The vanity of hair….

Curious Rascal
5 min readFeb 5, 2024


I have definitely become more vain with age and having less to be vain about. I am particularly fond of my hair.

Let me caveat. I am only caring of the hair above my shoulders. The rest I treat with disdain; Imperviously remove or lessen it at every chance. Actually I’m lazy. Having trapped my husband into never leaving me I ignore hair the outside world cannot see or judge me on. You are right. Poor man.

Hair can be emotionally triggering.

I lost all my hair many years ago when I was ill. It was traumatic. Luckily I don’t have a wonky head and with few blemishes I could almost carry the baldy look off. I say almost because unlike many who look beautiful without hair I also had no eyebrows so it was clear I wasn’t hairless to be cool. I’d taken my flamboyant, flowing locks and caterpillar eyebrows that heralded my vitality and femininity for granted…until that point. Without, I felt meek, forged by low self esteem. In company I was wallpaper — the impact to my persona was night and day. The impact on people I knew and strangers was also bewildering, traversing the gulf of tenderness to revulsion.

Hair influences how others perceive us and confounds feelings towards ourselves. Look no further than the transformation of Sandy in the movie Grease as she metamorphosed from the sensible bob to the bombshell bangs!

A former UK Minister Rory Stewart recently stated ‘Populism is all about hair’. Although this comment was pronounced in relation to our politicians, It applies to real life. In modern day, locks of overgrown lank hair is a contrast to deftly manicured, kept hair or full barnets which we attribute well being, success and higher social status. We also infer from hair colour. Blondes supposedly have more fun or are perceived to have lower IQ than someone with dark hair…and gingers? Facial hair for men seems to illicit fervent reactions and the same insecurities as for women although curiously white hair on women is often discerned as aging rather than a sign of sagacity. Moustaches confuse — most often engendering a lack of trust. Goatees and beards have been in and out of favour seeming to denote a lack of sock wearing to sandal lover to dull mid-life.

The first world human race spends an inordinate time landscaping our bodies — eyebrows to align, beards to tailor, head hair to coiffure, pubic hair to militarily restrict, leg hair to eradicate…..though this is not just a modern day phenomena. Hair gel made of plant and pine resins was found on a man living 2,300 years ago. The point is, there is some sort of conformity at work — looking after our hair helps look after our position in society. Interestingly Cost centre 3 and I walked behind a young woman with the hairiest legs. I reacted ‘ugggh’ (remember me of the double standards) and got a resounding thump from my daughter who castigated me for my ‘judginess’. That taught me. Perhaps the next generation won’t read into hair as much as us? Perhaps hair’s emotional grip is being lessened…

Hair does have a purpose beyond characterising us. We have hair on all of our body except palms and soles of our feet. According to New Scientist magazine we each have on average five million follicles which is similar to other primates including Chimpanzees (but our hair is shorter and finer) and we are one of the few animals that grow particular body hair continuously (through cycles) but are also able to become bald. Generally hair aids temperature regulation and protects by limiting how much dust enters our orifices. It is one of the few elements of us that can be cut but will grow back.

The evolutionary path of hair seems to accelerate when we moved out of the forests into areas of desperate heat. Starting to walk from previously roaming on all fours, we needed to protect our brains and the greater exposure of our bodies from the searing sun, hence hirsute body hair receded to encourage sweating to take the lead. There are many theories as to why bodily hair loss continued through time. It has been suggested as we learnt to produce clothes and keep warm in various ways we had less need for hair. Other conjectures propose we lost hair to be able to identify each other more easily or to resist disease as deep hair nurses parasites comfortably. Charles Darwin theorised less hair was seen as more attractive to the opposite sex as it advertised good health…

There is uncertainty as to why we have so many different hair types with varying texture, lengths, curliness and growth potential. We believe It is determined by our genetic set and there is thought that perhaps environment was and is an influence on DNA. But we don’t really know.

In modern day outside of how hair influences feelings, hair and how it is styled can convey other meanings. Rastafarian dreadlocks are a sign of strength and should not be cut off for fear of weakness — as in the story of Samson. Dreadlocks for this tribe are connected to the Bible. Other cultures also sport ‘locs’ signifying spirituality e.g Hindu’s. Today In parts of West Africa (Senegal, The Gambia), the young women of a tribe called Wolof not yet of age to marry have partially shaved heads indicating their unavailability. Widows are not allowed to look attractive and have to exist with unkempt hair. In China, the women of the Hongyao tribe are only allowed to cut their hair once in their lives, at the age of eighteen. They keep this hair with any other hair which falls out and meld into their coiled hairstyles. Long hair signifies wealth and longevity and the longer the length the more fortunate you will be.

But it isn’t only in current times we have attributed social cues to hair. In Ancient Egypt, both boys and girls shaved their heads except for a small braid worn on the side. This braid was called the ‘Lock of Youth’ and was kept until puberty. Wigs were prominent in the UK in the 16th to 18th centuries for both men and women. Sometimes they could add several feet to a persons height and signified wealth and standing in the community. Removal of hair has been seen as a way to dehumanise. Ala the Nazi’s who shaved the heads of concentration camp prisoners and the Greeks and Romans who did the same to punish slaves. You could consider the connotations of the tribal hair of Mods, Rockers, Skin heads, Hippies but this would be a very long post. Suffice to say hair styles in those times could carry meaning or an indication of being part of a group.

So with a short meander into this most frivolous topic, I hope you understand my hair vanity and accept It is out of my control; rooted in deep history and societal expectations….So let’s unite and swish tresses together…well for now — just the ones on top of our heads….



Curious Rascal

I'm keen to understand more of the world, people, history, science, making sense of the random because it helps me in life and improves my thinking.