Monday, December 31, 2012

Hair Clubs

A writing friend, Stephanie Hammer @ Magically Real, recently informed me about the "Hair Club for Poets," held monthly near her home in Los Angeles. On December 22 she was a "featured stylist." Writing friends Robert Hoffman and Yi Shun Lai were also present for the occasion.

Photo by Yi Shun Lai
Here Stephanie is, reading at the event (in a hair salon, naturally enough, with Poe's ravens adorning the mirrors). I found this write-up of the gig at Downey Arts Coalition.

"Hair Club for Poets / Reading with Scissors is a monthly poetry series curated by John Brantingham and Roy Anthony Shabla, sponsored by the Downey Arts Coalition and the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival, and hosted by Number 34, Barber to the Star. Each month includes one or two featured poets and an open mic, a featured artist, and grooming tips. Come for the culture, return for a coif!"
Lovely. It seems to me poets get short shrift in our society, so I'm always glad to learn of a new poetry venue. And it strikes me that the idea of a "club of poets" is about as random as the idea of a Hair Club for Men, which, now that I've brought it up, got me intribued. Snooping around, I discovered that belonging to such a club has its consequences. Apparently, if you're in the Hair Club for Men, your wig is glued to your scalp. Says one clubber: "I felt both taken advantage of, ugly, and just plain screwed." Read more of this horror story and others here.

The Hair Club for Poets/ Reading with Scissors, on the other hand, is edgy, fun, artsy in the best sense, and messing around with your head in ways not destined to prey on your insecurities. Instead, it invites you to the transcendent. Fittingly, it was Edgar Allan Poe who wrote: “To elevate the soul, poetry is necessary.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mean Hair

As soon as I sat in the stylist's chair, the guilt kicked in. A couple of weeks before, in a fit of impatience, I'd taken the scissors to my bangs on one side, the part that kept falling in my eyes. I thought I did a passable job, but if you knew where to look, you could definitely see the sides didn't match.

I hoped my stylist Jeff wouldn't notice, but sure enough, as soon as I sat down, he pulled the hair on both sides of my head to check if they were even. They weren't.

"So how's it going?" he asked.

"Okay," I said, without enthusiasm.

"Okay? Not what I was hoping to hear."

"Something felt off to me this time around."

"Like what?"

"Well, this haircut kinda felt  ... mean."

"Mean?! Your hair felt mean?!"

Jeff gaped in the mirror, appalled, as he levered my chair up three bounces. I fluttered my hands from under my black gown to grip the longish sideburns framing my ears.

"These tufts are too bulky or something. The whole effect is kind of ... severe."

"Mean hair." Jeff tilted his head to one side. "Not good."

In my mind, the red flag was now flapping madly: It's like complaining to the cook about the food, I realized--he could very easily just spit in it and return it to your table. Would Jeff retaliate by shaving my head?

He did not. But he did give me a foil, punishment enough, because getting a foil means sitting for half an hour in the salon window in full view of sidewalk pedestrians looking like this.

At the last minute (and after I took this photo), Jeff had the inspiration to color my eyebrows, which I think really helped with the mean factor.

The other day, I came across the following description of foil characters while reading Writing Genre Fiction (Milhorn). "A foil is a piece of shiny metal put under gemstones to increase their brightness. Foil characters are closely associated with the character for whom they serve as a foil, usually a friend [she] can confide in and thus disclose her innermost thoughts. They serve to bring out the brilliance of the character for whom they serve as a foil."

