Sunday, November 6, 2011

Splitting Hairs

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
--Hair, The musical Hair
I hacked off my crowning glory this week.  I gave 13” of hair to Locks of Love, a charity I have always admired.  
When I look at myself in the mirror now, I feel sort of odd.  I have identified myself with long hair for years.  I’m having a existential crisis of Sampson proportions.
Today on Sunday Mythbusters, I’m exploring this protein based biomaterial that springs from the follicles on my head.  
Does hair really have power?
Long hair has always been associated with strength and health.  This may harken back to our mammalian roots--long, lush fur represented fertility and desirable genes.  

Hey baby,  I got good hair.  And I'm a ginger.  Double threat.
The earliest civilizations depicted their gods and goddesses with long, flowing hair.  Hair represented a spiritual conduit that could connect a person to the otherworld.  The earliest barbers were often medicine men or priests who cut hair during religious ceremonies that exploited this connection. 

Thor, God of Hair.  From
In several religions, including Sampson’s, letting hair grow was an example of piety and godly devotion.  Long hair was the epitome of youth and fertility.  In some East Asian cultures it represented sexuality; women with unrestrained long hair could be seen as promiscuous.  Proper ladies wore their hair plaited or in a bun.  

Rapunzel was not a proper lady.
Because it was considered a personification of self, hair was often used as a way to recognize groups of people.  For instance, the Greeks forced their slaves to shave their heads as a sign of their lesser status.  In the Middle Ages, shorter hair represented servitude or peasantry.  However, as societies adopted a regimented military, problems with lice infestations prompted orders for men to have short hair.  That association with authority changed the view on short hair, making long hair the new symbol of rebellion and immorality.
The Egyptians were the first culture to focus on hair and its style.  They often wore hair extensions made of sheep’s wool or slave’s hair.  They used henna and herbal concoctions to create vibrant hair colors.  To evade the heat, men often would shave the head, leaving a single side lock to symbolize their virility and spiritual connection to the gods.  Both sexes wore elaborate wigs.

Egyptian wig of human hair and charms
The Greeks experimented with highlights and designed the first heated curling iron, called a calamistrum.  They even dyed gray hair with a lead sulfite based compound, a process that may have made them look younger, but likely caused death sooner. 
Hair color has been romanticized for centuries.  There are over 30 recognized naturally occuring hair colors by the Fisher-Saller anthropologic scale.  For the sake of brevity, I'm going to address the three main color groups: red hair, blondes, and brunettes.

Redheads make up only 1-2% of the human population and have been traced to Neanderthal ancestors.  Scotland and Ireland have the highest proportions of redheads, who are famous for passions that match their fiery locks.  They were also often accused of witchcraft or vampirism, their flame colored locks "proof" they had touched the fires of hell.  Interestingly, redheads are reported to have a higher pain tolerance, often requiring more anesthetic for medical procedures.  It is rumored to be good luck to touch red hair--but always ask permission to avoid some awkward moments.  The cartoon comedy Southpark attacked the ginger species in one of its episodes, comparing them to vampires that can't be in the sunlight and have no souls.

My favorite redhead
It's postulated that lighter colors of hair evolved in the cooler climates of Northeast Europe and the Ukraine.  Lighter hair, and thus lighter skin, requires less sunlight to trigger vitamin D production--necessary to prevent the bone disorder, rickets.  Folks with light hair would have a genetic advantage.  Others believe that these colors were sexually selected for--men preferred partners with blonde or red hair. 

                            Out of the ash

                        I rise with my red hair

                         And eat men like air.

                                                    -Sylvia Plath

Mythology has been kind to the blonde; countless numbers of gods and goddesses have blonde hair.  The Fae are said to be attracted to blonde children, swapping them for changelings whenever possible.  The fair haired, despite their ancestry from Norse tribes and descriptions in mythology, are classically associated with attributes of frivolity and mental weakness.  Blonde hair was also associated with prostitution in ancient Rome. The idea of the morally irresponsible blonde continued through the ages.  The woman who holds the title as the first “dumb blonde” was a French courtesan named Rosalie Duthe whose life was satirized in a 1775 play.


Alfred Hitchcock made his blondes beautiful and sophisticated with an icy demeanor.  He believed audiences were more likely to suspect a brunette, and blondes photographed better in black and white.  In interviews with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock explained his idea of what represented the Hitchcock blonde, saying "We're after the drawing room type, the real ladies who become whores once they're in the bedroom."

