Saturday, April 10, 2010

Long Hairs

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?


  1. Like you I had very long and much admired hair as a child. My mom cried when I insisted on cutting it. But let me do it anyway. I did end up regretting it.. I've had long and short and everything in-between since, but never again that long. Most of the time it was shortish and "cute". Currently my hair hits my shoulder blades- it grew a lot while pregnant and I just don't have the time to think about it, which always used to lead to wanting something new and different.. I also resist the common thing to do, which is to cut your hair short after having a baby. We'll see how long I can stand to let it get, waist perhaps, or to my tail bone?

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Like you I have always had long, thick hair that I've let define me, and I am always intrigued by hair. I also have wanted to cut it off pixie style for a while now, but I don't think I'm brave enough to do it. My hair is my shield from the outside world!

  3. i'm a little disappointed that there was no discussion of the mullet :) I mean talk about rebellion as it maintains its "business in the front, party in the back" attitude.

    In all seriousness I had never really given much thought to this subject from an historic perspective. So, ofcourse I find the hidden text in the Sutherland sisters extremely fascinating.

    As for me, I've always gone back and forth. At present I'm quite frustrated and wish to chop the whole thing off, because I too sometimes feel as though hair is kind of gross and takes way too much of my time to wash & fix. But then I just can't seem to do it?

  4. Great post. I used to have butt-length hair as a kid--it was so straggly and gross, but people were always commenting on how "pretty" it is! I kept cutting it progressively shorter as I got into middle school, culminating in a pixie cut in 9th grade. Since then I've been going back and forth between growing it out and chopping it off. I just gave myself a bob about a month ago. It's funny how emotional hair can be! I almost had a panic attack while I was cutting it!

  5. This is such an interesting blog post. I have long hair right now and have normally associated myself with long hair. When I left middle school I chopped off 18 in. When I graduated high school (and broke up with my first bf) I chopped off 16 in. But I still think of myself as a long hair girl. At the same time I have plans to chop my hair off in the fall (when I go to study abroad in London).

    I know a lot of cultures have a tradition of chopping their hair off as a sign of a new beginning and I believe that's what I have done, even without thinking of it like that.

    I like the use of hair as rebellion. I think now both are so common (at least where I am) that either short or long hair is acceptable.

    Thanks for the interesting read!

    Sarah Yvonne

  6. very interesting!
    i've had all lengths and colors of hair. i have to say i think i look best with my natural color and longer length. my hair was black for a few years and when i wanted to get rid of it, i cut it all off (mia farrow pixie cut). i soon became pregnant and let me tell ya, when you gain 70 pounds, a pixie is your worst enemy :O

    i think in my younger years, i felt i had to make a statement with my hair and appearance. i no longer feel this way and enjoy just being me.

    i like how my hair is now, because it's one less thing i have to think about. it's natural, i know it compliments me and it's feminine.

    btw- i love your hair! i need to try out the soap you use :D

  7. I'm happiest with mine short short! These photos kind of gross me out, actually. The longest I've had it, I could braid it & hold my arms straight out holding the braids. Well past my waist!

  8. I'm definitely a long hair girl. I tried cutting my hair short once when I was fourteen. Not good. Although it was 1986 and I'm sure the unfortunate style had something to do with it, but I just don't think I have a short hair face.

    You I could see pulling off the short hair looks quite nicely though and I would love to see pics of some of your cuts throughout the years!

    I love having long hair though, and the option of playing around with wearing it different ways. I guess I've always viewed my hair as my best feature.

    I do get annoyed when it starts to get too long though and would never want freakishly long hair. In fact, lately I've been feeling like I might need a trim in the back and these photos are only reinforcing that!

    p.s. I love your long curly locks so I'm glad you are currently happy with them :)

  9. Fascinating! I agree that there's something about hair that's a little spooky in a way.

    It was interesting to read this post as I just finished watching the film Vagabond and some of the characters were talking about the protagonists wild, witchy hair. They felt threatened by the fact it wasn't clean.

    I've always been the long haired girl too. I am thinking about getting it cut, though. Symbolic? I'm not sure.

  10. Ack! I have such a fascination with long hair!! I could never get mine past bsl (bra strap length) or I never would have cut it 2 years ago. There was an online forum thelonghaircommunity that was a great resource for me back then too. :-)

  11. i'm finally catching up on my readings and wow, what i've been missing out on! this is amazing. i remember reading a novel about an old victorian town where one woman had hair to the floor that she would wash at an outdoor bucket once or twice a year and everyone would come to watch. odd and fascinating, how hair is sort of a public announcement of self. i have always had long hair, even my "short hair" days (about a year) it was still to the shoulder. lately i have been getting comments, "your hair is getting soooo long" and i'm not sure that i should take it as a compliment! i'm like, uh yeah because i never cut trim or do anything to it. a person like me probably should not have long hair, i am clueless about how to do anything pretty with it. i love your braids that you come up with! i think this summer i will make it a goal to figure out interesting hairstyles for long hair and try them out.

  12. My hair, oh my hair! Almost all my life I had short hair, whether by choice or my mother's choice. I made a funny pact with my best friend that we would grow it out and not cut it. Inspired by "Hair Peace" by john and Yoko . I am not attached to it, I would not cry if I had to chop it off. I definitely think it makes for fun hair styles and braiding.For now I will keep growing it , more so since the 60's and 70's are my main inspiration for style.

  13. My hair, oh my hair! Almost all my life I had short hair, whether by choice or my mother's choice. I made a funny pact with my best friend that we would grow it out and not cut it. Inspired by "Hair Peace" by john and Yoko . I am not attached to it, I would not cry if I had to chop it off. I definitely think it makes for fun hair styles and braiding.For now I will keep growing it , more so since the 60's and 70's are my main inspiration for style.

  14. When I was young, I had extremely long blond hair. My mother would braid it for me every morning, because otherwise when it was loose, everyone wanted to play in it and it drove me mad! Then in 6th grade, I cut it up to my chin. Two years later I cut it to about an inch long and spiked it, and my hair was short like that for several years. Finally when I graduated from high school, I was letting it grow again, and now it has reached the small of my back. I have no plans on cutting it any time soon, and want to see just how long I can get it.

    It's funny because I used to hate having long hair, all the work it involved. I have to admit I still hate how long it takes to dry (I don't use a blow dryer) and how it gets in my food etc, since I don't like tying it back, but hey. I still love my hair. Too bad I don't know how to do anything to it except pony tails and really ugly braids! Haha...

  15. Awwwesome post Milla! Submit this to a magazine or something!

    My hair is now as long as it was when I was 15, just beneath my boobs. I hope it keeps growing, I'd love to see how long it gets. It drives me crazy though, I pretty much have to braid it every day and definitely every night. But it is so pretty when it is washed and conditioned and down! Before the tangles start, that is.

    I would *love* to see pictures of your little girl hair, and of your mom's monthly braids!

  16. Wow. This was fascinating. It has also left me sort of creeped out about hair!! LOL! I have short-ish hair. And like you I am sort of ambivalent about long hair. I would always cut it short at the drop of a hat.

    But oddly enough, a few years ago it went suddenly, and without my assistance, from straight to curly. This totally changed my feelings about my hair! I could not cut one curl for two and a half years! And finally in the summer I did. And now I am waiting waiting waiting for it to be long (well medium)and curly again!

    Thanks for this post!!!

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