Foil characters. Hmm. The best hair stylists know how to make characters look brilliant as well. Thanks, Jeff.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Legitimate Hair Rape

Most every woman on the planet knows the sinking feeling of turning around in the hairdressing chair, all full of anticipatory glee at the prospect of the perfect new 'do, to instead find in the mirror a head of hair that is not all to your liking. It happens far too often and it happens to the best of us, and friends—it just happened to me. I brought in pictures of celebrities with the hair I wanted, gestured wildly around my head to describe in perfect detail what I wanted, and even went so far as asking for exactly the same cut that my stylist, whose own hair is remarkably similar to my own fine, fast-growing hair, is currently sporting. But did I receive said replicate haircut? No, no I did not. It's not that I look bad, exactly—it's just that it's not AT ALL what I asked for.
               The relationship between hairstylist and client is a sacred, delicate relationship, enough so that when one's trusted hairperson disappoints, one sacrifices one's own hair-happiness to spare any hurt feelings. I committed this strangely irresistible mistake myself, telling my long-beloved stylist that I loved my new, very short haircut when I hated it. And why? Why would I suffer a news anchor-like, fussily coiffed monstrosity of this magnitude only to avoid a completely situation-appropriate discussion of the error that had just been made? *Sigh* Alas, I have no answer.
            Feeling the sorry little wisps of hair that keep tickling at my neck, I long for the ability to pull my hair into a quick ponytail and can't help but feel violated. It's a case of legitimate hair-rape, and I am outraged. But more than that, I can't shake the strange urge to throw the feed back to Ron for the weather…

Guest blogger Tanya Chernov is the author of the just-released A Real Emotional Girl, recently named one of Kirkus Review's 15 Excellent New Memoirs. The book is available online at the author's website and, and in Barnes and Noble Bookstores nationwide.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hair Herbs

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Before modern medicine, remedies for various hair and scalp treatments sounded a bit like the witch's brew in Macbeth. Here is a hair tonic recipe for dandruff published in a 19th century German newspaper, which my grandmother clipped and pasted in her scrapbook (it would seem dandruff runs in the family):

Hair tonic: A proven remedy for dandruff is burdock root. Take a handful of burdock root, place it in a container and pour a cup of water and as much mild vinegar over it. Let this stand for a few days. Then rub the scalp with the liquid several times a week until the flaking is gone. Or, grease the scalp with burdock root oil, found in any drugstore. 

Starting in the 20th century, our culture has been overrun by shampoos and conditioners. Now there is a growing No 'Poo movement (yes, it even has its own entry on Wikipedia), which seems like a new thing, but is actually a return to days of yore. When I was just a young whippersnapper, I remember mom rinsing my hair with vinegar. Can't say I liked it all that much, but it worked.

The recommended recipe for washing hair is a tablespoon of baking soda in a cup of warm water. For rinsing, 1-2 tablespoons of apple cidar vinegar in a cup of water. (And then rinse that with cold water -- otherwise your hair might smell like pickles.)

At Info: Shampoo Free, I found this list of time-honored Hair Herbs:

What kind of herbs can I use to improve my hair's health?
  Burdock: root helps prevent dandruff
  Catmint: leaves encourage hair growth and soothes scalp irritations
  Chamomile: flowers soften and lighten hair
  Flannel Mullein: lightens hair
  Goosegrass: tonic and cleansing, helps prevent dandruff
  Henna: red hair dye and conditioner
  Horsetail: non-fertile stems and branches strengthens the hair
  Lavender: antiseptic, antibiotic, stimulates hair growth, and degreases
  Lime: flowers clean and softens
  Marigold: lightens hair color
  Nasturtium: for hair growth
  Parsley: enriches hair color and gives a nice luster
  Rosemary: tonic and conditioner, one of the best herbs to use, gives luster and body, also slightly darkens the hair. (This is good to use if you notice your hair lightening due to baking soda use.)
  Rhubarb: the root makes a yellow hair dye
  Sage: tonic and conditioning, darkens the hair
  Southernwood: encourages hair growth and helps prevent dandruff
  Stinging Nettle: tonic and conditioning and helps prevent dandruff
  Witch Hazel: leaves and bark are astringent and cleanses oily hair

And at Hubpages, 10 Natural Hair Remedies Your Locks Will Love

Monday, August 27, 2012

Things got kind of hairy

I ran a triathlon in early August. I made an impulsive decision to do it about four days before the event, so I hadn't exactly trained. But some friends were going for it, so I got a wild hair and went for it as well. At least, that's what I told everyone. "I got a wild hair and signed up." Naturally, they looked at me as if I was crazy.

