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Fear of Hair

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
There's 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 bank.

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 studio.

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 be president.

Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

November 24, 2004 column
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