When I was 17, I braided my hair, which back then ended right above my pubic bone, pulled straight, cut the braid off at my chin, and took it to a little wig shop with a sign in the window proclaiming "We buy hair!"
For the next 10 years my hair remained short. I tried the pixie, Amelie, and even, for about a year, the Sybil. When I finally began letting my hair grow, it took me years to start identifying myself as a long-haired girl. While I have always been somewhat indifferent to my own hair, long, or short, I have to admit that hair (or lack thereof) very much dictates the way we look, and how we see ourselves.
Personally, I find long hair slightly odd, even a little disgusting. Hair is, after all, in essence dead matter, save for the very root from which it grows. Growing it long can be like growing those odd olden-time-y Chinese nails; odd, impractical, and downright gross.
I come from a family that has a strand of long-haired women. My mother has always had straight, blond, improbably thick and long hair. Her grandmother was known for the copper red hair she could sit on. Once a month my mother and I would go to the hairdressers who would create intricate braid hairdos, something my mother still does.
When I was little people would always comment on my hair. Everyone loved brushing it and playing with it. Sometimes I felt my hair got more attention than I did, so when I moved out of home at 16, I gleefully left it to its own devices; neglecting all care and love. Something I still gleefully do.
Hair may have been my pet childhood peeve, and not entirely interesting vanity detail, but its connotations in a larger cultural context are rather fascinating. From Samson, to Rapunzel, to the Sutherland sisters, long hair has been seen all at once, as the epitome of female beauty, a source of power, a tool to sway the outcome of events.
Cutting, or growing ones hair has at various times been seen as an act of rebellion, from frontiers men, to flapper girls, to 60s hippies. For the past hudred and fifty years the standard in Western culture has very much been short for men and long for women, making any variations on this theme extremely controversial and fascinating. Not that extreme expression of the standard couldn't also be controversial and fascinating.
Take the Sutherland sisters, for instance: the seven daughters of an itinerant preacher, all with freakishly long hair, earned their living for their entire adult lives, by performing in sideshows, and even the famous Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show On Earth. The sisters, who's manes ranged from 3 to 7 feet (after one of the sisters, Naomi, died they had a substitute with hair reaching 9 feet in length) made more than three million dollars from performing, sitting in drugstore windows and department stores and selling their very own hair tonic.
The 1960s saw a turn to long, undone hair that had not been present in Western culture for almost a millennia. Long hair undone from its customary beehives, up-dos, braids, and buns, was just as provocative as the short page boy and bob cuts that the models of the day often sported. Even more provocative was the fact that many the long hairs were men, a first in more than century.
With the dawn of the next wave of folk musicians, back-to-the-landers and urban hippies being a prominent movement in the last few years, long, unkempt hair is definitely making a comeback. Its power and sway still remains a mystery, though. The appeal of a glossy mane seems to hark back to some atavistic instinct, who's meaning we have long since lost.
Aside from its cultural and societal associations, hairs purpose and meaning for the human animal is still unknown. From sun protection, to skull padding to protect our large, delicate brains, to remnant of something evolution deemed useless, but forgot to remove (Though it is this writer's opinion that such things do not exist. Remember the useless appendix?), biologists, paleontologists and other science dudes still haven't been able to narrow down the true function of hair.
What ever those maybe, the mystery of hair is a fascinating part of our everyday life. Hair has infiltrated languages garnering countless folk sayings from "not to hurt a hair on someone's head", to "make one's hair to stand on end", and " be in someone's hair".
Countless remedies have been invented for its rescue, from the Sutherland Sister's tonic, to baldness cures, to modern day conditioner's promising to make the dead matter attached to your head "alive with minerals", "60% more vibrant", and even "longer, thicker, silken to touch!".
Whatever one may think of hair, it has power, almost a life of its one, the way I thought when I was little.
For now I am happy to remain a long hair. In fact, I cant' remember a time I was more pleased with my tresses. Sutherland locks, here I come.
How about you?