Hair: Public, Political, Extremely Personal [NOOK Book]


Cut it, color it, perm it, shave it, braid it, wax it, highlight it, mousse it, gel it, brush it and brush it and brush it...

What don't we do to our hair?

Diane Simon is fascinated by people's relationship with their hair because it is both very personal one and very public. She recognizes that so much...
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Hair: Public, Political, Extremely Personal

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Cut it, color it, perm it, shave it, braid it, wax it, highlight it, mousse it, gel it, brush it and brush it and brush it...

What don't we do to our hair?

Diane Simon is fascinated by people's relationship with their hair because it is both very personal one and very public. She recognizes that so much of who we are is reflected in our relationship with our hair.

Diane is the curly-haired daughter of straight haired parents and has suffered much for her "bad hair". In researching and writing Hair: Public, Political, Extremely Personal she has used her suffering as a point of entry, a common ground to share with those who think of themselves as excluded from Western beauty norms because of their hair.

In Hair: Public, Political, Extremely Personal, social and cultural issues form the backdrop for an exploration of the choices people make to transform themselves through their hair. Hair is a cultural investigation with a strong narrative momentum and a commitment to individual personalities. Join Diane on her visits to Harlem braiding salons and Hassidic wig shops, and in her quest to try every type of hair removal. Spend an afternoon with Sy Sperling at the Hair Club for Men headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, and find out the truth about some celebrity scalps. Hair: Public, Political, Extremely Personal is candid, humorous, serious, and surprisingly revealing.

Cut It, Curl It, Weave It, Bleach It, Condition It, Implant It, Blowdry It, Spray It, Tint It, Comb It, Rat It, Bob It, Perm It, Braid It, Coif It, Gel It, Wig It, Fake It, Knot It, Pull It, Dye It, Highlight It, Wave It, Shampoo It, Straighten It, Pluck It, Color It, Wax It, Clip It, Shave It, Thread It, Mousse It, Depilitorize It, Tweeze It, Hide It, Laser It, Tease It, Trim It, Chop It, Wash It, Dry It, Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It And Brush It

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A longtime sufferer of "low hair esteem," which she blames on her "frizzy" locks, Simon sets out to uncover the complex forces that have shaped the nation's relationship to hair. According to Simon, the "hippie hair" that caught the country's attention in the 1960s was a revolt not only against the status quo, represented by the hardened, false perfection of the bouffant, but also against the longstanding precedent of Judeo-Christian culture, established with Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in which he sets out the "righteous" norm for hair--short for men and long for women. Simon moves on to consider a rather dizzying array of hair-related history, including Roman depilatory practices in the days of Caesar, the ways in which traditional African hairdressing techniques were preserved and altered during slavery and rabbinical interpretations of the Talmudic dictums on covering the hair. While Simon displays a journalist's eye for detail as she leads us through Harlem braiding salons and Brooklyn wig shops, when it comes to figuring out what all the hair fuss is about, she often comes up short. (After a long section on the difficulties that male cross-dressers face in passing as women, she decides that "Guys dressed like girls are not, after all, girls.") Strands of hair aren't quite enough to hold all this burgeoning information together; in the end, Simon seems bewildered as she remarks, "I have written this book, my hair is getting longer... I'm not sure what happens next." It's a dissatisfying close to what turns out to be, despite its fun sociological tidbits, a thin treatment. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
A New York City-based writer with self-described bad hair offers seven by turns serious and humorous essays on the sociocultural meanings of and angst over hair, from "Kinky Living in a Straight World" to historical correlations between hair, power, sexuality, shame, and religion. Lacks an index. ^ Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher
"Engaging and interesting...entertaining and illuminating."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Diane Simon...understands the historical power and prejudices concerning hair....The book is an entertaining trip through twentieth-century fashion."—Kansas City Star

"Simon explores the racial connotations of hair with admirable candor and sly hipness."—Booklist

"An amusing and informative cultural history of hair in American society."—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312273828
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 230 KB

Meet the Author

Diane Simon studied at Columbia University and Yale University, and was a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Younger Scholar's Grant. She has written extensively on books, television and movies for numerous publications including The Nation. She lives in New York City with her greyhound, Tillie, and is currently writing a book about perfume.

