The Identity of Hair

What does your hair say about you? Is it long and free like an earthy bohemian? Or short and bobbed like a roaring flapper? Perhaps your head is shaved – that could really say something about you. Just ask Britney Spears.
For centuries, much of a woman’s identity has been tangled up in her hair. From First Corinthians 11:15 to the Victorian Era to Goldilocks, we find examples of women who are intimately associated with the quality of their hair. Hair says something about women – after all, who would Goldilocks be without her yellow coiffeur, or Kim Kardashian without her dark tendrils? Women are willing to go to painful and expensive lengths to achieve ultimate hair status. And if our hair can speak volumes of our health, our class, our social status, how far will we go to get a superior head of hair?
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Today, the hair business is booming. According to the 2008/2009 Census, The salon and spa industry is a vibrant and growing component of the U.S. economy, with more than 900,000 total establishments and annual sales of nearly $40 billion. Martha Gill at NewStatesman, writes of members of the Hindu religion in India shedding their egos by shaving their heads whilst peddlers gather the remaining hair to auction off to eager Americans. Some auctions earn as much as $27,000,000 a day.

So what is it about hair that will cause us to drain our wallets and to sit for hours in a salon chair? Actor Chris Rock asks these questions in the documentary Good Hair, as he takes a comedic look into the hair industry within the African-American community. Although humorous, this documentary illuminates the extremities women (and a few men) go to in order to alter their natural hair. Interestingly enough, the language of “relaxing” natural hair brings to mind the familiar dance of passing within an American society. If hair is changeable, albeit expensive and abrasive to change but changeable, then it could be employed to pass by minorities within this American Society. Through this lens, we understand the importance and the identity of “good hair” even if we aren’t quite too sure what exactly that is.