Thanks to Penguin Books UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.
Full disclosure, I am a white woman and I know this book wasn’t written for me. Please excuse any mistakes I may make in my review, I come from a position of almost complete ignorance on this subject.
To say this is a book about hair would be far too simplistic. It’s part social history, part memoir and explores issues and themes around personal and cultural identity and self-worth. The author comes from a mixed background and spent her childhood in Ireland. There she was faced with negative opinions about her skin and hair that made her feel excluded and ugly. She longed for the kind of hair associated with storybook Princesses aka European Princesses bedecked with long, silky locks.
Dabiri discusses the pervasiveness of European beauty standards and the negative impact it has on how black women in particular are perceived. Opinions towards Natural (‘bad’ hair), the impact of hair straightening rituals and the damage caused through hot combs and chemicals is also discussed. Dabiri looks at the rise of natural hair movement and the increasing rejection of European beauty standards. The self-loathing towards Natural hair is deep rooted however and even those involved in the Black Power movement weren’t immune to this. The afro is a symbol of rejecting the status quo but there is still a feeling of competition and insecurity towards “Becky with the good hair”.
Juxtaposed against this is the cultural appropriation of traditional black hairstyles by the likes of the Kardashians and Katy Perry and the scorn placed upon women like Zendaya whose (GORGEOUS) dreadlocks were quoted as looking like they would smell like “patchouli oil or weed” by a television host.
The book is engagingly written in a snappy yet academic writing style. Here we have an empowering and passionate celebration of a rich cultural heritage that is at best ignored and at worst openly discriminated against. It is never ‘just hair’.