Friday, August 31, 2012

Wild Hair

When last I got unnecessarily pontifical on the subject of historical health and beauty, I mentioned that the Egyptians shaved their heads and wore wigs instead, and the sculptural, colorful, conditioning use of clay in hairdressing.  This week, running across an interesting article in which the importance of hair arose in its context as a spiritual accessory, I decided to come back to the subject a little bit.

The Amish piece relates a story about cutting someone's hair because they have sinned.  Cultures across the world and tales across time have venerated and set religious laws and practices around the growth, the barbering, the styling of hair.  Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume kicks off entirely because of a grey hair.  In history (and in The Ax and the Vase), there is a great Frankish legend about the woman who offered an enemy of the Long-Haired Kings the choice between a blade to cut off his head, or a blade to tonsure his hair - he could keep his head, but he could not keep this powerful symbol of authority.

Posh Spice models the Croyden Facelift

Hair can also be a beauty tool.  There is a joke on both sides of The Pond (and, unkown to me, possibly in other areas than the UK and US) - the Croyden or the Jersey Facelift.  This is when someone pulls their hair so tight their face gets tight too - I have, honest to goodness, known a sort of punk-goth model personally, who played up a strong resemblance to Debi Mazar by keeping her hair pulled back like that - and who stopped, and cut it 20s-bob short when her grandmother told her she might be causing herself future wrinkles!

Say what you will, but look at Elizabeth Woodville's portrait above, and consider the legend that she held onto remarkably youthful beauty well past the age when most women of the 15th century generally did.  That tight hairdo of hers might have served a vanity of purpose.  She famously seduced a younger man who was a king ...

... and the hair-pulling strategy has other known exemplars.  Marlene Dietrich, also famed for an almost eerie ability to maintain strangely youthful looks into her *seventies*, had small braids plaited in a perimeter around her face, then pulled and tied these back in an artificial facelift.  Covering the result with a wig, her face and hair synthesized something of the physical charms she had in her youth.

From the film "Just a Gigolo" - 1978

There's more to life than cosmetic appeal, and there's far more to hair than its role as a crowning glory.  Its power isn't often expressed in modern, Western culture the way the Amish crime illustrates, but make no mistake that people don't still invest enormous emotional and symbolic power in their tresses.  Beards, mohawks, braids, almost anything we can do to or refuse to do with our hair can be imbued with special meaning.

Throughout my life, I have witnessed the implicit power of hair - we no longer like to acknowledge its importance beyond the objective - but how many women have you known who sighed with freedom when they discussed cutting long hair they'd had since childhood, and reveled in the psychic pleasure of "letting go" of the weight, well beyond grams and ounces, their long hair had come to represent to them?

When I was little, long hair was everywhere - on men and women - and represented a sort of held-over flower child aesthetic, softness, naturalness, sexiness.  That last adjective has often associated itself with hair, and indeed, women of my mother's generation have a certain disapproval of long hair.  Throughout my adult life, certainly my mom has always wished I had more conservative, shorter hair.  "Republican" hair, I've always jokingly called it, if only mostly to myself - but certainly one's styling does tend to communicate certain things like this.  There *is* a certain sort of stiffness in GOP style.

Having reached middle age, the excessive length of my own hair is more nonconformist with every passing year.  I'll never be a short-haired woman, I think.  I've gone short before (every ten years or so, somehow, I have ended up with a Mackenzie Phillips shag, though I have never actually wanted the cut!), but it's not the sort of freeing experience for me it is for so many.  My hair is no trap - it is something I luxuriate in (and Mr. X always has, too, to be sure).

Yet even I do cherish a plan - someday, when there is enough white in there (I am not going grey, but am blessed with the tendency of my maternal line - going silver-white, rather than salt-and-pepper; I would have the classic skunk-streak, actually, if I weren't so vain as to dye), I will strip the dye, cut it in a blunt pageboy at my shoulders, and get a body wave.  No old lady blue fro for me ... I hope.

The real controversy and power of hair is most vociferously expressed, probably, in men.

As I've always liked my own hair long, I've always rather liked the long-haired boys, too.  I grew up in the seventies, when "short" hair looked like this:

I married a musician in the 80s, whose hair was so richly golden and softly looping, all the women I was friends with professed they would kill to have his hair.  His pat speech (kids would get cheeky with him about his hair on a regular basis!) had to do with Jesus and George Washington's hair being long - I believe most long haired men have used this at one point or another, at least in our day and age.  I've heard this from a comedian (maybe Stephen Colbert? I am old, and my memory is spotty) just within the past week.

X once heard a kid - a friend of his own kids - yanking on mommy and whisper-screeching "THERE goes a BAD man!"  Often, children are actually very much attracted to X, actually - he has a sort of special buddy powers with most people, and children are no exception - but they do serve as a barometer of the judgments we're taught starting early.

Plus, in a ponytail and long black coat, X *does* tend to resemble every drug dealing murderer ever cast on TV.  Hah.

Long hair is almost expressly a sensual thing.  I don't mean promiscuous, and I don't even mean sexual.  But the unavoidable fact is, the softness, the fragrance, the physical touch of long hair is an everpresent physical stimulus.  I use mine for climate control - long enough to be a literal cape, if I catch a chill.  At my core, whatever it means, I am a long-haired person.

I might skip Marlene's extremities ... even with the evidence of how it seems to have worked!  My vanity, it seems is flagging with old age.  Heh.

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