One way to pass the time on a three hour swim/bike/run is to let the mind roam where it will. In my case, I found myself pondering the expression "wild hair." Where did it come from? Was it wild hair, or wild hare? Either one seemed to work: I pictured a wild hare bounding around a meadow in erratic, jackrabbit fashion, hopping wherever the spirit led. Then again, it could refer to a bad hair day, with one feisty tuft of hair sproinging out of place despite one's best efforts.

The race got kind of hairy, especially the last leg--a 3.8 mile uphill in the blazing sun--but I managed to finish and put it behind me, except for a lurking unease about the term "wild hair." Further research illuminated the trouble: I had misused the phrase. According to Daily Writing Tips, "wild hair" comes from:
'to have a wild hair up one’s ass.' The meaning of this vulgar expression is 'to have an obsession or fixation about something.'
Uh oh. If that's the case, then it was my friends who had the wild hair about the triathlon, since they had been training for it since January. For my part, I was acting hair-brained. I mean, harebrained. Whatever.

After the race, my friends and I gathered for a cold beer on the lawn, and wound up (somehow) on the subject of hair expressions.

"Do you know where 'hair of the dog' comes from?" Pete asked.

"Um ... ???"

"It was an ancient remedy for rabies. If you got bit by a rabid dog, you were supposed to cure it by applying the hair of the dog that bit you into the wound."

"Really? Did it work?"

"I doubt it. It probably just gave them something to do."

Good point. For better or worse, our weirdest ideas can turn out to be the most memorable.

Click on "Some Hairy Expressions"  for more about:
splitting hairs
a hair's breadth
letting one's hair down, etc.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hair Beliefs, Part VI

In my hair beliefs series, I haven't gotten around to Judaism because there is just so much on the subject.

I first became aware of distinct Judaic hair beliefs when on a play date as a child.

Me: "Why does your mother wear a wig? Is there something wrong with her hair?" (Look, I was about seven years old ...)

Cassie: "Her hair's fine. She's just can't show it to other people."

"Who says?"

"The Rabbi. We're Jewish. Only my dad can see my mother's hair."

The sheitel, or Jewish wig head covering, came about due to the Jewish law observed by Orthodox Jews called the Halachot of Tzniut, that is, modesty. Sheitels can be made of human hair, but the hair cannot have been used for idolatrous purposes before being made into a wig. Some sheitels even have kosher certification. For more, check out Wikipedia.

But the above begs the question -- why must women cover their hair? The biblical basis is squirreled away in a few passages here and there in the Pentateuch. For commentary, I refer you to Ask the Rabbi, where Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that hair equals "sensuality control." Follow the link for a more complete description, but basically, our faces contain both physical and intellectual qualities. For instance, the mouth and eyes are physical/sensual components, whereas the forehead is intellectual. Since hair covers the intellectual part, it is a marker of sorts, a "mechanism for control," to remind the person not to be too physical, to guide one's behavior with intellect. The commentary concludes:
If you think about this for a while you will get a sense of why Judaism concerns itself with issues such as the covering of a woman's hair (sensuality), Payot [those curly sidelocks] for a man (dividing the part of the brain that controls the sensual from that which is involved in the intellectual); and even why we cut a young boy's hair for the first time at the age we begin his education (learning how to use his intellect to control his behavior).
For Rabbi Hirsch, hair seems to symbolize the human effort to achieve mind over matter. I had never thought of it that way.

Regardless, even that one small paragraph seems to me a lot to digest. I'm not the only one. Lynne Schreiber has written a book about it: Hide & Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering, which compiles the views of dozens of women.

