy” hair sold in Poland (I wondered last summer at a Rossmann how many people actually buy them in Poland…). But in Polish I think these expressions are somehow more colorful/funny and they seem to refer to the state of unruly curly hair–at a particular moment–, not as a permanent feature that always should be controlled (not that I want to overanalyze it). So in my high school times you used to say “szopa” (“a barn”: meaning your hair looks like a bunch of straw stored together in a barn) or “jakby piorun strzelil w rabarbar” which translates into “as if a thunderbolt went through a piece of rhubarb”). But these expressions were somehow less definitive and diagnostic than “frizzy.”
Another reader recommended the book Coiffure to me, which is about the social significance of women’s hair in 19th century France. The review notes: “Hair, it turns out, is quite a bit more complex than it would seem, linked as it was to concepts such as ideal beauty, respectability, fashion, sexuality and even nostalgia.”
So yes. Hair seems to be wrapped up in our sense of identity, of being “like” some people and not like others. But these things aren’t fixed, either. Sometimes we feel compelled to do things with it so that we better fit Hollywood images, or what others tell us we should be like, or how we imagine ourselves (ideally) to be. And sometimes it’s good to just appreciate what we have.