Sunday, October 9, 2016

Hair: A Human History

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

Those who know me well know that I am *kind of* vain about my hair. My most favorite Lady Gaga song is dedicated to this very thing: hair.



If you have not heard the song before, even if you can't stand her, please listen anyway. It's such a fantastic song. I have really lovely, thick, flowing locks myself, though these beautiful strands of hair have been in a perpetual state of messy bun for the last four years (babies love pulling hair and preschoolers love brushing hair which, at these ages, is kind of the same thing).

So, given my deep-seated love for my locks, you can imagine my delight when discovering this book while perusing the new non-fiction releases at the library recently.

Thus, you can then imagine my disappointment in the fact that this book was dreadfully boring at times.

I know, I know. A book about hair is something I should love. But not only were the scientific aspects uninteresting to me, there were a few statements that were incorrect or that I questioned their validity:

1. There was a statement at one point that Anne Boleyn (among others: Joan od Arc and Marie Antoinette) had her head shaved before her execution (page 62). I know a thing or two about Anne Boleyn and I feel like this is something I would have noticed in my readings. On the other hand, I have read so much about the period, it would be easy for some details to escape me after a while. So, if anyone else who is interested in this period has come across information indicating Anne's head had been shaved before she lost it, please let me know!

2. The son of Louis and Marie Antoinette was referred to as the Dauphine, not the Dauphin. Sorry I'm not sorry, but in France, male heirs were Dauphins.

Thus, I was curious about what else might actually be incorrect that I would not recognize as such. So, it made for a somewhat difficult read in that respect.

As mentioned, I was less interested in the scientific explanations and diagrams and such involving hair - though if you are, you will find plenty of information in the beginning sections. As for myself, I was more interested in the social and cultural histories. For example, I had never really considered the idea of how barbershop quartets originated, but it was in actual barbershops. Granted, I do not spend much time at all thinking about barbershops or their quartets, but facts like that made the rest of the book more interesting. Again, I was cautious though, given the errors, as well as others I came across, pointed out above.

Fun Fact: A lock of 10,000 hairs is strong enough to lift more than one adult person (page 80). I mean, wow, that is insane to me.

Oh, gingers: "Red-tressed females were believed to have fiery tempers and unusually aggressive sexual appetites, while red-headed males were considered weak and sexually distasteful" (page 94). The medieval period was not kind to our red-headed brethren, though I myself have also been guilty of gingery type jokes. But, one must only seek out the younger son of Diana and Charles to see that there are some very desirable redheads among us:




(Basically, this was also just an excuse to post a picture of Prince Harry. When I was younger I always thought William was a dish, but Harry really has become quite dashing himself.)

While the majority of the hair discussed is of the natural variety, the author also included references and discussion about wigs. It was here that I discovered pubic wigs are actually a thing. Not that I have ever actually wondered if they are a thing, because who would ever need one? Medieval prostitutes, that's who. He discusses this in relation to how they would shave their pubic hair so not to get lice, but then also may need a covering of some sort to hide the marks left on their skin by any venereal disease. So, there you go, new knowledge for the day: pubic wigs are a thing. To be fair, the author also indicates these are used by actors on stage and in movies to avoid an accidental indecent exposure incident.
Fun Fact: "...the first wig guild was founded in France in 1665" (page 99).

Interesting Quote: "(Of Louis XIII wearing wigs in 1624)...Said to be the first wig in any royal court since ancient Egyptian times, the hairpiece kicked off a new fashion that persisted for almost 200 years, ending with the French Revolution, when royal heads and wigs were separated from royal bodies" (page 99).

There is on bit included that I must comment on, and that is the idea of robots cutting hair. The author discusses this at some length on page 162 in the epilogue regarding the future of hair. Guess what? I think that idea is really stupid. I would never in a million years want a robot to cut my hair. We seriously do not need technology to do everything for us, I promise. Garbage like this is making us so lazy. How hard is it to go to a salon or barbershop and get a haircut? It's not. Don't be lazy. This is technology we do not need.

So, over all, this is an interesting read. There are numerous diagrams and pictures included relating to the wide variety of topics that the author discussed. It was hard for me to get into it at first because of the scientific aspect that came first. I did, however, much enjoy the historical and cultural parts that came later.

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