Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hair Wiggin'

There is evidence that hair wigs were first used by Egypians around 3000 BC. In the hot climate, lice and other hair vermin proliferated, so the Egyptians learned to shave their heads and replace their real hair with elaborate wigs--fancy, braided, sculptural works of hair art affixed to their bare scalps with beeswax. This bust of a young woman (called Meritaten), from a collection in the Louvre, is just one example.

When it comes to bald heads in the 21st Century, if we aren't going for the look intentionally, the loss of hair can be debilitating. This is especially true for men, around 40 million of whom suffer from genetic baldness. Some men are desperate enough to try the combover. Others opt for the toupée.

These days, due to hair replacement therapy, etc., toupées are waning in popularity, but they're definitely still with us, for which I'm glad. For one thing, they're an endless source of entertainment. Toupées can blow away in a strong wind, or get knocked askew, or be irresistible to the practical joker. William Shatner's toupée is the subject of an entire blog .

What's creepiest for me is not when the toupée is on , but when it's off. Doesn't it look alive? Imagine coming across one in the dark, or in the back of a cabinet. Totally wiggin'.

While I don't wear a wig, I'm drawn to the idea, especially to hair as art. On Mathilda's Anthropology Blog you can find more examples of Egyptian wigs. Hair art--in a big way. I love it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hair Reflection

Procure a hand mirror, a one-sided mirror. The kind they use at hair salons, the kind that lets you see the back of your head, the invisible part, to you that is. Turn the mirror to the blank side, as when you can't bear to see, the side that protects the face from cracking, collecting dust. Now, tilt the mirror up and away from you, toward the sky, as if flashing a rescue helicopter. Careful now, don't drop it. Gradually twist it part way, still holding its face averted, the reflection visible but not glaring, as if slaying Medusa. Wait. Breathe. When you're ready, shift the looking glass toward you full frame. Gaze deeply. Deeper. We might even forget ourselves, cradle the mirror under one arm, rocking back and forth. It's okay. It's only an image, more fleeting than the glass of which it’s made.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hair Beliefs, Part III

Islamic beliefs about hair. Now we're talking sacred hair. It has been suggested the Muslim practice of taking special care with hair and nail clippings dates back to prehistoric animist beliefs that all parts of the physical body are considered to contain life's "soul-stuff".

One ritual that leads scholars to this conclusion occurs during the pilgrimage to Mecca, where Muslim men enter a sacred state by donning the white seamless garment known as Ihram. (Muslim women wear long white robes or something similar. For more information, I direct you to Wikipedia.) During Ihram, Muslims are not to shave, clip their nails, wear perfumes or deodorants. (They must also follow other prescriptives, such as no sex, smoking, swearing, etc. in order to enter a state of spiritual purity.) When the ceremony is complete, Muslim men shave their heads and cut their nails, taking the hair and clippings with them to bury in sacred soil.

In addition to hair rituals during Hajj, as a matter of personal hygiene, the Islamic Sunnah mandates the regular trimming of pubic hair and underarm hair.

Specifically with regard to Muslim women, hair is considered to be an alluring adornment, part of her aura, which in Arabic means: "The part of the body which is illegal to keep naked before others." While she can leave her head uncovered with her husband and children in the privacy of their home, in public the Muslim woman practices the modesty of Hijab. Actual manifestations of Hijab vary. Some women simply wear a head scarf, known as a Khimar. The Nigab is the name for both a head covering and veil. When a Muslim woman covers herself from head to foot, she is wearing either the Chador or Burga. Islamic arguments in defense of the practice maintain that:
1. Men are weak in sexual temptations; by wearing the Hijab, women help them be strong;
2. The Hijab empowers Muslim women to be intelligent and ambitious, rather than focused on physical beauty;
3. The Hijab reminds all Muslims of their god-centered lives.

Interestingly, the differences between the practices of Muslim men and Muslim women when it comes to head coverings parallels the instructions of Paul to Christians in the New Testament (see Hair Beliefs, Part I).

Hiding hair from view, in my estimation, operates like reverse psychology, giving it too much power. I revere my hair, too. In a very cool way, the animists had a point: after all, hair carries our DNA code. But that's not to say hair creates uncontrollable sexual urges, or vanity, or wasteful expense, or any of the other crimes of which it's accused. We're the ones who do that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hair not so nice

In the early 1990's, with two kids under the age of five, Dave and I established a workable household routine. We fed our children healthy food, kept them active and outside, got them to bed at a decent hour. While we didn't love the ordeal of nightly baths, we tackled them with good-humored resilience.

So when the preschool letter came home in January about a Northwest epidemic of head lice, I hardly even read it. Lice weren't something I'd ever had, and neither would our kids.

