Hair: Then and Now

A revival of the 60s’ seminal American tribal rock musical, “Hair,” is currently on Broadway.

Farrah Fawcett died last month.

Those two seemingly unrelated events got me thinking about hair in general, and how we take it for granted.   We style it, or we cap it, or we blow it, or tie it, or flat-iron it, but it’s usually nothing more than a part of our total grooming routine.  For some, it might be a 30-second part.  For others, it might 30 minutes.  But I know that no matter what, having it, or not having it, matters.

I love the story my cousin told me.  My cousin is a political journalist for a cable news channel in Boston.  She’s interviewed political candidates on national debates.  She’s a solid journalist.  But when she was earning her stripes, she was given the chance to anchor a news show.  She prepared, she was nervous, she stared into the camera and gave it all she got.  When the cameras stopped rolling, she was sent to her boss’s office.  She sat down, and thinking she was going to get accolades for her brilliant, on-point work, she asked, “Well, how was it?  Did I deliver OK?  Were the stories relevant?”  And her boss brushed her aside and said, “Oh, yeah, all that was fine, but what was with your hair??”

My mother had beautiful platinum blonde hair and was known for it.  She never bought a box of hair dye in her life–although many were skeptical, it was so blonde, so pure.  Who was actually born with hair that color?

When she was 50, she was scheduled for brain surgery, to repair two looming aneurysms in her brain.  Before the nurses came in for the pre-op hair shaving routine, she had already done it herself–leaving piles of spun platinum gold on her hospital tray–she was OK with having her skull opened up, but the thought of losing her hair devastated her.  Of course, many victims of the side effects of chemotherapy would attest to the emotional toll of losing one’s hair.

And that’s not just a woman’s issue.  Men aren’t crazy about losing their hair either.  It seems that these days there are more and more shiny heads out there–men who intentionally have gone for the hairless look, rather than to appear to be in the process of losing it involuntarily.  Or maybe it’s about control, and maybe the choice-to-be-bald is the same as my mother’s choice to take the scissors to her own head.  It’s OK if YOU are the Master of Your Pate and shave it all off, but to have nature thumb its nose at you… that’s just not acceptable.

Hair is an easy way to make a statement–after all, it’s right on top of your head, and you’re always wearing it.  If you’re not into the tattoo as personal bumper sticker, you can still talk with your hair.  Lady Godiva did it, hiding her nudity behind her long locks.  The more progressive women of the 20s did it by letting down their pinned hair and bobbing it.   And of course, no one has to ask why young people of the 60s wanted hair that was “long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty.”  It was to differentiate themselves from the crew-cut wearing, Bryl Cream gleaming, bouffant-do-ing, pin-curling parents.   Chopping one’s locks can also be a spiritual ritual.  I still remember watching Franco Zefferelli’s movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” back in the early ’60s and the scene in which Saint Claire started a religious order and cut off her luxurious long hair was just as compelling to me as when St. Francis was struck with the stigmata.

I recently asked my hairdresser what the latest ‘do is, and she said that Katie Holmes is calling the coif shots now–now that her hair is short, people are flooding the salons to chop their hair off.   From Clara Bow, to Marilyn, to Dorothy Hamill, to Farrah, to Jennifer Aniston, to Katie Holmes, every now and then someone comes along with something as simple as a haircut to define a generation.


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