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.