Weeks passed. We belonged to an Island Babysitting Co-op, and shared child care responsibilities with about 20 other families on a barter system. It was useful for things like dental appointments, the rare night out on the town. The kids got to play with others their age under the supervision of parents. In turn, parents brought their kids over to our house. During winter break that year, our family flew to Florida to meet up with the grandparents and cousins from the midwest. Once we returned, I set up a play date between my daughter and a girl in the neighborhood.

No sooner had I dropped Vivian off at Brynne's house than I got a call from her mother Tami.

"Claire, I think you should come get Vivian." Tami sounded tense; I agreed immediately.

As I walked the short distance down the street, I imagined some childish mishap, permanent magic marker on the walls, gum in the hair, a biting episode. When I arrived, Tami was standing in the driveway with Vivian in her tight grip.

"What's up?" I said.

Tami put her hand on Vivian's head and pushed her hair aside to expose her scalp. There were red welts and scratch marks behind her ears. "I've never seen such a terrible case of head lice. It looks like it's gone on for some time."

I took Vivian off her hands, doing my best to tamp down my revulsion. My own scalp crawled just being in proximity. "What should I do?"

"They sell a shampoo. It's pretty strong, but it's the only way to get rid of them. Don't let her play with anyone until it's cleared up."

As soon as Vivian and I got back, I crammed both kids in the car and rushed to the drugstore. Back home, as I filled the bathtub for the first louse dousing, I was reading the instructions from the shampoo box when a fat louse plopped off my head onto the paper. I had lice, too. So did our son George. And Dave. A lice epidemic.

The lice species has our family to thank for a healthy growth spike that spring. If you examine the lice community's victim chart, the graph shows a significant rise of head lice in Mercer Island residents, in the Florida Keys, and on certain airline flights across the U.S. My brother's family, now back home in Cincinnati, had picked up our head lice, too.

"I had to cut Erica's hair off. They were everywhere," Cheri said when I called. "I wondered where they'd come from."

If you've never had lice before, here's the drill: In addition to the caustic shampoo and nit combs (lather, rinse, repeat ad infinitum), you have to wash everything your head has been in contact with, and/or spray it with lice spray. Throw away every kid's costume hat in the play trunk. And, you must confess your embarrassing infestation to everyone who may have come in contact with your hair, or your children's hair, or sat in a chair in your house ... Apologies don't begin to cover it. You've got cooties.

We waged war, and gradually, we won the battle. Everyone, that is, except for my daughter. Her hair was so fine, the nit combs didn't do the job. As far as I could tell, there was nothing there. I treated and combed and laundered, but the lice kept reappearing every week or so.

Then one afternoon in the spring, as I waited for my son at a T-ball practice, Vivian fell asleep with her head on my lap. The sun shone down on her head through the windshield, and at last I saw them--thousands of miniscule, clear nodules attached to every strand of hair on her head.

I especially like the eMedicineHealth web site on lice. They say that lice only live on humans. They note there are hundreds of millions of cases every year. We have met the enemy; it is lice.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hair and

I contend there are links--though they may be as elusive as String Theory--between hair and the cosmos. Hair has a certain other-worldly quality. Hair is composed of an especially durable protein, so it lasts long after our lives have departed this earth. Picture a skeleton, all flesh decomposed, just hair and bones. Creepy.

Maybe that's why, in mythology, hair is so often associated with death. Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, formed a veil or shadow with her hair as the soul passed into the underworld. The appearance of comets in the sky were seen as a sign of imminent catastrophe, and sure enough, the root meaning of the word comet means "wearing long hair" or "spirit of hair." The Great Mother foretelling our doom. The sight of Medusa's snake hair, like her face, turned people to stone. (These days, there's a galaxy in the cosmos named Medusa's Hair.) Witches were said to control weather with their hair, and "Mother Goddesses like Isis, Cybele, and many emanations of Kali were said to command the weather by braiding or releasing their hair." (Barbara Walker)

Hair is an undeniable presence in creation myths. Norse mythology claims heaven and earth were formed when Odin slew the cosmic giant Ymir. Trees were formed from Ymir's hair. According to Chinese mythology, the hair and beard of the cosmic giant P'an Ku formed the stars in the sky. The Egyptian Isis preserved Osiris' soul after death magically, by cutting a lock of her hair, and later resurrected Osiris via her hair.

