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It’s National Hairstylist Appreciation Day

To celebrate, we’re highlighting stories about Jews and hair

Stephanie Butnick
April 30, 2015

Today is National Hairstylist Appreciation Day, an annual ‘holiday’ that celebrates the individuals who help us look the way we want to. In honor of this auspicious day, and the important role that hair—and those who tame, tease, and tinker with it—plays in both our individual and cultural understanding of ourselves, we’re publishing a series of hair-related pieces today on Tablet.

First, there’s Maya Benton with Roman Vishniac’s never before published 1947 photographs of Antek “Antoine” Cierplikowski, the first celebrity hairstylist. “Known as “Monsieur Antoine,” or “Antoine de Paris,” his salons were a mecca for the chic-est women in Europe,” Benton writes. “He was credited with the creation of such dramatic cuts as the short bob, referred to as ‘à la garçonne,’ or the ‘shingle cut,’ which became an international sensation among daring and modern women in the 1920s, including Coco Chanel.”

When the Nazis occupied France in 1940, Antoine was in America, so he waited out the war in New York, opening salons from coast to coast. He became an American citizen in 1946—the same year as Vishniac—and used his private plane to fly back and forth between Europe and America. Just after the war, while in Europe to photograph Jewish refugees and displaced persons camps, Vishniac photographed Antoine working in one of his salons—always surrounded by handsome young assistants—and in his grand apartment in Paris donning painted toenails, wearing platform shoes and a white silk robe, or holding a mask in front of artworks glorifying the male form.

You can see the riveting photos here.

Next, columnist Marjorie Ingall visits a fascinating New York City museum exhibit about black women’s hair and nails, and realizes that Jewish women, while certainly possessing a fraught relationship with hair as a cultural group, aren’t in need of the same kind of exhibit. It’s “simply not as complicated and loaded a subject—nor as intricately braided into our identity—as it is for black women in America today,” she concludes.

Sure, Jewish hair is often seen as wild and unmanageable and sexual and undisciplined because of this classic Middle Eastern-looking stereotype, but a) plenty of us don’t have that hair, and b) we simply aren’t faced with the same kinds of decisions—to straighten, process, braid, twist, or go natural—that black women face. Schools and workplaces don’t have rules about what Jewish hair can look like. Choosing to go natural and choosing to process don’t have the same cultural resonanaces about embracing one’s true beauty and selfhood or absorbing white beauty standards.

On the Scroll, staffer Sara Ivry describes wanting to wait until her son turned three before cutting his hair, a Jewish tradition known as “upsherin,” which marks the developmental transition from baby to boy. She’s forced to reconsider her plans when her articulate, willful son, Isaiah, makes his mind up for himself at two-and-a-half.

And from our archives, a thoughtful stream of articles that explore the relationship between Jews—often Jewish women, it seems—and our hair:

When Malynnda Littky converted to Judaism, she embraced the custom of married women covering their hair… as a solution to her lifelong dissatisfaction with her unruly mane. “It was an ideal situation,” she writes, “no one would see my hair, and I had the perfect excuse—it’s not that I hate my hair; it’s religion.”

Ben Cohen profiles famed hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, who, while best known for inventing the bob, also fought against British fascists in the 1940s and then for Israel’s independence.

Carol Ungar’s search for the perfect sheitel, or wig, has her wondering why, while other Orthodox women cover their hair with beautiful sheitels, hers makes her look “like Marge Simpson.”

Samantha Shokin grew up hating her curly, frizzy locks, until, during a semester abroad in Israel, she met people who embraced and celebrated their similarly disorderly hair. “What we here endearingly refer to as the ‘Jewfro’ is, in Israel, described as leefa—bushy, unruly hair,” Shokin writes. “Tumbleweed hair. Curls that defy styling products. Unabashed frizz.”

When Tova Ross got married, her sheitel was a symbol of her vows and Orthodoxy. It soon became a symbol of her discontent. She writes: “Finding meaningful ways to live in the spirit of the central virtues of Judaism made someone a good Jew, and I genuinely believed that there are many different ways to put those virtues, of which modesty is one, into practice. Wearing a wig might work for another woman to embody that value, but, I finally realized, it wasn’t working for me.”

Stay tuned for more throughout the day, and remember to show your hairstylist some love.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.