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Read an Excerpt

OneKinky Living in a Straight World A Prelude to HairBefore you go to school, it probably doesn’t matter. Even if it hurts when your parents comb it, or it gets long enough to be cut by a woman in a black smock who douses your head with a spray bottle before she snips off your bangs. Even when it is matted with gum or tar from the neighbor’s driveway, and a whole hunk of it has to go, I don’t think your hair matters to you until you see yourself in the mirror of your friend’s eyes. That’s when the trouble begins.I remember being the only one with frizzy curls in a class of twenty sleek-haired girls. It is a memory that could be true of any of my years in school, though of course I remember times when it mattered more than others. I don’t think it was important in kindergarten until the very end, when a yearbook picture of my class winding down the hall in a line shows me fourth in line. Though I was tall then, you can’t see my face. But your eye is drawn immediately to the backlit puff of my hair, riding high near the front. In fourth grade it was important again. Mrs. Cox made silhouette tracings of our profiles, cut them out of black construction paper, and made us guess whose was whose. Later, we would label them to hang in the hall. As soon as I understood the project, I knew it would cause me trouble, and I tried to postpone my turn in the portrait seat, hoping that somehow Mrs. Cox would understand and let me off the hook. Of course, she didn’t; and of course, everyone guessed my profile first, because it was the only one topped with bumps and ridges. What I wanted most then, and probably still want today, was a ponytail silhouette—a neat facial profile backed by a separate knot of smooth, swingy hair.The years blend together in my memory, and trends emerge because moments repeat over and over, as if my hair history were a scratched record stuck on a lame refrain. A friend’s father asked if he could scrub the family pans with my head. A classmate wondered if she could touch my hair, and I consented against my better judgement. “Oh,” she said, drawing her hand away immediately, “it’s like hay.” Another was surprised that it was soft, since it didn’t look it. Most people don’t ask before they reach. I’ve learned to sense the approach of an unwelcome hand and to duck efficiently. Lately, I’ve added an admonition. “This is not a petting zoo,” I say sternly. A few people persist, and I shoot them with a gun I carry just for these emergencies—once in the heart, and again in the head, execution style. I tolerate the people who’ve told me, over and over, how lucky I am, and that people pay good money to get hair like mine; I tolerate them, but I hate them all the same.Wild and bristly, my hair has drawn me out of the soft circle of smooth-haired girls and left me on the margins, an onlooker with a kink in her curl. It’s not that I tried to rebel—indeed, I longed to conform—but my hair made it impossible. If only there had been a way to subdue it, to force it to adopt a manageable shape and a palatable texture, then I know I would have gone along, but there never was. I shaved it close in patterns, grew it long, and dyed it black, then red, then blond. Twice, I sat still for hours while a Liberian woman braided it and strung it with black and purple beads. It held for weeks and clacked a rhythm when I walked, and I thought for a while I could be black and have braids instead of being Jewish and having frizz. But it didn’t hold forever, and I had to return to myself. I’m a stranger in the straight-hair world.I spent hours combing the midback hair of Midge, an otherwise unremarkable baby-sitter. When I played house with my straight-haired friends, I draped the hood of a brown sweatshirt over my head and pretended what hung down my back was actually a thick, long curtain of hair. If I didn’t look in the mirror or touch the stretchy cotton and I ignored the flap of the metal zipper, I could almost convince myself: ah, this is what it’s like, heavy and warm. But it wasn’t, so I’ve become an expert in cosmetic strategy. I tote hats stowed in giant flowered hatboxes across the country for humid summer weddings and can tie a turban fast and tight. Sikh cab drivers stop and wave, while others look at me pityingly, wondering if I’ve been stricken with cancer. If a hairdresser uses the word coarse at anytime during our time together, I skip the tip and don’t return. But the straight-hair world is not as shiny and smooth as I had imagined; bigger issues than texture loom large on the horizon.Over time, I’ve become consultant and confessor, the five-minute hair therapist who knows what it’s like to have low hair esteem. A man whose dog plays every morning with my dog wants to know if I think he’ll bald from front to back or back to front; one is all right with him, the other isn’t. After I placed an ad soliciting stories for this book, my phone rang at three one morning. A young man with a strong Brooklyn accent apologized for waking me; he’d thought that he was calling an office and would get a machine. Wasn’t I some type of doctor, maybe a miracle worker or a shaman, he wondered, and was disappointed when I told him I was writing a book. “So, you can’t make hair come back?” he asked. “No,” I told him. “Would you like to talk about it?” Things change, slowly, imperceptibly. In order to be apart from something, you must in some way be a part of it. It’s not that my hair has smoothed out any, or that I’ve suddenly rediscovered a deeply buried ethnic pride—I haven’t. It’s just that I’ve noticed a subtle shift in perspective, which might be explained as adulthood but which is no less troubling for the explanation.The other day, I was shopping in Albany, New York, with my mother and I saw a little girl, about five, with springy blond curls that stood out all over her head. Her mother was in a dressing room and she was playing with some cards on the floor nearby. She didn’t look at me, but I squatted next to her anyway. “Hi,” I said. “I like your hair.” She continued to play with her cards and ignored me. “Do you hate it? I hated my hair when I was your age,” I told her, imagining that I was telling her something that would serve her well. And then, before she had a chance to look up or duck away, I reached over and touched a curl, stretched it between my fingers and let it bounce back. Instantly, without even looking up, she pulled a gun that looked just like mine—shiny and full of purpose. But she was young and too small to hold it properly, so her first shot missed my heart and grazed my arm, her second went wild and hit the wall. I tried to tell myself I’d learned my lesson, I would never do it again, but now I’m not so sure. She really had fabulous hair. People pay a fortune to get hair like that.“Hair” by Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni © 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 (copyright renewed) James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot, Nat Shapiro, and EMI U Catalog Inc. All Rights administered by EMI U Catalog Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission WARNER BROS. PUBLICATIONS U.S. INC., Miami, FL 33014
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2013


    The best book ever

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2000

    Thought it was great!

    Interesting historical background but also a very personal look into the lives of these people --- men who dress as women, men who will try nearly anything to replace lost hair and the virile image they feel they've lost with it, women forbidden by religion to show their own hair, women for whom their hair is their pride and their strongest sexual asset. And, in addition to all this, Simon is funny. I got the two things I want from a book: I learned something, and it was a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2000

    Best book ever

    Simon's book made me feel guilty when I got a haircut. Using a dazzling array of information I was entertained greatly by this book. It was so interesting I could not put this book down and it kept me up at night. The brilliant insight had my hair on end.

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