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Notes On The Human, Conditioned; Part I: Hair Apparent

by L DeSilva-Johnson (writer), Brooklyn, NY, August 01, 2009

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A brief series in which I take a tongue-in-cheek look at certain subjects in light of how I have found both myself (and others) to display levels of socio-cultural conditioning that goes beyond Jojoba

A brief series in which I take a tongue-in-cheek look at certain subjects in light of how I have found both myself (and others) to display levels of conditioning to which we might wish ourselves (or like to claim ourselves) immune. Beginning with the seemingly frivolous "hair," and working up to more clearly serious issues such as relationship structure and marriage, I seek to illustrate how plainly our reactions to certain situations and topics can begin to remind us how far from "free" is this "will" we tout so boldly. Ultimately the goal is not to suggest that we are chained, though, but in fact rather freer than we realise, as we go about with these ingrained sensations, reactions, and actions -- ones that were we to consider, logically, as if there were a choice, we'd find our "instincts" not at all natural, but highly suspect at least...foolish at best.
Without further ado, HAIR:

hair O.E. hær, from P.Gmc. *khæran (cf. O.S., O.N., O.H.G. har, O.Fris.her, Du., Ger. haar "hair"), from PIE *ker(s)- "to bristle" (cf. Lith.serys "bristle"). Modern spelling infl. by O.E. haire"haircloth," from O.Fr. haire, from Frank. *harja. Hairy in slang sense of "difficult" is first recorded 1848. Hairbreadth (1561) is said to have been formerly a formal unit of measure equal to one-forty-eighth of an inch.Hairdresser is first recorded 1771;hairdo is 1932, from do (v.). A hairpin turn, etc., is from 1906. Ahair-trigger (1830) was originally a secondary trigger in a firearm which sprung free a mechanism (hair) which, when set, allowed the main trigger to be released by very slight force.Hair-raising "exciting" is first attested 1897. To let one's hair down "become familiar" is first recorded 1850. To split hairs"make over-fine distinctions" is first recorded 1652, as to cut the hair. Phrase hair of the dog that bit you (1546), homeopathic remedy, is in Pliny.

We have both a great love for -- and aversion to - hair. The having of, losing of, intentional removal of, and styling of hair is far more central to our sense of self than perhaps we realise. Perhaps that seems over the top, but I beg to make a case on a variety of levels.

Hair growth, male: for the male of the species, the ability to grow hair (and continue to do so) is a mark of virility, power, masculinity of a certain ilk. The moment in which the male begins to grow facial hair is a major marker in his semiotic development (both for self and society) -- a signal of growing up; for those who do not this can be a major source of insecurity, not to mention ridicule, as it is seen to equate an extension of a "childish" state as well as face. This association is far from a new one -- the tale of Samson and Delilah long ago bespoke the emasculation that befell our hero upon the loss of his luscious locks.

Hair loss, male: On the other end of the spectrum (and the head) we have hair loss, a condition on which a multi-billion dollar industry has steadily grown. Why? is there any medical danger associated with the loss of hair? does the head, pray tell, get cold? are we concerned for scalp burn? While these may be issues brought up by the fellow experiencing this common complaint (much to the amusement of friends, family, and professional help) it is that societally we have come to associate the loss of hair with old age, loss of virility, loss of masculinity, etc. But... WHY? in our reactions to hair in both these cases are deeply ingrained societal/cultural beliefs about age, gender, and power -- all of which manifest in our reactions to hair in the male of the species. There is absolutely no medical or logical source for these reactions, and we should check ourselves as we recognize them in ourselves. But let me go further.

Hair growth, female: A million commercials can't be wrong. Our hair -- flowing, shiny, healthy, and in particular, long -- is a hallmark of femininity. That is, the hair on our HEADS. No no, only the TOP of our heads. The other million commercials make sure we understand that -- the leg of a woman is shapely and feminine when it is HAIRLESS. Hair on a woman's leg, face, and underarm is -- dirty. gross. unappealing. A smooth leg on a woman is di rigeur for anyone who is not a crazy smelly hippy, and only other crazy smelly hippies could possibly like this.

Women pluck, tweeze, wax, lazer, shave, rub, use cream, and whatever else works to remove this embarassment. For those who are more ...hirsute... this can be a matter of extreme shame from the time of childhood on. And again....WHY? why are those of us who don't get caught up in commercialism, who eat organic food, who bike and exercise and are all around modern women, why won't we be caught dead with a hairy leg?