If you would like to learn more about hair references in the Bible, the debate in Judaism about whether head coverings are custom or law, and the history of Judaic hair beliefs regarding women, check out this article written by Dr. Leila Leah Bronner called To Cover or Not to Cover: That is the Question -- Jewish Hair Laws Through the Ages.

As for Judaic hair beliefs regarding men, that will have wait until a later post.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shear Madness at the Moore

For Christmas each year, Jo and I give each other an outing -- the opera, a play, a concert. Mid-June rolls around, and I still haven't made good on her gift.

"Want to see Shear Madness?" I asked Jo last week. "It's playing at the Moore."

"Definitely," Jo said. "You'll love it!"

"You've seen it before?"

"Of course, it was around when I lived in Boston thirty years ago. I knew some of the principal actors back then. It's great fun."

"Is it a musical?" (The title Shear Madness was all it took to grab me. If it's about hair, it has to be good, right?)

"Really, you've never heard of it? It's a murder mystery. The audience gets to participate."

We went on Sunday (I dragged along the rest of the family, too), and what a treat! Shear Madness--"the longest running comedy in American theater history"--slathers, tickles, crimps and snips its way through an evening of uproarious whodunit. In the version at the Moore Theater through June 24, Michael Kevin Baldwin (Tony Whitcomb) overdoes his hilarious role (and hair products) to perfection. The entire cast is deliciously guilty, and the script is up-to-date (beware a few groaners).

It is great fun. Don't miss it!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hair = life, Samurai hair, Murakami and more

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by "Japan's most highly regarded novelist" (book jacket) Haruki Murakami, is a book steeped in magical realism, all-too-real history, and hair.

Hair? Well, yes. Men's baldness, toupees and wig-making take up some pretty prime real estate. When I went browsing for answers, I learned Murakami's references in his novel to wigs and wig-making elicited mainly questionmarks by his readers. Which got me wondering: For the Japanese, what does hair symbolize?

According to, in ancient Japan, "a woman's hair transmitted life." Over the centuries, Japan has been influenced by hair styles from other parts of the world, for instance China in the 5th to 8th centuries and the Western world in the 20th century. Wigs are mainly used in the Noh theatre, by Geisha, and so on. It also seems to be a point of pride that a woman shows off her own locks, so that original notion that a woman's hair transmits life may still hold power.

Regarding the significance of hair and men, at, I also discovered the "chonmage" worn by the Samurai, who shaved the front and center of their heads so their helmets would have a better fit--a "badass" look in its day. But, except for this unusual instance, baldness is very unpopular in Japan, perhaps because losing one's hair is a sign one is losing his vitality.

I conclude, therefore, the hair = life symbolism is what earns such a big role for hair and wigs in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In character May Kasahara's ramblings about death, she says:
"Wigs don't last long. Bet you didn't know: toupees are good for two, maybe three years max. The better made they are, the faster they get used up. They're the ultimate consumer product. It's 'cause they fit so tightly against the scalp: the hair underneath gets thinner than ever. Once that happens, you have to buy a new one to get that perfect fit again. ... Once a guy starts using a wig, he has to keep using one. It's, like, his fate." (p.110, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)

And when May Kasahara has trapped the protagonist Toru Okada in a deep well, she reflects on a the story of a man who lived 21 days underground: "He survived, but he lost all his hair and teeth. Everything. Even if he lived, it must have been terrible... If people lived forever, if they never got any older--if they could just go on living in this world, never dying, always healthy--do you think they'd bother to think hard about things, the way we're doing now? ... I mean . . . this is what I think . . . people have to think seriously about what it means for them to be alive here and now because they know they're going to die sometime. Right? Who would think about what it means to be alive if they were just going to go on living forever? Why would they have to bother? Or even if they should bother, they'd probably just figure, 'Oh, well, I've got plenty of time for that. I'll think about it later.' But we can't wait till later. We've got to think about it right this second. I might get run over by a truck tomorrow afternoon. And you, Mr. Wind-Up Bird: you might starve to death. One morning three days from now, you could be dead in the bottom of a well. See? Nobody knows what's going to happen. So we need death to make us evolve. That's what I think. Death is this huge, bright thing, and the bigger and brighter it is, the more we have to drive ourselves crazy thinking about things."