Ahem.  Thank you for the stereotype, Mr. Hitchcock.  And Mr. Freud.

Brunettes fair pretty well in terms of hair lore--they are considered strong, loyal and lucky.  Black hair is sometimes lumped into the brunette moniker but truly is its own group, representing the most common hair color in the world.  Over 3/4 of Americans believe the first female president will have dark hair, associating it with stability and competence.  And according to my best dark haired friend, gentlemen may prefer blondes, but they marry brunettes.  Maybe that's why the Mona Lisa is really smiling.

One of my favorite urban legends gives coiffure compulsion an arachnophobic twist. There are two versions to the modern myth.  One was popularized in the 1950s with the emergence of beehive hairdos.

Classic blonde--but what could she be hiding?
The other focuses on men with dreadlocks. 
Jason Momoa said he cut his dreads due to migraines, but could it have been something else that scared Ronan Dex out of his lovely locks?
In the myth, the victim is so enamored with their hair that in order to keep the style just so, they never wash or comb it.  The resultant pile of goo and hair makes an attractive nest for a poisonous spider, who moves in and lays its eggs.  When the baby spiders are born, they attack the owner of their nest. 

There are variants of this tale dating back as far as the thirteenth century.  It probably gets its roots from an English story that tells the tale of a tardy church-goer, always late to Mass because she spent so long adorning her hair.  One day the Devil, in the form of a spider, descended into her hair and refused to leave.  Ultimately, she repented her vanity, allowing her priest to exorcise Beelzebub from her bouffant.  
Now that’s a bad hair day.
Although there have been no substantiated proof of the spider’s nest myth, in Yemen in 2000 there were reports of a young bride who died after her wedding hairpiece came with an added adornment--a scorpion.  The poisonous gift was from one of her new husband's five wives who apparently wasn't in the mood to share. 
Hair has been something people have used as a symbol since ancient times.  Followers of Confucius grew it out to show their filial piety.  Flappers bobbed their hair to push the idea of the feminine ideal.  Hippies liked it long to symbolize their rebellion against authority.  And rednecks rock the mullet as a symbol of what can happen when Billy Ray Cyrus is your icon.  
As for me, I’m starting to get used to the new ‘do.  If anyone is getting a haircut in the future, I leave you with a European saying and a clip from Hair, the musical:
Cut on Monday to attain health
Cut on Tuesday to gain wealth
Cut on Wednesday to hear good news
Cut on Thursday to get new shoes
Cut on Friday if you want sorrow
Cut on Saturday to see true love tomorrow
Cut on Sunday is terribly bleak--the devil be with you the rest of the week


  1. Fascinating facts. Remind me never to get my hair cut on a Friday or a Sunday....yikes! I guess it really doesn't matter, I'm Wednesdays child anyway. It can't get much worse.

  2. Haha! Love the comic. This is so fascinating!Though, the spider in the hair myth totally freaked me out. Eek.

    I think your hair is beautiful. And so nice of you to donate it to Locks of Love. I've never been able to grow my hair long enough to donate it. This post is reminding me I need to get a haircut but I'll have to pick the right, maybe Thursday since I love shoe shopping. :D

  3. I so love the shorter hair on you. And it's so thick. Now I'm jealous on top of that. :)

  4. Great post. Who knew there were so many interesting facts about hair? The new 'do looks great, Julie. Which reminds me, I need a haircut something fierce. Twice a year whether I need it or not. LOL Way to go for donating the lost locks. I really admire that charity. I just never have enough hair to donate.

  5. Hi Julie,

    Your hair looks equally beautiful long or short. It must take some getting used to. Thanks for all of these lively facts on hair. Who knew that hair would make such interesting reading. Keep up the good work.

  6. Holy smack, that was legit fascinating. Usually I get bored with long posts, but I read this one through the whole way through. Who knew hair could be so important to society? :)

  7. Julie, your hair looks fabulous shorter! And it's not really "short", either, ya know...It's just shorter than your really long hair! It is so fluffy and beautiful. I'm with Maria Z. I have thin, fine, stringy, ugly hair. You're so blessed! And Locks of Love is wonderful. My college age son has grown his long a couple of times and donated to them. (which always made good old mom here happy for several reasons!)


