Sunday, April 5, 2009


After my recent disastrous haircut, I've found myself noticing things about hair or the lack thereof. Hair can be used as a statement, a reflection of self-image, or a passing fad. It can be a source of derision or a source of sensual pleasure. Maybe all of the above at various times.

I've never used a hair style to make a statement, unless I'm making a statement by not making a statement. And when I see people using their hair that way, I generally find it mildly amusing. Never having been inclined to dye my hair green or pink, I can only imagine what sort of statement is intended there. Perhaps that they are unique? But how unique is it when so many people are doing it together? There is also most likely a "hey, look at me" element to it as well. My favorite instance of this occurred when I saw a young man on the train with a tall, rainbow-colored mohawk. He got angry at the glances he was getting and yelled, "What are you looking at?" I thought then that styling one's hair like a prismatic rooster's comb was a funny way to avoid notice.

The fads come and go with regularity. When I was very young, it seemed as if all the women were trying to copy Jackie Kennedy's hairdo, massive amounts of hairspray included. Then, as I got older, the hair icons shifted from Farah Fawcett to Dorothy Hamill to Princess Diana to Jennifer Aniston. I don't know how much this was due to imitation as flattery and how much to following a trend. Or maybe it was something else. I managed to avoid the most popular trends, not so much by design, but because I went through long periods of time when I didn't cut my hair at all.

Haircuts seem to be used to reflect an image of ourselves, especially as regards our employment. For "serious" occupations or in situations when we wish to be taken seriously, short hair seems to be an unspoken requirement for both sexes. Of all the attorneys I've worked with none of them have had interesting or nonstandard haircuts. Well, there was one guy going with a Ben Franklin look, but he had the professional chops to get away with it. Women have a bit more latitude simply because they can put long hair up so that it appears controlled and, therefore, more serious.

Those with less expectations in their work have more freedom to choose hairstyles, but I've noticed that most tend toward the practical side as well. Of course, artists and other creative sorts can get away with trying absolutely anything in hairstyles and usually do. I think that falls into both the self-image and statement making categories.

The lack of hair can also fall into several of the categories as well. Some young men with full heads of hair make a statement by shaving their heads. Having grown up in a family where most of the men went prematurely bald, I never gave baldness much thought. But, in thinking back on it, there must have been some teasing going on because the men generally beat people to the punch with self-deprecating jokes on themselves. On the one hand, I think this may have lessened over time. On the other hand, there are lots of commercials selling hair replacement treatments, so I might just be out of that loop these days. Currently, the most derision is heaped on the dreaded comb-over and bad toupees. Perhaps because they tend to convey a bit of desperation in their adherents.

The most overlooked aspect of hair is the sensual. Females may notice it more than males, or perhaps the men just notice it differently. I first noticed it back when I was too young to know what the word sensual even meant. Way back then, we were still being taught that you had to brush your hair 100 strokes a day. This was supposed to make it healthy. It started out with our mothers brushing our hair. Then, later on, all of the little long-haired girls would take turns brushing each others' hair, just because it felt so good. The rhythmic strokes of the brush and the wonderful sensations on one's scalp were hypnotic and mildly addictive. Some girls even used their recess time brushing and brushing each others' hair. The practice disappeared as we got older, although I experienced a brief flashback to it a few years back on a weekend away with some friends. The guys with us had no idea what they'd been missing out on.

Most of the time, these sensations only arise during grooming at the hands of another, like getting a shampoo at a salon. It seems to be a bit like not being able to tickle yourself, someone else must do it. There is potential for it to expand, particularly in relationships. Touching someone's hair is an extremely intimate act. As adults, we may at times touch a child's hair to straighten it or pat them on the head. But there are only a very limited number of cases where it is permissible between adults. Most likely this is because we are unknowingly acknowledging its intimacy and sensuality. So, for those in relationships, take full advantage of the possibilities at hand. As for the rest of us, I think it is past time for an old-fashioned slumber party. I'll bring my brush.


Ida said...

Growing up I had very thick, naturally curly hair (no longer the case, but don't know why). This meant that I was unable to follow the hair trends. So, while friends got their Fawcetts and Hamills, I had to settle for making sure that all of the tangles were out of my hair. And yes, I tried super gigantic rollers to try and straighten it, but no luck. Now? I want wash-and-wear hair. I don't even own a hair dryer.

Mandella said...

My hair is short and grey. I always call it "defiantly grey" as I refuse point-blank to dye it. It started to turn in my 20s, I gave up the bottle about 10 years ago and have never looked back. When freshly washed, it sparkles in the sun and many people have accused me of having the white streaks put in.

Carmen said...

I had several gay hairdresser friends in my 20's and suffered through many statement Vidal Sassoon moments. Colours, perms, spikes.

Now my statement is clean with "I don't have time to take care of these roots"

Lorien said...

I used to have hair long enough to sit on. Then I got cancer and lost it all to the chemo. But you wanna know a secret? It feels GREAT to be bald! Seriously, the wind blowing over it? Wonderful! I used to tell people, "Rub my fuzzy lil head! Gowann, it feels great!" I keep my hair short now but would have it bald if it were socially acceptable for women!