More than a few people have asked me why my characters in The Desert Wall (one of my WIPs) are so obsessed by hair. But aren’t we all obsessed by hair?
If your hair is curly you want straight; if it’s straight you want curly. Your mom wants you to cut your hair; your boyfriend doesn’t want you to ever cut it and couldn’t you grow it longer? You might have “good hair,” in which case you will probably be praised for it even though you had nothing to do with it, or “bad” and then you will probably spend lots of money, time and pain trying to make it “better.” (I don’t agree that white-looking hair is good and Black-looking is bad, but these words are still used a lot and I’m using them to make a point.) The book Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron is still banned and challenged in some places. Chris Rock made a movie all about hair. Maybe you’re a blond in a world of brunettes, maybe you’re not a blond but you dye your hair to look like one. Maybe you are a natural blond and you worry that it will darken as you get older. Maybe your hair has turned gray when you’re too young. Or just turned gray. Or maybe you’re a redhead and you always stand out in a crowd.
If you cut it and you’re a girl, you might be called a lesbian; if you don’t and you’re a boy, you might be called weird. (This was true when I went to high school. Is it still true? I hope it isn’t.) Hippies grew their hair out long and Black people in the 70s cultivated Afros, and there’s a song about that.
People cut a lock of hair from babies and put it in a book; when you join the military (if you’re a guy) it all gets cut off. My friend cried once because she’d been growing her bangs for years and a hairdresser cut them off. Maybe you’re balding because you’re a guy and you worry about that. Maybe you’re bald because you have cancer and you cover your head with hats and silky scarves. Maybe you shave off all your hair in an offering to your religion and then that hair is sold thousands of miles away to other countries where you wear someone else’s hair on your head in a weave, an extension, a wig.
I never understood the story of Samson and Delilah, I wanted to know why Rapunzel’s hair didn’t get ripped out at the roots when the prince climbed it, and I really liked Golden, a retelling of Rapunzel, by Cameron Dokey because Rapunzel is bald.
While I was writing TDW, I cut my hair for the first time ever above my ears. Really, really short. For most of my life I had long hair. I was told the pixie cut made me look younger, it made me look older, it made me look professional, it made me look hard, it made me look good. Everyone had something to say.
I also moved from a neighborhood in NYC that was mostly black, US-born Latino and white, to one that was very mixed: Hasidic Jews and old Russian immigrants, South Asians from Bangladesh and India, Mexicans, Tibetans, Caribbean Blacks, African-Americans and whites. But my block was mostly Hasidic Jews and Russian immigrants and Bangladeshis on the next block over. Some days I was the only person walking down the street without my hair covered by a snood, wig, scarf, hijab, veil, turban, taqiyah or kufi. So yeah, I was thinking about hair. But so is everyone else.