Monday, December 26, 2011

Red hair intentions


Some things we do are intentional.

"I'm thinking about cutting my hair shorter," I said to Susan.

"You shouldn't do that," she said. "Short hair makes women look older."

Even more drastically, I wanted to go red. I haven't had red hair since 1982, since the photo was taken (above) that I use for this blog. So in the stylist's chair, I blundered around trying to describe what I wanted, then gave up, fired up my phone, and showed Jeff that little "about me" picture.

There is always that moment, the final ta-da for the stylist, when it's too late to turn back, when fantasy-turned-reality feels like an enormous blow to the head with a sledgehammer. Luckily, I've received only compliments. "You look years younger," people are telling me. Some people don't even recognize me.

"I thought, who is that woman," Cathy said, "and then your voice came out of her."

Some things we do are unintentional. It was not until afterwards, once I'd been out in public a few times, that I remembered my redheaded Aunt Elizabeth, and how people used to react to her. Before she passed away last year, Elizabeth and I used to go shopping together, and it would surprise me, all the looks she got. I attributed it to her old age, perhaps the general decrepitude of moving about with her walker.

Now, I wonder if it had more to do with Elizabeth's red hair. It feels to me as if, since I've gone red, people are treating me differently: some attracted (older men), others repelled (store clerks in general, one blacksmith in particular).

Elizabeth Lindsey

Who knows what mysterious motives lurk in our subconscious. It occurs to me now perhaps I was drawn to red hair as a way to remember my aunt.

Truth is, I miss her.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hair Estranged, Part V

On a trip this summer, I happened to be on an airport shuttle with an Amish couple. Probably, they are New Order Amish, as air travel is permissible in New Order beliefs. These young Amish were stand-outs, not only for their garb, but for the man's hair cut, a "bowl cut," common to the Amish, but startlingly blunt and severe to my eye. At the time, I did not know enough about Amish hair beliefs to realize other signals of the Amish faith. This man is newly married. One can tell not only from the baby in his lap, but because of his beard: Before marriage, Amish men are required to keep their faces unshaven. After marriage, they must let their beards grow, and this fellow shows only a trace of hair on his jawline. (On the other hand, he must still shave his upper lip. Amish communities do not allow mustaches, as they are considered a sign of militarism.)

Note that the female has her head covered, in keeping with New Testament mandates (I Corinthians 11:4-10). No doubt she has never cut her hair. The male's hair instructions date back even farther, to the Old Testament verse: "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard." (Leviticus 19:27) This stuff is deeply engrained in the separatist Amish faith. Therefore, recent news reports of violent hair-cutting attacks on Amish men and women around Steubenville, Ohio, are especially disturbing.

These hate crimes appear to be due to a family feud. Instigated by an Amish bishop named Sam Mullet (yes, really, mullet), zealous followers of Mullet from within the Bergholz community forcibly held down Amish men and women of Holmes County to shear off their beards and hair. At least some of the perpetrators were Mullet's sons, and allegedly, the first female victim was Mullet's sister and her husband, hence, their aunt and uncle. The fact that the report has surfaced at all is noteworthy, as the Amish normally mete out their own methods of justice amongst themselves.

What is Mullet's motivation? According to this October article in the New York Times, the bishop is "a prickly 66-year-old man who had become bitterly estranged from mainstream Amish communities." The day before Thanksgiving, seven alleged hair-cutting perpetrators were arrested. (CBS News)

For more, I refer you to the blog: "Sects and Violence in the Ancient World" by Steve Wiggins.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hair for the heck of it

Last Saturday, I was heading over to Westlake Center to hear some speeches at the Occupy Seattle gathering, when I crossed paths with this fine-looking fellow.

"May I take your picture?" I asked.

He not only let me take the photo, he posed for me. I am especially intrigued by this mohawk style -- I see a lot of it on Seattle streets. People get their hair to stand on end using hair spray, gel, white glue, and/or egg white. The colors can be fuchsia pink, dayglo orange, or more subtle, like this dusty teal.

"You get used to having to style it in the mornings, but people still ask me all the time to touch it," posts Jade at Mohawks and Liberty Spikes. "Depending on the gel you use, your hair can feel like rubber and will spring back up if you try to knock it down."

Eye-catching, to say the least. But I could not leave it at that. I am one of those people who overthinks stuff. I wanted to know why. Why do people choose to wear their hair in a manner that forces them to tilt their heads to drive? Surely, they're making a statement of some kind, but what can it be?