This topic came to me because, well, I decided this summer that I wished only to wax. I started shaving when I was 12 years old, and frankly it is tiresome, and only increases "the problem". It's probably a decision I should have made some time ago, (even that...should... why?) because waxing retards rather than stimulates hair growth, and given that I am (as most of mediterranean heritage) of the hirsuite variety, in summer shaving was a daily activity, and not one I wished to give time to anymore.

Because of this (I thought very mature) decision, on which I have stood firm since May, at times I have let my hair go for several weeks between waxings -- a good practice. But as the hair grew and I looked at my legs, I found myself repulsed. Disgusted. Itching to shave, looking at my idle razor in the shower caddy with longing, to rid myself of this... this... hair.

And then something strange happened. While, I assure you, I still very much want to get rid of this hair on my legs (without doubt longer than it has *ever* been since I began shaving), and have planned on multiple occasions to go get the heretofore mentioned wax kit -- I also started to kind of be concerned that I was so freaked out about this thing that grew naturally on my body. Why and how did I get to be so grossed out by something that happened naturally? We don't think cats or dogs are gross. We don't think the hair on our heads is gross. But here we are, totally attuned to a bare leg as a mark of femininity.


Now, I'm not ready to leave them like this, and frankly I'm almost sheepish to admit it. I know I only like the bare leg because my society has made it so -- well and then also (more sheepishly) I know not everyone is going to have had this internal conversation with themselves about the absurdity of this hairbrained situation [laughtrack here], so that every interaction to which I arrived en-fur would be altered in a way I didn't care about quite enough to stand this ground. And yet? I think it's absurd, and it made me more attuned to other situations in which I (or others) were making similar decisions, even if deep down we disagreed -- sometimes deeply.

Marriage turns out to be the next on the list, especially after reading that Alternet article describing one woman's marriage -- one neither her nor her partner had any particular desire to have -- which was largely arrived at for reasons as sound as why I will, sometime later today, wax my legs.


About the Writer

L DeSilva-Johnson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on Notes On The Human, Conditioned; Part I: Hair Apparent

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By Christopher Wager on August 01, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Nice piece.

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By Lady D on August 01, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Well at look at the society we have gotten by focusing on trivality. And yet we are judged and so we judge.

thanks again for thinking

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By L DeSilva-Johnson on August 02, 2009 at 09:56 am

Thanks guys. My brain is feeling kind of foggy and dense these days, so I'm putting out some simpler pieces about the really basic stuff I find myself noticing there.

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By L DeSilva-Johnson on August 02, 2009 at 01:13 pm

@ Garry, interesting story, I'm sure we all have our own takes on this to share. As far as my own hirsute-itude....too late, waxed yesterday. Clearly I've brought on some change simply through my conscious attention to the illogical nature of the thing -- now their baldness seems odd, denatured, beaten as much as the hairs I found there first disgusted and then fascinated me in turns. Neither seems quite right. 

I had a vision suddenly of an event to which all persons were asked to come unadorned wearing exactly the same thing -- how we would see and know eachother were we to see ourselves and eachother as we are rather than make ourselves. Unplucked, unwaxed, no makeup, no spanx (you very much), and all in a simple, not necessarily flattering shift. Really, I think nudity would be the truest but I wonder if we've the ability to see past the false relationship we have to "nakedness" as opposed to the human form in order to actually see eachother. Without clothes to decide if we are "rightly" sized, one does notice both more and less about the figure, judge differently, see different things. 

Sigh.

But I daresay baldness is still a big deal. there are much better means of masking it and also extremely effective medications both topical and oral for its elimination, avoidance, and so forth. Hair implants are a huge business for those who can afford it. And no, bald people don't look stupid -- but most I know shave their heads rather than leave the pattern showing, don't you find the same? I absolutely think it's a point of shame for many, at least before they reach a certain age at which looking "distinguished" can be reached.

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By Lady D on August 03, 2009 at 12:52 am

I too have grey hair and I like the color. But I have been considering coloring, because I am job hunting.

I probably won't because I just don't want to play that game. Although I was thinking green.

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By Jamie Lake on August 06, 2009 at 05:34 pm

Nice piece! It seems however, that guys losing hair isn't as unattractive socially as hair on women, like a mustache for example. How many more dates is the bald guy going to get over the mustached-woman? The guy could have a long list of other societal "negatives" and probably still do better than the woman who would be "hot" without her facial hair.

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