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Hair, Glorious Hair – Part I

Every year, American women spend billions of dollars on hair products, haircuts, hair styling, hair extensions, perms and straightening, hair color, hair accessories, wigs, etc. Men are generally less hair-obsessed but few welcome the thinning and balding that overtakes most males somewhere along life’s arc. And coloring hair for men has become commonplace, as has hair transplantation and use of follicle stimulants like Rogaine. Heck, even the author has his medium brown rinse on the shower shelf for those times when the “gray overcast” gets too oppressive.

 

Hair has been synonymous with beauty and power for millennia – think Samson, Lady Godiva, Rapunzel and others. What was Farah Fawcett most famous for? Her smile? Ok, that too, but her hair, oh, that hair. Let’s face it, hair not only represents beauty, it represents health, youth, power, vitality, potency and fertility. No wonder it contributes so highly to attractiveness and sex appeal for both genders. (Would Fabio be so hot without his long hair?)

 

Hair good, but not in the wrong place.

Yet for many, hair in the wrong place is undesirable, or worse, an outright turnoff. Women want luxurious manes on their heads but shave their axillae (arm pits) and legs routinely. (Certainly in America; Europe and other parts of the world are less anti-hirsute.) Facial hair on women, the dreaded “moustache”, is a major no-no. In fact, “No-No” infomercials make millions pitching electromechanical hair removal devices.

Other means are used to remove unwanted hair. Plucking, threading, dipilatories, laser, IPL, sugaring and waxing are effective at banishing stray hairs from faces, nipples, chests, the lower abdomen and even further down. Brazilian waxing restores pre-pubescent hairlessness to lady parts, and is even used by a few men who want to take their “man-scaping” to the next level.

 

Trimming, shaving and waxing of male torsos has been commonplace at times. In films from the 20’s, 30’s and 40s, there’s not a hair in sight on the body of any male actor. Except for the longish hair on his head, even early versions of Tarzan the Ape-man were hairless and smooth shaven, including their extremities. That changed rather dramatically during the 1960’s when Sean Connery’s James Bond turned many ladies’ heads and opinions about body hair. Burt Reynolds, Tom Sellick, Sam Shepherd and countless other naturally depicted male actors since have made “normal” looking men in film normal.

 

Personal and public identity

Hair has been a symbol of femininity for eons. Artifacts show that longer hair on women than men was commonplace in nearly every ancient society. And yet, women often played a variety of roles in society, with each role often involving a change in hairstyle. It’s that way today – “up” during the day for work or public responsibilities, “down” in casual and more relaxed setting.

 

 

The average woman spends approximately $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime and almost two hours a week washing and styling her hair. This is not just because women believe appearances are important, but also because hair represents personality, thoughts and beliefs.   It’s probably safe to say that women, more so than men, see hair as a reflection of their personal identity. A bad hair day equals a bad day. If it’s too fine, too frizzy, too dry, turning grey or falling out, self-esteem can be negatively affected.

Group identity, social status, religious traditions

Social subcultures frequently use hair as part of their identities. Hippies, metalheads, and Indian Sadhs have long hair; punks wear Mohawks, spiked and dyed hairstyles; skinheads have short-cropped or completely shaved heads. Heads were also shaved in concentration camps and head-shaving has been used as punishment, especially for women with long hair. The shaven head is common in military haircuts, while some Indian holy men wear their hair extremely long. In many religions, women’s hair must be covered when inside a church (Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox) or when out in public (Islam, certain Hindu sects, Orthodox Judaism for married women.)

 

 

Naga Sadhu With Very Long Hair, Maha Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BFT is going to explore hair in depth in coming posts. We’ll start with examining the anatomy and physiology of hair, then segue into a discussion of hair loss and other abnormalities. We will complete the series by exploring strategies currently in use to manage these conditions and conclude with a discussion of possible strategies made possible by advances in our knowledge of cell signaling.

 

Stay tuned for:

Part II – Anatomy, physiology and disorders of hair growth

Part III – Treatments available for hair disorders, including bio-signal strategies

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