My favorite among the long gone Burma Shave ads (a series of highway posts, each with a line of doggerel) was one that read:
In this vale
Of toil and sin
Your head grows bald
But not your chin.
I have been thinking about hair lately. Actually, I think about hair a lot and have done since I was a child.
When I was a child of 8 my mother daily brushed and braided my hair into long pig-tails. My parents were divorced and I spent the first summer afterward with my father and stepmother. They lived in rural Virginia, where there was a risk of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is carried by ticks, so this meant that somebody had to look through my hair every night to make sure there were no ticks hiding there. My stepmother refused to do this or to have anything to do with my hair, so my father checked for ticks, but he couldn’t help with the braids.
When I went back to my mother’s house at the end of the summer the back of my long hair was a large tangled mat. It took hours to get the tangle combed out. My mother was mad.
The next summer I decided to get my hair cut. Again, when I went home my mother was mad.
Hair is one of the defining characteristics of the taxonomic Class Mammalia, the class to which humans belong. I have often wondered what the evolutionary cause could be for the pattern of human head and body hair. Since there are sexual differences in hair distribution and patterns change with the hormonal changes that occur at puberty, I suppose the cause is related to mating and reproduction. There is apparently some innate sexual preference for long head hair and lack of facial hair in the female.
However it came about, we have a lot of head hair and patches of body hair. Most people, both men and women, lose head hair and gain chin hair with age. And most people spend a lot of time and money changing hair.
Mostly we like to have head hair and not body hair or face hair. People do all sorts of funny things with their hair, like coloring it purple and putting goo all over it making it stick up in spikes. Fashions come and go. There have been times in history that men have sported long beards, handle-bar mustaches and side burns. And there was Hitler, whose appearance was defined by the hair on his upper lip. These days, chin stubble can be fashionable on the he-man type of guy.
In my youth pubic hair was desired. A few strategic scribbles on a nude drawing could make it look interestingly naked. In those days pubic hair was shaved before babies were delivered. I was really glad to have it grow back after my babies. My brother, who was sent to a “progressive” school because he rebelled against almost everything, was punished at that school by having his pubes shaved. But today some women, some in my family not to be named, have all body hair, including pubic, waxed. That has to hurt.
In a recent conversation with a young woman I learned that most modern young people, both men and women, (especially American men and women) remove all body hair, including all pubic hair. I said, “Gosh, when I was young, men thought chest hair was a sign of virility, and they used to leave the upper buttons on their shirts undone to reveal a tuft or two.”
In the same conversation I was told that a famous actress (my informants couldn’t remember which one) had waxed her pubic hair so often that it wouldn’t grow anymore, and for a nude scene in a movie she was making she had to wear a pubic wig, a thing which is called a merkin.
Before I went to New Zealand I had my hair cut. It had grown quite long and was dangling down my neck, but my British daughter insists that it looks better on the long side, so I didn’t get much cut off. It looked good when I left the hairdresser. She uses devious tricks to make it look as if there is more hair than I really have. She puts “product” on it, and back combs it and poufs it out. I can’t do that myself, so by the time I got to New Zealand it had flopped. Badly. Long wispy thinning gray hair is not beautiful.
The first thing I did when I came home was get it cut again. My hairdresser is my friend. She used to do my mother’s hair, and she mostly works at an assisted living place in Bellingham. She is really good with old people, and she loves dogs. Her corgi comes to work with her, and her clients love to pet it. We always have a good gossip about life and love while she works on me.
When she cuts my hair she washes it first, then turns me away from the mirror and tells me to put my head down. She asks me how I want it cut. This time I told her “about like last time only shorter.” She went to work. It seemed like a lot of snipping was going on, and what I could see (without my glasses) of the bits that were falling on the floor there was quite a lot of hair.
She finished, swiveled me around in the chair and gave me my glasses. I looked at the mirror and gasped. It was so short. Very stylish, but shorter than I have had it in years.
Jerry and the British daughter both said it looked good, but perhaps they were just being nice.
Next I took the dogs to the doggy hairdresser. They were shaggy and matted and she had to cut them so close that now we are afraid they will get cold outside. Everyone says they look like little rat-dogs. I think they look cute.
My next hair project is to cut Jerry’s hair. That is a pretty quick job.