While the most recent mohawk trend appears to be born of punk rock, historically, it's been around for millenia. It was recorded on the burial artwork of Scythian warriors in 600 B.C., on up through the Mohawk tribe of North America, the Cossacks, and WWII GIs (wikipedia). Quite a few commenters at the Mohawks and Liberty Spikes site said they always wanted to have a mohawk, but never had the guts. So it's daring, I get that.

But other than mustering courage and looking fearsome to one's enemies, it seems as if there's not much rhyme or reason for it. My fine-looking fellow's hair color goes so far as to match the shirt he's wearing.

And really, why not?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hair tidbit

I had lunch with my friend Michele recently, after which she said she was headed to a hair appointment.

"Summer is always the worst," she said. "My hair grows faster, so I end up at the stylist more often."

Really?! Just when I think I've heard it all, some new hair tidbit gets me wondering. I ran the concept past my hair stylist.

"So Jeff, does hair really grow faster in the summer?"

"Yup. It does. And I have no idea why."

A few weeks later, I brought up the subject with Dave and friend Eric, visiting from Austin.

"Why do you think it grows faster?"

"Maybe increased sunlight?" suggested Eric.

"Ooo, that's a good one. Like photosynthesis and tree leaves. Or wait, maybe it's like the tides and the moon -- hair grows faster as the sun reaches its zenith in the northern hemisphere?"

Enough already with the rampant speculation. Next stop, google. Where, in the top hits, I found the ultimate authority ... wait for it ... O Magazine. Brian Thompson, senior trichologist (hair specialist) at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in New York City, says "there are no reliable statistics about it, but warm weather does seem to make hair grow faster." Talk about your non-answer.

eHow explains how hair growth increases about 0.05 inches, due to faster cell division, spurred by an increase in certain hormones in warmer months of the year.

Askville: Amazon weighs in with hormones and a faster metabolism. Thriftyfun says it is due to sweat.

Ha! I prefer photosynthesis and tree leaves. After all, when my hair isn't combed, my brother points out, I look just like a plant.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hair Character

My great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Crolly Harm kept a "Mark Twain Scrapbook," an 1892 method of saving newspaper clippings. Recently, I discovered the following article (clipped from a Cleveland, Ohio newspaper?):
    Character is more easily discernible by close observation of hair than by noting the expression of the face.
    It is a wonderful guide to the mental capacity, tastes, and temper of individuals.
    It has been said the finer the hair the gentler the birth, and it is certainly true that those who are born to the purple are often remarkable for the soft, silky texture of the hair.
    Lusterless black hair denotes a jealous disposition and treacherous temperament.
    In nine cases out of ten it is a curious fact, which cannot be refuted, that the lighter the color the the hair the more sensitive is the owner to criticisms and the more quick to feel real or fancied injuries.
    The possessor of brown hair of good depth of color and firm texture is usually distinguished by good judgment, a high sense of reasoning power, and plenty of common sense.
    Women with red hair, though often over-impulsive and too quick-spoken, are generally strictly honest and truthful, show a fair amount of common sense, and, as a rule, are the brightest, sunniest and gentlest individuals in existence.
    A woman with straight and what might be termed "unyielding" hair, especially if the color is dark, possesses a firm and highly principled nature; she is determined, perhaps even a little obstinate, but extremely dependable.
    Okay, I'm sorry, but the above is not an example of hair character, it's an example of hair idiocy. Notice how the article begins with a discussion of hair in general, and halfway down slips into what we're really talking about -- *women's* hair? Lord above! Worst of all, I fear my great-great-grandmother saved this clipping as an authoritative "tidbit of wisdom." Thank goodness we no longer have to suffer that kind of claptrap and folderol in our media. Or do we?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hair Obsession

I may have a hair fascination, but Dennis Milam Bensie has a hair obsession, which he owns up to in his memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men. Bensie's hair fetish began in childhood when he stole Barbie dolls and secretly cut off all their hair. While it may be a myth that smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs, it seems cutting off Barbie's hair might lead to an irrepressible need to sheer the hair off men's heads. Bensie writes:

"I became fascinated by the effect a haircut could have on real people. For someone to look a certain way because of their hair and then be transformed simply by the reduction or removal of that hair seemed like magic to me. The person cutting the hair was the magician."

Naturally, Bensie's "hair magic" is symptomatic of much deeper emotional, sexual, and psychological distress. In his well-written memoir, the author shies away from none of the above. I was especially gripped by his recounting of an ever deeper downward spiral in the 1990s. While Bensie worked as a costume and wig-maker for Intiman Theatre, he began to solicit male street hustlers, not for sex, but to shave their heads.

Am I making this up, my vague memory of Seattle in those years, of seeing an inordinate number of skinheads on the downtown streets? Where once I attributed the style to a local grunge vibe, I now have to wonder: Was I seeing some of Bensie's victims?

