Hair. It can be a big deal. It’s a big deal to me and, apparently, to lots of other people.
I was reminded of this in early September when the now-infamous elected Kentucky clerk went to jail over her refusal to follow the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses.
Amidst the brouhaha about Kim Davis, I saw people on-line mocking her appearance and, in particular, her hair.
Ugh. I cringed.
It was her unlawful behavior, not her hair, that was the problem. I found myself sympathizing with her only in that she was mocked for her plain, long hair.
I am amazed by how many people feel it is their right to make an issue out of what other people do and don’t do with their hair.
I had to sacrifice my hair during chemo, in order to live. I use the word “sacrifice” deliberately because I view hair as a sacred gift of beauty from God. (And – don’t get me wrong — naturally bald or thin-haired heads are beautiful, too. Long hair is my preference, on both women and men.)
When I told people that losing my long hair was one of the worst experiences of my life, I can’t tell you the number of people who expressed anger at my comment.
Angered, not that I had cancer and had to go through hell fire. Angered that I had the chutzpah to say that losing my hair, albeit temporarily, was an absolute nightmare.
One woman, a knitting instructor who hangs out with lots of women friends and should have known better, called and emailed more than once to insist that I had “no right” to worry about my hair.
A bald, male oncology masseur tried to argue me into submission with his view that hair is “no big deal.” And neither are breasts, he said. Any woman with breast cancer should just have her breasts removed immediately, period, forget about lumpectomies, he said. I fired him and told him to stop talking to women like this.
It’s a very personal set of issues – what kind of hair one has, or keeps as one ages.
I regret that for about a decade, while my hair was naturally graying, I dyed it with toxic chemical dyes, as a large percentage of women over 40 do. I calculate that I spent over $10,000 dollars on hair dying. I wish I had that money back – I could go on a trip to Europe or buy a newer used car, or give the money to charity.
I missed seeing my hair gradually turn silver, year by year. And, I contributed to the environmental pollution caused by toxic hair dye.
Now my hair is just the way I want it and I am grateful for it every day.
My hair is almost waist-length, trimmed, thicker than it’s been since my 20s and 30s, and beautiful in its multi-hued shades of gray and silver.
I wear it up or down, coiled over my crown chakra, in a pony tail, under a straw hat, whatever I want.
Some people think it’s their right to comment about it.
It’s a typical Saturday morning, and I’m shopping in the local natural grocery when I run into a casual acquaintance. She spots the long braid snaking down my back and asks: “What are you going to do about that hair?”
Surprised, I look up at her, see her white roots peeking out from the top of her head and at her temples, and I smile. “Nothing,” I answer. “Isn’t it just great?”
No. She grimaces. She doesn’t like my hair.
I don’t like her hair either, but it would never occur to me to ask her what she’s going to do about it.
These exchanges are common. Women with obviously dyed hair asking me what I intend to do with mine or: “Just how long are you going to let it go?”
You see, the problem is not just that it’s gray. The problem, for these judgmental commentators, is that it’s LONG and gray.
It’s just so unfashionable.
And it’s a big deal.
I would never wag my finger at any individual who wants to do anything with her or his hair: shave it, color it jet black, do it like Donald Trump, I don’t care.
But societies and cultures care very much about women’s hair. That’s why some religions have rules that women must chop it off at marriage, or cover it with a scarf, or just let it be, like the Kentucky county clerk.
I think that, as an unconscious symbol, long hair on women represents youth, vitality, (hetero)sexual energy and availability.
That’s all well and good when the hair is blonde, dark, or the even the fake reddish tones produced by chemical hair dyes.
But put that long, flowing GRAY hair together with a middle-aged face and body, and it becomes a crisis and a threat.
“What are you going to do about it?”
The juxtaposition of a symbol of youth and sexuality – the long hair — with the color gray, which screams out “aging,” is just not acceptable to many who uphold a consensus view of reality.
Back at the natural grocery store, another day, I am greeted by another middle-aged member of the hair police. This one’s got reddish highlights and little sprigs of gray showing she’s overdue.
“What are you going to do about your hair?” she whines.
I remind her that she’s known me for decades, and that I’ve always had long hair.
“Oh, well, you’re just trying to make some sort of a statement.”
She says it over and over: “You’re just trying to make a statement.”
I have no come-back. No statement.
I just finish up my shopping, get back in the car, roll down the window.
And I let my wild hair fly.