Simply put, hair has a certain power over the human imagination. It's a visible emanation of the fabric of the universe.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Hair bumps

In June, I got together with three writer friends in my Whidbey MFA program. As we hung out and rehashed the semester, I noticed our hair varied to match our personalities. KD's hair is sculpted and short, an echo of the succinct word choice of the hard-core poet. JB had wash-and-wear hair, the clean assurance of the capable, practical mother. To underscore the point, she bounced her newborn in her arms. EB's hair is long, and she'd wound it up in an Raphael-esque curlicue behind her head (she's a painter, too). As for me, I'd sprung for the pampered foil and sassy cut, then let my hair do its own thing. Once again, putting it out to the universe.

Naturally, at one point we landed on the topic of my hairpisodes blog. Someone asked if I'd done a hairpisode on those little thingies that bump your hair up. We'd all seen the commercial. Just thinking about it made us laugh like the guest audience on Ellen, but we were still confused.

"What is the goal here?" KD asked, setting her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. "To look taller? To show a smarter DNA than a person without one?"

A week later, I got a nondescript brown package in the mail. When I opened it I discovered a little prize. My very own "Bumpits." Big Happie Hair. EB up to her mischief again.

I admit it took me forever to actually try them out. Finally tonight I forced myself to spend a few moments primping and preening, and voila! The results are before you. Don't you think it has that je ne sais quoi? Thanks, EB.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hair Beliefs, Part II

I've never shaved my head. The closest I came to the bald look was having it cut down to an inch all around, which felt so, in a word, freeing. Not only did my head suddenly feel light as air--in psychological terms, it also took a load off. Hair is a visual cue to others--it's how they recognize us. When I went from an abundant, curly perm to almost no hair, a friend in the grocery store walked right past me. Never saw me. My most identifiable feature was gone. I had temporarily become invisible.

Prince Siddhartha, the future Buddha, made a radical gesture back in the 6th century B.C. by shaving his head (hair being at the time a symbol of royalty and the excesses associated with it). Afterwards, the prince called himself only by his last name--Gautama--and wandered outside the palace walls, a vagabond in search of wisdom from spiritual teachers of the day.

To this day, the initiations of Buddhist monks and nuns often include the practice of head shaving.
While most people spend lots of time and money on their hair, Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads. They are no longer concerned with outward beauty, but with developing their spiritual lives. The shaven head is a reminder that the monks and nuns have renounced the home life and are a part of the Sangha.
(The Basic Teaching of Buddha)

Oddly, though the Buddha went to all that trouble to get rid of his hair, according to some, it's still with us. Apparently, in China, carefully preserved locks of the Buddha's hair were uncovered in Hangzhou in the ruins of a pagoda. And as recently as 2007, Bangladesh donated a few strands of Buddha's hair to Sri Lanka. So for all the detachment from this world symbolized by shaving off one's hair, a cultish, reliquary event has grown around the Buddha's hair that gives one pause.

I think Buddha did not intend for his hair to be so obsessively preserved--quite the opposite. I especially like the Enlightenment Ward's musings on the subject. In a nutshell, hair is a problem only if it matters too much.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hair Beliefs, Part I

I've insisted from the start there's something uncanny about hair. There are no end of religious views on it, in spite of the fact that, scientifically speaking, humans are "among the most hairless of all mammals."
The most important function of hair in mammals is that of insulating against cold by conserving body heat.
(Encyclopedia Britannica)
So perhaps we magnify its allure. Or not:
The differing colours and colour patterns in hair coats can also serve purposes of camouflage and of sexual recognition and attraction among the members of a species.
And get this:
In essence, each hair is a cylinder of compacted and keratinized cells growing from a pit in the skin—the hair follicle. ... The epidermal components of an active hair follicle consist of an outer layer of polyhedral cells, forming the outer root sheath, and an inner horny stratum, the inner root sheath.
Aha! Hair is horny. So that's the source of the religious crackdowns.

I'm a Christian, hence, a follower of Christ, so I read what Paul has written in the New Testament as I would read what any other Christian has to say--with a grain of salt. Strictly literalist Christians, on the other hand, rely on I Corinthians 11:4-10 as their ultimate hair authority.
Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. ... For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Whoa, wait a minute--angels? Yes, at the beginning of Genesis 6:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. ... The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Okay, the above passage doesn't specifically mention hair, but a common interpretation of the above goes like this--there were both angels and humans intermingling back then. The human daughters were fair of hair, and hence charmed the "sons of God" (aka the fallen angels or Nephilim, the Rephaim or Gibbowrim) to have sex with them. And these same daughters gave birth to some superhero-caliber warriors. I kid you not. Hence, the head coverings.

Furthermore, Orthodox Christians (and United Pentecostals, and other denominations as well) believe a woman should not cut her hair, also due to Paul's writings on head coverings (I Corinthians 11:14-15).
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Hmmph. I myself like to glorify that very covering. I think of hair as art, one of the best parts of ourselves, of expression, beauty, joy. Why not make the most of this salient feature?