As the author makes plain in his memoir, his need to sheer hair is a full-flung addiction. And even such a kinky addiction has its victims. While psychotherapists are in a position to be circumspect about addiction as illness, the victims can not take the high ground. At the mercy of the addict, a victim suffers the full gamut of emotions: fear, anger, loathing, despair, and more.

Fortunately, Bensie sought help and climbed out of his vortex. I am so glad: The bald (sorry) honesty of his memoir has helped me climb out of my personal pain as a victim of another who had similar addiction issues. Finally, I feel I have a glimmer of understanding of the dynamic at play, and how it turns out to be the illness, not the man, that preyed on us all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hair Twists

"Black Gold." That's what the $900 million hair market is called, according to Scott Carney in his book The Red Market.

It seems our hair is a hot commodity, the obvious end market being hair extensions and wigs. There is another end market, too, not nearly as obvious.

As leavening. Check out this npr interview, where Melissa Block talks with Carney. In India, the Sri Tirumala Temple (which accounts for about 40-percent of the international hair market) does a brisk business selling long hair for extensions, but also shorter, mostly men's hair. Where does the mixed hair go? To chemical companies, where it "gets reduced to an amino acid called L-cystine, which is used as a leavening agent in baking goods," Scott Carney explains.

We are eating our own hair. Eew.

This time, I should add, it's not only about hair. Scott Carney's book explores the global market for blood, bones and organs, aka the "red market." Whoa. Gruesome doesn't begin to cover it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Karmic Hair

What does it mean?
"In this world nothing happens to a person that she does not for some reason or other deserve. ... Karma ... is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings." [excerpted from Basic Buddhism]

The other day, while researching my thesis, I went to my local library to look for a dictionary on swearing (swearing in German. It's a long story.) The librarian walked me over to the reference area.

"In this section, we have this group of books about slang and swearing," she said, running her hand across book spines on the top shelf. She reached four shelves down to a golden book spine of another section. "Or, there's the Encyclopedia of Hair."

I couldn't stop smiling at her. "I can't believe you did that," I said.

"Did I misunderstand you?"

I assured her she had provided exactly what I was looking for. The librarian returned to her desk a bit mystified while I grabbed for the Encyclopedia of Hair with cackling delight.

How did she know? I've been writing Hairpisodes for four years now--do I emit some kind of "Hairpisodes" aura? All right, maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it's a very cool book, by Victoria Sherrow, and now that I'm aware of its existence in the universe, I must let humankind know.

The art (Getty images) is especially interesting. Here's a girl wearing her ancestral hair. She has the same kind of smile I had for the librarian.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Long Hair Trajectory

One version of the story about the way I fell in love with my future husband goes like this: I fell in love with his painting first. I saw it on the wall of his brother’s house, when his brother Paul and I were college classmates together. It blew me away. Not just the orange hair and the purple scar leaking down a ghastly pale face, but the quote written along the sides: “Find someone with your fears and you’ve found someone to love ◊ Diamond God”

With Genesis blaring over the stereo speakers, I’d been goggling this masterpiece like I’d dropped acid when Paul came up to stand beside me.

“Who painted that?” I asked.

“My brother Dave.”

“Have I met him?”

“No, he dropped out of Calvin and moved to New York City.”

Desire kindled. Period. Never mind that when I actually met the artist, he impressed me as a witty, annoying brat. Within a year, I would marry him anyhow.

The second version of the story goes that I loved my future husband from afar, primarily because he had long hair.

Hold on, this was 1976, after all. When I moved from Ohio to Michigan to attend Calvin College, I arrived in hippie overalls, fresh from a liberal enclave in a southeast suburb of Cleveland. At Calvin, the strapping Dutchmen all over campus resembled Lenox boy figurines. I could count on one hand the guys on campus with long hair: Andy Abma, Peter Oppewall, and a third guy, who seemed pretty shy, but to whom I longed to be introduced.

Then one day, the third guy and I were walking toward one another, no one else around, in the quiet, carpeted hall of the Spoelhof Center. My dream come true. I remember the moment so well that, years later, I pointed out the spot to our son and daughter. “This is where I first laid eyes on your dad,” I would tell them. This third guy clunked past, with his long hair and beard, his plaid shirt, jeans and hiking boots. Inwardly, I swooned. But we merely nodded and passed by. After that first semester, I didn’t see him on campus again.

When I met the artist of the neon painting in person, he had a haircut acceptable for employment. It wasn't until a couple of years after we were married that I came across a picture of the long-haired version of him. Only then did I realize that my husband Dave and the long-haired Calvin dude were one and the same. My dream come true.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


In the mid-nineteenth century, my God, the facial hair on men!

