POCATELLO, ID – During Sunday brunch in an Irish pub in New York City many years ago, a peculiar event occurred. A new person had joined our after church group, a nice looking young woman with long, long blonde hair woven into a French upsweep. She wore a Beatnik-style black turtleneck sweater, straight skirt and black tights. All seemed congenial until the waitress came to take our orders. The new woman said she wanted a salad; the waitress explained that on Sunday a prefixed brunch menu was all that was available.
To our shock and surprise, the woman threw a fit, accused the waitress of “trying to tell me what to do,” etc. None of us knew her, so we didn’t know how to respond. The waitress brought her a salad. After an uncomfortable meal, the group broke up. On my way out, I caught a glimpse of the blonde woman talking to some men in the bar. She was holding her head in both hands and saying, “If I cut my hair, I’ll go crazy. I’ll go crazy if I cut my hair.” We never saw the woman again.
I’ve been puzzled by this incident for years.
I’m not immune to sensitivity to hair length. I was a kid with a pony tail until 6th grade when my mother (probably tired of combing the knots out) gave me a “poodle cut”, short and curly. I hated it and would sit in front of the mirror with a hairbrush mourning my lost locks. It eventually grew out, and I never cut it severely again.
Hair seems to figure quite largely both culturally and personally. The irony of the 1960-70s hippie days still haunts me. Here were buzz-cut young “Christian” men, not all of whom were soldiers, harassing other young men with long hair, beards and sandals, the very image of paintings they claimed Jesus may have resembled.
In the mid-1970s, a Back-to-the-Land jeweler/hippie friend of mine, tired in the summer heat of his thick beard and matted hair entered an Idaho small town barber shop and asked for a shave and a haircut. Word spread fast; the barber was realizing his dream – shaving a dreaded hippie.
And now, ironically, in the western hinterlands who has the beards and long hair? The very rednecks who were harassing the hippies, the bullies who pulled quiet men off bar stools and ripped chunks of hair from their heads, the bullies who got drunk and went to hippie farmer’s houses at night banging on the doors, yelling threatening insults.
Boys were suspended from school in the 1960s if their hair touched their ears Beatle-like.
Looking back, it’s amazing to me all the fuss hair length dredged up, as do beards and moustaches, as we “innocent” Americans recently discovered when Middle-Eastern delegates to the United Nations spent some time insulting each others’ ability to grow facial hair. Issues of masculinity are definitely attached to these skinny strands of protein.
Gypsies are known for making intricate jewelry from human hair.
Women donate their locks for wigs for cancer patients.
Orthodox Jewish women shave their heads when they marry and wear wigs. Witches cast spells on the owner of a lock of hair.
Lovers keep locks in lockets.
Parents keep baby hair in books and envelopes buried in handkerchief drawers.
DNA can be extracted from a strand of hair bearing a root.
Napoleon’s hair has tested positive for arsenic.
In China, women of the Longhorn Miao culture save the strands every time they comb their hair and add them to those of their ancestors making huge elaborate headdresses that are passed down from mother to daughter. They claim the headdresses go back hundreds of years.
We naive Americans may look upon other cultures’ views and practices regarding hair as odd, but I say our history with the tresses is equally peculiar. Have you seen founding father Benjamin Franklin’s portrait, his balding top and shoulder length locks, and how about the curly wigs the other signers of the Declaration of Independence wore? And what’s with the antiquated wigs attorneys and judges continue to wear in British court rooms?