I’m not ‘into’ hair, and can barely manage to straighten my own (when it’s not in default ponytail setting). Curling irons are beyond me. Heck, I don’t even blow dry my hair – it makes me sweaty and my hand gets all vibratey and I don’t like it. Plus I’m terrible at wielding the round brush.
But I do think about hair a lot, not from a style perspective, but from a social perspective. Hair symbolizes a lot of things. Here are my thoughts on the matter, and why, for such a non-styled person, hair is very important to me personally.
1. Hair and Femininity
I inherited a lot of ideas about male-female relations from my mother. This is wound in Christian lore and symbolism. My mother’s faith is very spiritual and tied to the earth; when I was growing up we lived on a small farm, and mom worked with animals, gardens, and children all day. There have been times she heard God talking to her just before a disaster, giving instructions so that she would notice something terrible happening. When there is an issue she needs to solve, mom is infamous for taking a few days and then the solution hits her like a bolt of lightning, and she says it is God giving her ideas.
She used to tell me about how in the older versions of the Bible, women were described as having long, beautiful hair, like angels. A woman’s hair was described as her vanity; this is why some religions insist that hair be covered up, not only to protect women from vanity, but men against lust for their beauty.
This is an excerpt of a poem I wrote a few years ago:
waiting for Mother to descent from the mountaintop
with a whisper of direction from some heartfelt guide,
but her face never shone with the purity of Encounter;
it seems Jesus wore the mask of holiness for us all,
and anymore you don’t have to be Moses to hear God,
or come barefoot before any awesome, burning bush,
but sit in the upper room with a dark comforter,
praying like any woman prays,
the back screen door of her mind swinging open into the universe.
They used to wear veils, the men who had seen God,
but women wore veils often, God in the offering of their work,
the constant rhythm of pleasure in care and love.
I don’t necessarily see a veil or hood as a symbol of oppression. I like to think that it implies women have a different connection to God than men.
She told me how she felt that when women got to be older, they cut their hair short, as a subconscious signal to men that they are no longer interested in romantic attachment (past child-bearing years).
This concept has stuck with me, and while I’m sure it’s not true in all cases, it is something I consider when I meet a person. Hair is tied to reproduction status, and health. If hair is long and well-kept, it indicates good health, and in this day and age, good financials, because fashionable, attractive hair is expensive.
When I cut my hair last year, perhaps it was a subconscious statement about my transition from girlhood to adulthood. I am a Manager now. As a leader, my sexuality must be diminished, so that I can stand as a figure of authority, not one of attraction. I was also in a period of mourning, but I’ll talk about that next.
As of right now, I’m growing my hair out again. Having short hair was fun, and I like how the style looks on me, but I don’t /feel/ like myself without long hair (or, as my friends call it, my ‘princess hair’, because it curls in natural ringlets). Biblically, hair is tied to power (think Sampson and Delilah). I feel more powerful when I have long hair, like I can be more creative, or more connected to myself.
This time around I guess I will have to learn how to use all the curling irons and stuff, so that I can look professional while still maintaining long hair :-)
2. Hair and Mourning
It is well documented that in many cultures, women in mourning cut off their hair. This is also something I think about a lot, mostly analyzing whether I am naturally drawn towards cutting off my hair when sad, or whether it’s a symptom of knowing about cultural habits.
Cutting hair is a rebirth process. It gives you a new look. It discards who you were at the time the hair was grown. It’s a clean start. It is also an outward symbol of internal sadness and loss.
3. Hair and Strength
Despite how I love my long hair, I have always wished that I had the courage to shave my head. There is something empowering about a woman with a shaved head, and I wished that I had the courage and the head shape to pull it off. I imagine that it is freeing. When I think of women with shaved heads, I think of warriors. They are still female, but their femininity has been transformed into something else, something streamlined and sharp.
In modern times, shaved and bald women have come to mean something else: chemotherapy. Which I feel is another reflection of strength. Cancer is a very intimate battle. Cancer is not an outside force; instead the enemy comes from within. How do you fight a battle against your own body? To wage this war, to me, seems very personal, and socially we associate cancer victims with strength; the strength to go on, to fight back, to insist on living despite their illness.
And here we segue into balding and men. Balding for men is akin to women cutting their hair short when they are older. It’s a symbol of age (though men remain fertile their whole lives). Balding is also a sign of strength, to me. It’s the strength to face aging and mortality, to confront self-image and vanity.
I love everything about Chris. If he were to lose his hair I would be sad, because I love his hair, but I would also treasure the exposed skin, and our life together that it represents.
I guess I’m thinking about hair because I’m going to get mine done tomorrow. And while I don’t want to be one of those people who blogs/tweets about their hair, maybe from this post you can understand why I find it so interesting and personal.
Do you have any dogmatic ideas about hair and its symbolism?