Thus endeth, Part I. Stay tuned for the sequels. In the spirit of honest inquiry, I'll explore Hair Beliefs in faiths other than my own--Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Judaic--whatever I can find. From what I've learned so far, we're in for a hair raising good time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hair Inheritance

We blame our parents whenever we can. I can't blame my mom for my hair, though--hers was a beautiful black, thick and glossy with healthy bounce. Mine is fine, straight and brown, making up in quantity what it lacks in quality. I wish I'd received a free haircut every time I heard the stylist say: "You've got a lot of hair." It would have saved me a bundle.

Of course there are other attributes I inherited from Mom--though she was only quick to point out the negative ones. I wonder now at her self esteem, the way she owned to our similarities only when it came to failings.

"I'm afraid you take after me," she'd say often, referring to my big bones, my haphazard organizational skills, or my general clumsiness.

I still wonder if she thought I was a chip off the old block in good ways, too.

For better or worse, I was born a blonde. During puberty, my hair transformed to a mouse brown shade, the color working its way from the outside layers in. At twelve years old, when I wore my hair in pigtails, the back of my head revealed a distinct line between the brown of the outside layers and the blonde beneath.

"That's so ... weird," friends commented until, with typical adolescent self-consciousness, I stopped wearing pigtails altogether.

Since my daughter refused to wear pigtails (or tie her hair back for any other reason) since birth, I'm not sure if her hair faded from blonde to brown in a similar manner, but fade it did.

She still hasn't forgiven me. "It's all your fault," she says. "I got your ugly brown hair. I wish it was still blonde."

"Yes, it is all my fault," I admit, "but it's also my fault that you've got dimples and that charming smile."

She rolls her eyes, but at least she knows I see the good in myself as well as the bad. While some traits are inherited, others don't have to be.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hair Block

I have a friend who has no hair. He may shave it, or it may be genetic baldness--we've never really talked about it. He always wears a hat on his head, sometimes a baseball hat, sometimes a knit cap. What with the dark circles under his eyes, and his perpetual five o'clock shadow, he looks pretty thuggish.

He's on my mind this weekend because on April 6 he has to appear in King County Superior Court on a Burglary 2 charge. He's told me it's a case of mistaken identity. There doesn't seem to be any proof he did it, other than some witnesses from a dark night who confronted him on a different street in a different neighborhood over a year ago, but it's going to trial anyhow. I want to advise him to wear not just his knit cap, but a crash helmet when he appears before the judge. My friend is a such good-hearted soul, well-meaning and sincere, but his appearance says otherwise.

As often as we've heard the saying "don't judge a book by it's cover," it's what we rely on in our everyday lives. For instance, when I originally told my friend Jo about my hairpisodes blog, she said: "Oh, I've got one for you. Did I ever tell you about the time I got called for jury duty?"

"When was this?"

"When I lived in Boston. There was no way I had the time to get snagged into one of those trial things. So before I went down there I punked out my hair. I really did a number on it. I spiked it and dyed it--you should have seen it when I got through. My God, it looked just awful. Needless to say, I didn't get called to serve on a jury. All the lawyers had to do was take one look at me and they let me go."

I don't think my friend who's going to trial next week could pull off something like Jo did. Short of investing in a toupe, there's little hope for his hair anyhow. He plays it straight all the time, is painfully honest, and there's an air about him of someone who is lost, trying to find his way in a world where he's been overlooked. Without the hat, my friend's smooth, caramel-colored skull looks naked and startling, as vulnerable as a newborn babe's. I just hope and pray no harm comes to him. Please keep him in your thoughts on April 6.

Added April 26: Twenty days later, after many delays and postponements, the trial has yet to begin. A group of people have written letters to the court testifying to our friend's good character--there's now a rumor the charges will be dropped. Here's hoping.

Added May 5: Whoooeee! Charges dismissed. The judge read the letters, in other words, stopped judging the book by its cover and looked inside. Now my friend can get on with his life.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The World According to the Protege

Being remade is a process of discovery. For my recent haircut, I put myself in the hands of a protégé.

“What’s a protégé?” I asked when the receptionist offered this level of stylist as the only opening of the day.

“It’s usually someone who’s new, they’re learning, training for our salon. They don’t cost so much, only 30 dollars.”

“Why not?” I heard myself say. "12:30? I'll be there."

A couple of hours later I swiveled before the in-training scrutiny of a woman named Kelly.