Men took their lead from celebrities in the mid-1800s, just as they do today.

Many credit Abraham Lincoln with the horseshoe beard.

But it seems the fashion trend began in 1852, with the Hungarian Revolutionary Louis Kossuth, who shaved his chin. (Kossuth was a clothes horse in general, and style-crazed Americans also went mad for his tall hat with feathers, and his unique style of trousers. See this entry at Highbeam Research for more info.) Lincoln's daring move, then, was to also shave the mustache.

In my high school days, some still sported the Lincoln horseshoe ...

According to Merriam-Webster, "side-whiskers" was first coined around 1858. In the Civil War, a certain Ambrose Everett Burnside became a hair legend as side-whiskers started being called "sideburns." Click here for the full story, with art.

Today, the slang sideburns has been eclipsed by "mutton chops," for their obvious shape. To learn about this fashion, and all about beards, there's a website called ... wait for it ... All About Beards.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Hair contortions

I was a teenager in the era of Angela Davis. Believe you me, my high school classmates had some impressive "natural" afros. Here are two friends of mine from the good old days.

We rarely see this style now -- fashion trends for African Americans and Caucasians still lean heavily toward straightened hair. Even people with straight hair iron it, for that polished, no-frizz look.

But I don't feel entirely comfortable spouting views about Afro-textured hair, in part because I agree with Cindy Barnes-Thomas who says:
With all the buzz about Chris Rock’s new documentary, Good Hair, and Tyra Banks showing us her real hair, I couldn’t help but chime in with my two cents on the topic. Never before have Black women and their hair been so widely discussed and I‘m not sure how I feel about that. 

Chris Rock promoted his film on The View this morning and Barbara Walters was convinced that Black women get relaxers and wear weaves and/or wigs to be white.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone else should have a say about a Black woman’s hair because that is a very personal struggle.
(for full text of Barnes-Thomas's blog, with youtube clips, click here.)

Flashback to the summer of 1970. At the community swimming pool, the day is hot and humid, the water refreshingly cold. I go in the water with my friend Pam, and within seconds I'm diving, scouring the aqua pool bottom until my belly scrapes, resurfacing dolphin-like, diving back below. But Pam doesn't join me. We're in water about four feet deep, so I emerge to look around for her. My friend has her neck pushed up high out of the water, and is standing on tiptoe besides.

"Dive down with me," I say.

"I can't."

"Why not?"

Pam gazes at me hard, like she's not sure how much to reveal. "It's fine for you to dunk your head all you want -- if I do, my hair will puff out like a brillo pad."

I feel bad and after that, I keep my head above the water, too. In a short time we climb back out and sit lady-like on our towels, watching the rest of the kids splash and play.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gray matters

Last October, my cousin was showing me around the Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer when we paused before this portrait of a Bavarian queen.

"I wonder about the fashion where women used to color their hair gray," Angela mused.

At the time, I admit I was too distracted by the 18th-century version of a bump-it to really consider the implications of gray fashion.

"How did they get their hair stacked so high?" I asked a museum guide. He informed me (in German) that they used some kind of net apparatus, like a birdnest, and combed their hair over it. (Angela translated.) He also said something about how when they had their hair done up that way, the women had trouble sleeping at night.

The fashionably gray queen made a comeback in my memory during a recent conversation with some women friends about gray hair, so I did a little research. It seems in the 18th century, women of the aristocracy powdered their real hair with starch, and the predominant color choice was, unaccountably, gray. (Eighteenth century men, on the other hand, wore white wigs, a fashion begun by Louis XIII in 1624 when he was going prematurely bald (from the Costumer's Manifesto.))

In the 21st century, gray hair stands in a whole different light.

"It depends on the person," one friend said. "Gray looks distinguished on some people, and terrible on others."

"I have a friend whose hair went white, and she started dyeing it. She said, 'if you have gray hair, you're just invisible'" said another.

"I've seen it happen," chimed in a third. "In some settings, especially among men, a woman with gray hair is treated like she doesn't exist."

In an Internet search, I clicked on two or three of the nearly 24 million hits yielded by the search terms "women and gray hair." "Gray hair is sexy" and "age erasers for women gray hair" jumped up on the first page.

In the 21st Century, who needs a Bavarian queen to dictate fashion? We love our celebrities, who lead the way: Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton and Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few (see Celebrity Gray Hairstyles).

From the looks of it, since gray hair of old age tends to be wiry and unmanageable, most of those celebrities are dyeing their hair gray. The whole thing is so, well, 18th century.