By Vaila Bhaumick

Weave, barnet, bumfluff, short and curlies, apple patch…the list goes on. Why on earth do we have so many weird and wonderful words for hair? Our history, evolution, and stories are, quite literally, entangled with hair. It’s something we obsess over and are extremely attached to; it relates to gender, race, culture, spirituality and religion.

But what is it about hair? Could it be that it holds secret powers, as was the case with Samson and Medusa? A few years ago, an astrologist in India told me that keeping my hair long would benefit me.

It sounded like sage advice, so I avoided the hairdressers in the hope that he was right. Was I just hoodwinked by another crazy soothsayer? I have to report that my sensitivity has heightened, and my precognitive dreams increased. Perhaps our hair is knotted with wisdom.

Hairy Beliefs

What Psychology Says…

Rapunzel didn’t have it easy, trapped in a tower for years in solitude. But, she did have the most beautiful locks of golden hair, something that many of us lust after, and go to great lengths to recreate. I mean, why else do we spend thousands of quid and hours primping and pruning our hair?

Psychology says that, in going after the Rapunzel gold standard, we are chasing the appearance of youth, because lack of hair signifies ageing. On our head, it equals virility and vitality, but once it falls, it seems to symbolise death. 

Hair also forms a big part of our identity, as our heads are what people look at first. This includes gender identity, which I’ll touch on later. I’ve no doubt poor Rapunzel would be slated nowadays for bowing to the patriarchy with her long, flowing tresses, or be the butt of some scathing blonde jokes.

What Spirituality Says…

If we turn to spirituality, we see that hair is believed to be a source of vitality, intuition and tranquillity. The Rishis in India tie their hair up in knots on the crown of the head during the day to stimulate the brain cells. These knots are believed to energise the magnetic field or aura and stimulate the pineal gland in your brain. The result of this is higher intellectual functioning and spiritual perception.

Similarly, in native cultures, long hair is a pinnacle of spiritual expression. Throughout history, the cutting of hair has been executed by oppressors and marks slavery, so long hair also equals defiance in this instance. Within some cultures, we hear the words intuition and power connected with hair, as well as its role in stabilising the electromagnetic field. It is a way to sense the subtle world around us—to pick up on signals or sense events that are yet to occur.

Hairy Biology

Biologically speaking, what is the point of hair? We’ve heard that it stabilises the electromagnetic field, and our underarm hair protects a very sensitive area where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems come together. The underarm hair also has one function which modern humans aren’t too fond of—it holds on to our ‘scent’. However, humans are actually attracted by the way other humans smell, making deodorant somewhat of a faux pas in attracting a mate.

Yet, we have hair almost everywhere, and the amount of it sometimes seems excessive—we don’t need to have that much ‘scent.’ In fact, our hair has the vital function of helping to transmit sensory information and ward off bacteria and unwanted pathogens. Even our ‘short and curlies’ are essential in that they stop chafing or friction, by providing a nice cushion in sensitive areas. Perhaps think twice before your next shave or wax!

Hairy Boys, Hairy Girls, Hairy People

As we’ve heard, hair can play a huge role in our identity and how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Gender norms, and false ideas of beauty, put tremendous pressure on us to look a certain way.

When I was around twelve years old, my peers made fun of me for not shaving my legs. Pervasive hairless norms are just another way of dividing the masculine from the feminine, painting the picture that women are ‘tamed’, shallow and not fully adult. Moreover, hair can take on a life of its own, not caring about our gender identity. In her TED Talk, Harnam Kaur explains what it is like to live with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which can affect the growth of bodily hair. We need more champions of body confidence like her to help us change our parameters of beauty.

How amazing is hair? It protects us, connects us with spiritual elements around us, cushions us, and can even help us attract a mate. It can also invoke powerful emotional responses. Ever thought about wearing a dress made of human hair? I didn’t think so. Whether you have an Afro, dreadlocks, a Mohican, pigtails, a mullet, or a man bun, it’s your hair, and no matter what others think, you wear it well.