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What is it about hair?

Updated on September 9, 2009

Hair care is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States; the hair care industry is second only to food production in sale volume in the US. As a society, we are collectively fascinated and maybe, just maybe, obsessed with hair. Hair is nothing more than a protein filament which grows from follicles in the dermis, and yet it's allure and mystique are undeniable in our culture.

Hair products range from gels, balms, pomades, sprays, shampoos, conditioners, dyes, mouses, and mists, to waxes, serums, oils, and deep conditioning masks. Shampoos target fine hair, curly hair, damaged hair, normal hair, long hair, dandruff-prone scalps, dry hair, thinning hair, and any kind of hair you can imagine. Styling tools range from straightening irons, ceramic straightening irons, curling irons, hot rollers, velcro rollers, hair dryers, ionic hair dryers, round brushes, paddle brushes, ionized brushes, combs, and the list goes on and on. Hair accessory options would necessitate another article.

Strong drinks are said to "put hair on your chest." Children were told to eat bread crusts to make their hair curly. Our culture is full of sayings and folk traditions associated with hair. Shampoo and conditioner marketers struggle to develop brand loyalty in their products as the folk wisdom of changing shampoos frequently to prevent "hair getting too used to products" is widely accepted as fact, and sabotages companies hoping for repeat customers.

Hair comes in a dizzying array of colors and textures which seem to be limited only by the scope of the human genome and the creative minds of hair coloring and texturizing specialists. Hair can be blond, platinum blond, dirty blond, strawberry blond, red, auburn, brown, light brown, chestnut, or black, or maybe, a combination of a bunch of colors. Hair color dyes can increase the range of colors endlessly from more natural pigments to technicolor crayon box hues. Hair textures vary from fine, thick, wavy, straight, curly, silky, to course. In terms of hair envy the grass is truly always greener. Ask a woman with thick naturally wavy hair what she wishes she had, and chances are good she wishes it were straight and more manageable.

Hair is powerful. Hairstyle and color can align you with particular social groups and often can lead to assumptions about you. Think punk rockers, kids with dreads, crew cuts, metal heads, etc., and if you have red hair, everyone is going to assume you're Irish and probably hot-tempered. Blonds are assumed to both have more fun and to be less intelligent somehow than their darker haired counterparts. Hair color and style is a form of expression which contains powerful social connotations. In early American history it was bad form for women to be seen anywhere in public with their hair down, as this was only permissible in intimate, home settings. Some cultures believe that women should have their hair covered at all times with serious consequences for offenders. In other cultures, hairstyles are used to show who is married and who is not.

Yesterday was the big day when Tyra Banks revealed her real hair. I didn't watch her show, but I am tempted to google images of what she looks like without wigs and hair pieces. I'm curious. The frenzy surrounding her decision to go wig-free partly inspired this article. People were collectively shocked when Britney Spears shaved her head in the midst of her breakdown, and then went into Hulk-smash mode with an umbrella, wailing on a SUV bald head a-blazing. Natalie Portman shaved her head for her role in V for Vendetta as Demi Moore had done for her role in GI Jane. Jennifer Aniston's iconic haircut during her time on Friends inspired thousands of women to get "The Rachel." Hair has even partly inspired musicals such as Hairspray and Hair. Hair care and style is a undeniable part of our culture, and maybe even part of the human experience which at times seems to defy logic, it's just a protein filament, but it would seem that we can't get enough of it.



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