    Jules, your crown was truly a crown-- absolutely beautiful and such a gift to have given, my love! Your new 'do looks equally beautiful but I can completely understand the turbulence in this major transition.

    Hair is identity. It is. I have been growing mine out for a few years-- the photo I recently posted to my blog in the post, 'Las Tres Arabes' doesn't detail how long it is, now-- and every time I am unclothed and feel it on my back, there is a tremendous sense of covering and, yes, power.

    I am just so impressed and intrigued by what you have done. I will say, though, that when I went away to University, the very first year, I cut off all my hair in a pixie cut like a boy and all of the intellectual men in the science department-- included the man to whom I am now married-- complimented it.



    Super, super post and actions which inspired it, babe.

  9. What an amazingly wonderful thing to do with your hair - and what a transformation!

    BTW I always get my hair cut on a Tuesday, and so far wealth as been less than forthcoming.

  10. ...from a guy's perspective, just wanted you to know that I think your donation is a wonderful gesture, and that regardless of the historic facts you've included, the shorter locks are a thing of beauty.

    My wife donated twelve inches a few years ago ;)


  11. Your new hairdo is adorable. I applaud your donation. Great post - love the photos (except the Mullet dude), quotes and content. Enjoy your new look, Julie.

  12. I did the same thing about a year ago. I cut all of my shoulder-length hair off into a pixie cut. Love it, but now I'm losing my hair because of my thyroid medicine. My hair vanity is so strong that I've many times considered not taking the medication rather than lose my hair.

    Your hair, however, looks great! And what a wonderful thing to do for someone else.

  13. I never heard that days of the week thing. Hmm. What if you just never cut it? I'm sticking with the Samson theory for now.

    That was so great you cut it for Locks of Love. Really awesome.

  14. Kudos! Your hair looks gorgeous.

    I did the Locks of Love earlier this year. It takes awhile to get used to the shorter hair for sure. Like you I've always associated myself with long hair :) So, I grow it back and in a couple years I'll chop it off again for another donation. It's a vicious circle I tell you, LOL

    Thanks for all we ever wanted to know about hair but were afraid to ask post.

  15. So, do you consider yourself lower maintenance now? :)

  16. Once you go short you'll never go back!!!
    Big up for Julie - admirable :-)

  17. Wow! That's a lot of hair to be cut off for a great cause! That is awesome. And your new cut is very cute!

    My husband dated blonde after blonde after blonde. Then he married me. :)

  18. Delores--Wednesday's child is full of woe, right? Folklore loves to condemn a whole bunch of people based on rhyme.

    Cherie--the idea of a bunch of spiders attacking my scalp made me itch all night when I was writing this

    Maria--it's thick, but very fine so it won't stay in a barrette or style to save my life unless I rat the heck out of it. And then it's like steel wool. Sigh.

    B.E.--this was the first haircut I've had in about 2 years. Cheaper that way, I guess

    Alexys--I think the strangest thing is being able to pull on a coat and not pull my hair out after. Little things.

    Yahong-Thank you! I love finding the bizarre little tidbits about every day things

    Becky--I've seen you and your hair is none of those things. Your son is awesome--did his friends tease him? I personally like a man with long hair, reminds me of highlanders. . .

    Suze--I have a tendency to hide behind my hair--it is quite comforting. So this will take a bit to get used to. You have the perfect face for a pixie cut--like Audrey Hepburn. Thank you for your words!

    Annalisa--I got mine done on Friday, before I started this. Whoops.

    Elliot--that is so sweet! Bless your wife on her gift, too.

    Robyn--Thanks. You a mullet hater? Don't tell my heart, my achy, breaky, heart.

    L.G.--I have to admit, I've got that hair vanity thing too. I just feel better when my hair looks a certain way--it's my super power, I guess. Are you on synthroid? Some docs think thyroid replacement needs to be with both forms of hormone--like natural hormone, especially for those with hair loss associated disease. You might ask about going to armour thyroid or a t4/t3 mix if that is the case. Sorry, did not mean to give unsolicited advice. Force of habitl

    Lydia--I think the longest ever is like 5 feet. I'm going to try to get to Crystal Gayle length next time.

    Raelyn--Good for you! I just look at all my styling products and think, hmm, won't be needing those for a while.

    D.L.--actually, I feel like I have to style it now. Before it was ponytails all the way.