Kelly wore the black pants and white top of the salon, her black straight hair unexceptional, her black-rimmed glasses thick. She frowned at my visit sheet, where the progress of my hair is logged every time I come. I’ve always wondered what they write there: tricky coloring formulas? Or, more likely: “Keeps changing her mind.” “Watch out for this one.” “Doesn’t have a clue.”

“Just a trim,” I say, flopping the folds of my black smock around me as if it's the cloak of a queen. “It’s been a while, so go ahead and take an inch and a half off everywhere.”

Kelly and I exchange pleasantries through the wash and rinse, agreeing about water temperature and which line of hair care products to use.

But back in the chair, as I sit wet and dripping with anticipation, the first thing she does is apply a texturizing razor at the back of my neck. I feel and hear the scraping shear of the blade and the five-alarm fire sirens go off.

“What are you doing?” I ask. Demand imperiously, to be exact.


“No, not that, I’ll get a rat’s nest back there.”

“It’ll shape better.”

“A blunt cut. I don’t care if it bulges. I want a blunt cut.”

Kelly switches to scissors and begins again. Squinting, she moves around my head, trimming barely a 1/4-inch. An inch and a half! I scream inwardly. But I keep quiet. I’ve been here before.

Several years ago now, in Joe’s salon near my old job in north Seattle, he switched my hair part from the left side to the right side of my head without so much as a by-your-leave.

“I part it on the other side,” I said.

“I know. But you shouldn’t. Your left eye is bigger than your right. You should part your hair over the smaller eye. It balances the face.”

I’ve followed his advice, and frankly, it does look better. So I watch Kelly and hold my peace. Maybe, like Joe, Kelly has a good sense of hair style. Maybe by my next visit I’ll hear she skipped the "Team" level entirely, arrowed straight to “Master”. I break the stiff silence.

“I like what you’re doing,” I say.

Kelly leans toward me, unsure she’s heard me right. I say it again. Her face softens and she gets back to work. I practice relaxing my own features in the mirror, study my eyes to see if I can spot the bigger one. Take a deep breath. It’s like I’m her protégé; I might even learn something. In the mirror, I catch Kelly’s eye and we smile.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hair Twirling

It sounds sexier than it is. Hair twirling, something I've been doing since my first conscious memory, is considered a self-manipulation habit. I always do it with my left hand, on the back left part of my skull. I twirl and wrap and weave my fingers and twist my hair up tight, then fold and push the knot against my skull, then release it, untangle it, and start all over. Again and again. Unconsciously. My parents and brothers and friends all called attention to it when I was young. "It's a bad habit," they told me. "Stop it." "Cut it out."

Well, I tried that. I cut my hair short enough that I could no longer twirl it, but I simply played with the ends instead, pinching them up and pressing my finger tip on the brush. From time to time over the years I focused on trying to stop, but it's been years now since I cared enough to put in the effort. Today, though, when writing up 25 Things about myself (that Facebook challenge currently in circulation), I typed it in as Thing #11, and there it was. What, I wondered, is the reason, scientifically speaking, for this hair twirling behavior? So I did what any red-blooded Internet user does: I googled "hair twirling habit."

There were 114,000 results. The first link I clicked on, a web site for clinicians, harbored grim news. Hair Twirling is considered a mild form of Hair Pulling, a much more unpleasant habit, medically referred to as Trichotillomania. Hair Pulling is when you actually nervously tear your hair out of your scalp. People have to wear wigs to hide their disorder. Worse, according to the site, "among adults, women account for 70% to 93% of all cases." So much for light-hearted inquiry.

But it's not like I yank out my hair--I only fiddle with it--so I surfed for something tamer. I found ten posts in The Long Hair Community, confessional and rambling, not all that enlightening. There are many parenting sites out there, moms agonizing about how to get their kids to stop, pediatricians full of advice, link after link with suggestions. At a link called: Am I Nuts? a Yale psychologist insists it's done in self-defense. "Chances are you developed your bookish hair twirling as a body-language clue to people around you. What does your finger in your locks say? It says, 'Leave me alone! I'm reading.'" Now that was more like it.

Still, I longed for something more comforting, something akin to what the hair twirling process itself does for me--it comforts. So next, I clicked on Nervous Habits and the Chakra System. Here you can almost smell the incense and hear the soft, meditative chimes and drumming. "Nervous habits related to 'hair' such as twirling or pulling hair, are often linked to the head or the crown chakra. This is about boredom, lack of concentration, consciousness, a desire to open the crown chakra and 'see' beyond emotional problems." Aaahhhh. Yes, much better. So when I twirl my hair, it's my mode of transcendence, of seeing beyond. I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Yes, that's the reason I was looking for. Unconsciously, I lift a tuft of hair in my hand and start to twirl.