Hair and baldness being such a big deal in Japan, it is appropriate that it is Japanese researchers who have successfully performed the first hair-regenerating implants. Read all about it at the NY Daily News or watch the story on ABCnews. Is it just me who thinks that poor pink mouse sports a badass mohawk?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hair Assault

A good friend of mine has lost his hair. All of it.

"A lot of people have come up and asked me how my chemo treatments are coming. I appreciate their nurturing and concern, but I have to tell them, this is something entirely different," he says.

How different? It's called Alopecia Areata, and is an unexplained autoimmune related disease. Here's a link to the National Foundation. Apparently, Alopecia is more common in young people and children, but my friend is a grandfather.

"The hair loss happened about eight months ago, over a period of two to three weeks. I was on the phone with my daughter in California and sent her some photos. She said to my grandson, who's about nine, 'Robert, come and see these pictures of Grandpa.' Then I heard, 'Oooo, I knew he was losing his hair, but that's worse than I thought.' My other grandson, even younger, came in the room and there was dead silence. Then: 'Oh. My. God.'"

Once in the grocery store, his grandson spotted Mr. Clean and said: "Hey, he looks like Grandpa, except Mr. Clean has eyebrows."

Not only is my friend bald, he has no eyebrows, eyelashes, body, ear and nose hair. How did this come about? He says his autoimmune system decided hair follicles were the enemy and made an all-out assault. For many, it's more spotty, but my friend has a severe case.

"Hair is pretty useful," he tells me, "and yeah, I kinda miss it. You could look at it in terms of agriculture. It's a cover crop. The cold head is something that's taken some getting used to."

He never really got into hats before, but now he's bought a bunch of them.

"So what has hair loss taught you?" I ask.

"I suppose having a reasonable head of hair, it is a part of your persona. My facial hair is gone now, and it's taken a bit of an adjustment. I look in the mirror and ask: 'who is that person?' There's the aspect that hair and eyelashes make some sense. Hair in the ears and nose serve a kind of filtering function, and we'll see how it goes without that over time. Another thing that's happened is that my fingernails and toenails have started to degrade. To pick things up now, I have to get out the tweezers."

Is his hair loss permanent? He says it's unpredictable. His dermatologist tells him it might come back or it might not, or, it might come back and then disappear again.

"I will say this, I've spared myself time and money once spent combing and washing and going to the barber. That's one of my biggest regrets in this whole thing. I got my hair cut just a week or so before my hair started to go. It went so fast, I should have gone back to my barber and said: 'Tom, what was that stuff you put on my head last time?' But I would let him off the hook without making him squirm too much. Maybe I will stop in and see him. He's probably been wondering what happened to me. I also have a reunion coming up, and it will be interesting to see the reactions. Some of my oldest friends do the biggest double takes. I'll have some fun with it, because what else can you do?"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blue-haired girl

Yesterday this blue-haired girl was standing in a parking lot, staring at the side of a building. I walked past, loved how the sun made her hair glow, wished I could take a picture, then remembered I had my camera with me.

"Excuse me, I love your hair. May I take a picture of it?"

"Sure, why not."

"Thank you. So was it hard to do, getting your hair just that shade of blue?"

"No, it came out this color because it was bleached blond when I started. See, some spots came out kind of green."

She turned her head around for me.

"I don't see any green," I said. "So can I ask you, do you do this because you think of your hair as ... an art form?"

"Well, yeah. Actually, I get really bored with my hair, so I like to do different stuff with it. I like to cut it short, make it a bunch of different colors and lengths, grow it out again."

"That part's a little difficult."

"What part?"

"Growing it out again. Unless you get a wig or something."

