Wednesday, December 07, 2005

For hair so shiny it shines

Today at Duane Reade (the evil empire, that is) I got a jar-type-thing of my usual "Frizz-Ease" conditioner. I'd never looked too carefully at the container, but today I noticed that it is called "Miraculous Recovery." Yes, my hair will make it, after all! Why, it was on life support for years, and there it went, running the marathon in under two hours! Why, look, my hair just won the Tour de France! Take that, Lance Armstrong.

In all seriousness, what is this obsession women have with "healthy" hair? I can kind of understand caring about healthy teeth or nails, as unhealthy teeth or nails could be painful. But hair can be bleached out of commission, ends split, bangs frizzy, and so on, and yet give it a few months and it's back to it's natural state. Have a bad experience with a curling or straightening iron? Take a shower, and you're back to baseline. While "healthy" hair may be seen as denoting a healthy individual, no one assumes illness when they see that a person with obviously dyed or otherwise chemically altered hair does not have Pantene-ad-shiny locks.

And finally, the cultural-criticism you've grown to expect from WWPD: the concept of "healthy hair" is, if not racist, then at the very least racial, or, if not racial, then certainly genetic. Hair that is really shiny is typically somewhere between wavy and straight. Ads for products promising "healthy" hair sometimes show a black woman (or a naturally-frizzy-haired non-black woman) with straightened hair whose long hair flows oh so "healthily" and "naturally." While very thin hair may be a sign of illness, it isn't necessarily, but regardless, thick versus thin is rarely the issue. Pantene urges women to seek out "hair so healthy it shines." Well, guess what, millions of women all over the world could give up every possible unhealthy habit, follow every bit of advice ever given by "Personal Health" columnist Jane Brody, and still have hair that is not especially shiny.

There is nothing wrong with trying to have shiny hair. It is, for whatever reasons, valued by society, and can be acheived through all sorts of non-permanent, inexpensive, non-life-threatening, non-surgical methods. I confess, I like my hair better on the days it looks shinier, and am somewhat wistful whenever I dye my hair and trade a bit of natural shine for a more excitingly unnatural color. Not wistful enough to keep my hair its natural color, but wistful all the same. But this is not a matter of life or death. Hair products, unlike birth control pills, are never truly used for health reasons. There is no need to make women feel justified in spending a few dollars on a bottle of conditioner, as though it were as necessary as neosporin or advil. On the other hand, maybe there is a need to convince women of this in order to sell conditioner, but I do not work in advertizing, so I wouldn't know.


Dylan said...

Very thin in general = "unhealthy" in the public mind. Anorexia and all that.

Phoebe said...

For bodies, yes, but for hair? Maybe also for hair. Kate Moss and all that.

Dylan said...

"We" say that hair should have "body."