no doubt about it, more than elections or the economy or even terrorism,
people's interests are rarely sharper than when discussing a topic
of supreme personal importance. Hair.
From the shaved heads of medieval monks to the long-haired hippies
of the '60s to the spiked hairdos of today's rockers, hair has always
been on our minds as much as it's been on our heads.
"It's one of the leading ways people can establish their individuality
and express their style," says Jerome Shupack, M.D., professor of
clinical dermatology at New York University Medical Center. "Hair
has had sociological importance throughout the ages."
Because of its importance, anything that happens to our hair that
we can't control -- falling out or turning gray, for instance -- can
be the source of much anxiety and fear, notes the FDA.
Normal fear can propel a person to do constructive things, like running
away from a psychotic Cambodian handyman or single-handedly lifting
a Hummer off a barefoot wrangler from the Sundance Institute, or thinking
that plenty of checks in your checkbook means plenty of money in the
But when it comes to hair, well, that's another story.
Young women learn how to toss their long hair when flirting, and practicing
The Hair Toss is no mean feat. It requires three things: a target,
a will of steel, and a neck.
Women rush to their salons to get their hair cut like Jennifer Anniston
or CSI's Marg Helgenberger with stiff tendrils sticking out. What
do they do, dip them in Viagra? There was a time your mother wouldn't
let you out of the house looking like that with erect hair; now we
pay a fortune for that look. Hair's terribly important. We dye it,
cut it, grow it, shape it, brush it, supplement it, and mourn its
loss. If we have straight hair, we curl it; if it's curly, we straighten
it. If it's long, we cut it, if it's short, we grow it. We supplement
our tendrils with false hair and extensions in an effort to look like
Tina Turner. Sexy. Hairy. Yet, when a few errant follicles are found
in the bathroom drains, we get hysterical. "Arrgghhh, hair!!!" We
get on our knees to scrub the tub and check the drain for slimy and
knotty used hairs.
Then there's the Hair in Your Food Syndrome. Grown women have been
known to faint at the sight of a hair on their cottage cheese, which
must be delicately picked off, not blown off like you would a fallen
eyelash on a child's cheek. Or worse yet, a lone hair might show up
in your kreplach. It's even more traumatic when a hair shows up on
your tongue and you can't remember how it got there.
You can have hair of the dog that bit you, a hairy experience which
makes your hair stand on end, even get grabbed by the short hairs,
but one thing's for certain. Gray hair isn't a sign of wisdom, it's
a sign of age.
As women get older, we start by coloring the roots until we're forced
to color all of it. According to the biddy section at the salon, one
day we'll have to color our eyebrows, too. Eyebrows grow longer and
lashes shorter as people age. Look at Golda Meir. Look at Jack Nicholson.
Look at Andy Rooney. How old do you think the Mona Lisa was? We'll
never know. She shaved her brows off in the cab on her way to Da Vinci's
Take heart, not all women are afraid of losing hair. There's Signourney
Weaver, who was beautifully bald in "Alien," Persis Khambatta from
"Star Trek," voted 2003 Bald Woman of the Year, and Demi Moore, who's
equally fetching whether hairless or hairful.
When it comes to hair though, women aren't nearly as radical as men.
Some men think it's still the sixties and allow their long hair to
flow behind them into a matted mass as they enjoy vibrational frontal
wedgies from a Harley. Occasionally, hot-blooded women have caught
and lost their acrylic fingernails in a man's tangles, resulting in
today's trend of merely running barefoot through his head.
We've come full circle, from the shaved heads of monks, to the shaved
heads of celebrities like Michael Jordan, Damon Wayans and Jesse Ventura.
Formerly hairy Michael Chiklis, star of FX's "The Shield," shaved
it all off and won an Emmy, while Andre Agassi appears to have torn
his out in a fit of pique. Ving Rhames, Vin Diesel, and Samuel L.
Jackson have all achieved hairless success, leading one to conclude
that their movies could technically be considered skin flicks.
Above all, hair is nothing to fear; if it really mattered, Kerry would
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
November 24, 2004 column