She shrugged. "Or, hair extensions. You can get these hair extensions at Sally's and sew them in with a special needle. I just did that. But I never do it over here on this side. I always keep this side of my head shaved, it's just what I do."

"So, you would say hair is ...?"

"Hair is really no big deal."

I may have frowned in confusion. "Well, I think you're doing an impressive job on yours."

"Thank you. I do like to make people stare," she said. "But I also am not the kind of person who likes a cut that has to be washed and blow-dried every morning. I have no patience with making it perfect. This, I didn't even comb, I just put the headband on and went out. I dyed it four days ago and haven't washed it yet."

I could tell she was wondering if this last comment would disturb me. It didn't. I went on my way, spirits buoyed merely by standing amid the radiance.

DIY blue-haired girl is fine by me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Big wigs: an interview with Dennis Milam Bensie

For a long time, I've wanted to write a Hairpisode on the art of wigmaking, but where to begin? Then it hit me: Ask an expert. Below, I interview author Dennis Milam Bensie, author of Shorn: Toys to Men, a book-length hairpisode. (For my review of Shorn, click here.)

About Dennis Milam Bensie

Dennis Milam Bensie is an Artist-Around-Town ...Seattle that is. Born and raised in the Midwest, Dennis has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years. He currently works as a theatrical dresser for TWU Local 887, which sends him to The 5th Avenue Theater, Seattle Opera, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, to name a few. He also works as a Hairpiece Technician for William Collier Design in Seattle. Dennis' first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was published by Coffeetown Press in 2011 and was nominated for a Stonewall Book Award by the American Library Association. Shorn was also named "One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011" by The Advocate magazine. His second book One Gay American will be released by Coffeetown Press on June 1, 2012.

Interview by Claire Gebben

CG: First, I cannot resist asking about an outrageous wig recently worn by the singer Björk on The Colbert Report. My knee-jerk reaction was: What a bad wig. But Björk has people to promote her, and a  sense of style, which clues me in I’m the one missing something here. What can you tell me to help educate me about wigmaking as an art?

DB: Not all wigs are pretty, just like not all Art is pretty. I would say that Björk was doing her own version of "drag." The wig is helping her get attention: good and bad.

In my wig days, I have done shows that needed to be Masterpiece Theater-perfect. Flawless wigs that one cannot tell are wigs. I have also done shows where the wigs are making a statement and are obviously WIGS. Every show is different. I learned fast you have to be open as an artist and let a show or a project take you someplace new if it wants to go there. 

CG: For costume wigs is there a school of wigmaking? Or is most of the training artisan-style, with new methods invented on an as-needed basis?

DB: I don't think there is a school in the U.S. that teaches wigmaking. Some theater programs offer some workshops and classes. The best training is to get hooked up with a wigmaker and apprentice or intern someplace. I hear University of Cincinnati in Ohio has a good wig internship and Utah Shakespeare Festival has an intern program. I think Santa Fe Opera does, too.

CG: Is the hair for wigmaking hard to come by?

DB: No. You can get hair at any Sally Beauty Supply. I won't guarantee the quality. With the age of the Internet, hair for wigmaking is pretty accessible.

CG: How long does it take to make a wig from scratch? How much does it cost?

DB: There are a lot of factors that go into it. How big is the head? How thick is the hair in the wig? Am I tying all the hair into the wig? Am I sewing wefting (like what is used for weaves) into the cap? The wigs made for theater can take anywhere from six to thirty hours to make. You have to figure your time into the cost. Plus there are materials and the hair to consider. Human hair is sold by weight, so the longer the hair, the more it weighs, and the more actual hair it takes to complete the wig. The cost of the hair adds up quickly if the hair is long. A handmade wig can cost thousands of dollars.

CG: What is the most spectacular wig you’ve ever made?

