In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Why and the Where of Hair
  • Neal A. Lester (bio)

Everyone has hair, has had hair, wants hair, wants different hair, can buy hair, and knows something about hair. Indeed, everyone has a hair story that connects us to others.

From Barbie, Britney, and Rapunzel, to Pocahontas and Beyoncé, hair matters and matters related to hair are actually quite complicated and nuanced when it comes to representation and identity politics. A cursory glance at recent and fairly recent news headlines underscores that hair matters and that attention to, curiosities about, and the very everyday lessons around and about hair are indeed everywhere:

  • “Hillary Clinton Talks about Her Future, Politics and Hair” (December 2012)

  • “Gabby Douglas Gets a Hair Makeover from Star Stylist Ted Gibson!” (August 2012)

  • “School Girl, 4, Left in Tears after She Is Banned from Primary’s Annual Photo because Her Hairdresser Father Made a Bow of Hair” (May 2012)

  • “Gwen Stephani Dyes Her 5-Year-Old Son’s Hair Despite Health Risks” (May 2012)

  • “Daughter Taken out of Class at Thurgood Marshall Elementary; Parents Have Lots of Questions” (June 2010)

  • “Should Hair Length be Regulated by School Dress Codes?” (January 2010)

  • “Dress Code Sparks Latest Controversy at Morton Ranch” (September 2009)

  • “Hair Care Controversy over Angelina Jolie and Her Daughter Zahara” (October 2009)

  • “Why Michelle Obama’s Hair Matters” (September 2009)

  • “Haircut Prompts Controversy at Staten Island School” (June 2009)

  • “Native American Boy’s Long Hair Ruffles Needville ISD: Native American Beliefs Clash with Rural District’s Dress Code” (July 2008)

  • “Two Year Old Smells like a Wet Dog!” (May 2008)

  • “At Six Flags, the Don’ts of Dos: Employees Say Their Ethnic Hairstyles Are Challenged as ‘Extreme,’ and They’ve Complained to ACLU” (June 2006)

  • “Susan L. Taylor Protests Hampton’s Hair Policy: Essence Exec against School Policy about Unacceptable ‘Braids and Dreadlocks’” (April 2006) [End Page v]

  • “Company Exec Resigns after Hair Comments” (June 2003)

  • “Hair Bias in Promos Irks Black Students” (December 2001)

Whether about entertainment, sports, celebrity star gazing, education, or other public policy, hair stories permeate our daily lives: African American women stopped at airports because their suspiciously big hair is believed to be concealing a weapon (Jefferson, 2011; Wilson, 2012); two women arrested at JFK Airport for allegedly carrying “nearly 2 kilos of cocaine beneath their hairpieces and weaves in a bid to smuggle the drugs” (Maddux, 2012); the popularity and controversy of Bo Derrick’s beach-frolicking cornrows back in the 80s contrasted with black women fired for wearing cornrows in the workplace; the 1997 national controversy of a white woman’s reading Carolivia Herron’s children’s book Nappy Hair to her black and Latino third-grade students in the late 1990s; black men losing their jobs for wearing locks, cornrows, or braid; hair thieving across America where beauty supply stores were losing their inventory of “good” and expensive hair because of the market popularity of hair weaves and extensions; Chelsea Clinton’s awkward adolescent White House years as monitored through her hair; Britney Spears’ head-shaving during a moment of alleged mental instability; the cyber buzz over Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas’ alleged “unkempt” and “embarrassing” hair being gelled atop a perm; Miley Cyrus’ recent bleached blonde punk/ rock/ pixie cut; Rhianna’s always unpredictable hairstyles and colors; and Nikki Manaj’s and Lady Gaga’s hair as essential performances pieces. My daily Google Alerts for the key word “hair” confirms that hair stories intrigue us, entertain us, follow us, find us, and engulf us. Hair stories also teach us about ourselves, about each other, about our worlds, and about our shared humanity.

Clearly, hair is a lens through which to read race, class, gender, and sexuality in provocative and revealing ways. Kobena Mercer posits in his essay “Black Hair/Style Politics,” in Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (1987), that hair is always a construction of meaning for and about us:

As organic matter produced by physiological processes, human hair seems to be a natural aspect of the body. Yet hair is never a straightforward biological fact because it is almost always groomed, prepared, cut, concealed and generally worked upon by human...