    Yonks--I had super short hair in 6th grade. And black circle plastic rimmed glasses. Truly heinous. This length is the bravest I am.

    Kelly--your hubs was a smart man, he obviously picked with his heart. My hubby also has that blonde fetish, and he says that he lucked out to find a blonde with brains. I don't correct him.

  19. I think it's great. My son, whose pic is on my blog this Friday, is letting his hair grow because he too heard of the donation. He's at 7 inches and needs at least 3 more. Today he said he had it. After helping someone enter a store the person thanked him by saying..."Thank you young lady." He now wants to go bald. =)

  20. i love your cut!
    so many fun hair facts!
    great blonde joke too =)

  21. Well, that's a lot of info about hair. I supposed the whole body hair thing is a totally separate topic. I'd have tons of questions about that.

  22. what a lovely thing to do - it is a gift of love. my daughter has donated her hair twice.

    you have gorgeous hair, long or short! how does it feel to have all that weight gone?

  23. That was a really interesting post. My daughter wants a beehive for her prom next year, I'll have to warn her about spiders!

    Your hair looks beautiful.

  24. I loved this! I have tried and tried to grow out my hair (for Locks of Love, actually!) and just can't. I feel scraggly and disheveled with longer hair, but am so envious of those who can do it.

  25. Beautiful haircut and for such a worthwhile cause! When you mentioned gingers, it reminded me of the Glee episode where the guidance counselor's parents were ginger supremacists. Thanks to you, I'll be sleeping in a burka to ward of spiders.

  26. I smiled all the way through this (even at the arachnid parts!). Then the first thing I did was run to my calendar to see what day of the week I'm getting my hair cut next week--Wednesday, whew! Your new hair is gorgeous, btw, and still long enough to fulfill all the great myths.

  27. Thanks for the blonde joke! And mullets .... I never had one, although I did have my share of bad haircuts over the years. Love the musical hair! It's a true classic.

  28. I LOVE your posts! Your hair is beautiful--before AND after!!!!! *hugs*

    Great info, here. Love the pics too.

  29. E.--I think it is too cool when guys grow their hair out for donation. It's really showing their dedication and willingness to help someone else.

    Tara--I have so many blonde jokes. I don't think there are any I haven't heard.

    Rusty-a body hair fetish? I could make that work for a future post. Maybe when I talk about Yetis

    Amanda--My head feels so light, it's odd. Good for your daughter--that's quite an accomplishment!

    Sarah--I wonder if Marge Simpson ever gets concerned?

    Maggie--It was time to cut it--every morning I would have this scraggly hair nest tangled at my nape.

    ENI--Love Glee. I had forgotten about that episode.

    Linda--Yay! Good news is in your future!

    Stephen--Hair is one of my favorites--the songs are just so much fun.

    L.B.--Thanks! I need the vote of confidence, I'm missing my hair today. I didn't realize how much I hide behind it.

  30. Awesome, and for such a great cause! You look amazing with the new cut. Wonderful post.

  31. Hmmmm I'm not sure. I still think I liked the thor look on you. haha.

  32. I have had long hair most of my life, but a couple times (including now) have had it super short. It is definitely weird to chop it! At least you got to donate yours.

  33. First of all, love the cut. Second of all, got really excited when I saw the lyrics you chose because I did the press for the HAIR Broadway revival. It was one of my favorite shows I've ever worked on :)

  34. I love your new hairdo!

    Interesting post on hair . . . I never put that much thought to it before.

  35. Your new hairdo is adorable!!! And for such a great cause. So awesome. And these hair facts are really interesting. Great post.

  36. Your hair looks gorgeous. And what a great thing, to be able to donate your beautiful hair to such a wonderful cause. I love all the facts about hair. I admit, I have always thought my hair gave me strength, yet at the same time felt cursed by it. On one hand I felt like Sampson and on the other hand the cursed hot tempered redhead. So confusing. :)

  37. Your bob is so exposes the nape. I suspect you could get a very long post out of just the nape. xo

  38. :-D I love your humourous writing style! Found your blog via sapphire's blog, what a win! : ))

  39. Very cool and interesting post. I am a blonde who is now a proud red read. I also used to have big hair since I grew up in the 80's, but I have been pixie short and sexy for about 20 years now. My hair is thin and looks terrible long unless there is lots of product involved and quite frankly, I have more important things to do than my do. LOL


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