DB: Men's wigs are very difficult. Men's hairlines are, more often than not, thinner and differently shaped than women's. You have to account for that when doing a wig for a man. Plus, men usually have short hair and making a wig of a basic, short hair men's hairstyle is very tricky. Any wig with really, really short hair should be custom fit to the head and have just the right amount of hair in it or it will look weird. I have built a lot of wigs for men from scratch and they always are challenging. It takes hours and hours to tie in the hair.

Shorn: Toys to Men was adapted into a play called "The Cut" in early 2011 by a Seattle fringe theater company with almost no budget. I donated my time and resources to do the wigs and there were a lot of men's wigs in the play. Of course, I was wigging my book and my life. I had to make wigs of what my hair looked like as a child, and two different hairstyles of mine as an adult. I made a wig of what my dad's hair looked like, as well as my mom, my ex-wife, my child molester and all the other characters in the play. Here is a video of the wig fittings from "The Cut" (the stage adaptation of Shorn).

CG: About your new memoir, soon to launch. I understand it doesn’t have as much to do with hair?

DB: One Gay American (released June, 2012, Coffeetown Press) doesn't directly have anything to do with hair, but it does in a way. I started growing my beard out last April. I haven't cut it since and it is now long and thick. I was amazed how men looked at me differently--namely the "bear" community. I wrote a few vignettes in One Gay American about dating and how the tables were turned on me after growing out my beard. All of a sudden I was the one being objectified for my hair. My memoir Shorn was all about me objectifying others for their hair, so having the beard was an interesting lesson. Men who wouldn't have given me the time of day suddenly took interest in me simply because I was sporting a long goatee. I felt like I was the same guy as before ...or was I?

CG: Something to ponder, and a reason to look forward to One Gay American when it appears on shelves this June. Thank you, Dennis, for being my expert on wigs.

For more information, visit Dennis at his blog. His wig portfolio can be found at Portfolio of Dennis Bensie.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hair propaganda

Have you ever loved something and held it dear, then grew a little older, and felt as if you'd been duped? Such is the case with a book I still adore, called Mop Top. It's a children's book written and illustrated by Don Freeman, published in 1955, about a kid who has to get his hair cut. On the way to the barber, he encounters lush uncut grass, a shaggy dog, etc. (the illustrations are fabulous) that make long hair seem like a good thing. So instead of going to the barbershop, "Moppy" hides behind brooms and mops in a hardware store. Until a lady picks him out of the bin, saying she'll use him to mop her kitchen floor. After that, Moppy can't wait to get his hair cut.

I remember Mom reading this book to us on the family room couch. This was in the early 1960s, an era when the Beatniks were metamorphosing into long-haired hippies. I can picture us in a row, my two brothers with buzz cuts, me with a pixie. The book is still in print today. Here's a reader's guide from Live Oak Media. Sure, hair cut education is a good thing. Some children must be eased into the concept of a stylist coming at them with a pair of sharp scissors. But I also smell a subtler propaganda, in the wording: "Would [children] rather let their hair just grow shaggy, or does it feel better to be well groomed?" A leading question, that reeks of family and societal values propaganda, n'est-ce pas?

Here's a more insidious instance of hair propaganda. Last September at a hair trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, pro-life advocates were promoting their "Samson Project." At the "Life Talks" table, over 1,000 barbers and stylists signed up to watch an indoctrinational DVD about how abortion is a form of genocide against blacks, the controversial Maafa 21 documentary. Once these stylists were "educated" on the subject, they took packets home to carry the message to their clients in their workplaces, and decals to put in their windows.

While I hold dear the hope for progress and societal change for blacks, especially with regards to endemic poverty, I see huge problems with the premise of Maafa 21. I smell an agenda behind it, and it stinks. I also have big issues with using the salon chair as a tool of indoctrination. Please. There are passionate opinions, and educated ones. There is also blatant manipulation, when a person who goes for a hair cut ends up feeling as if she's been duped. Thank goodness the "Life Talks" people distributed little Samson Project window decals. I intend to keep my eye out for them, and vote with my feet.