rapunzel, rapunzel: why we’re obsessed with long hair
The world might be a lot simpler if we were all bald, but as a self confessed lover of long hair, I probably wouldn’t survive long in such a world.
So is long hair an asset in our society? It is after all, just another tissue like eyelashes which sustains our warmth and protection. Our adoration with long hair could come from a subconscious retaliation to past fairytales like Snow White and Rapunzel, women with hair that would have even the most heartless villain down on one knee, salivating.
However, according to an evolutionary theory, the love of long hair stems from genetic programming. Long hair apparently signals “genetic strength and overall health” in a woman, therefore men may be attracted to women with lengthy tresses as it implies that she is not only physically ideal but she has a likely chance to healthily reproduce thus a biological advantage for a man wanting to carry on his genes. Although, this selection theory poses the question: Why don’t a majority of women express the same desire for men with long hair? In our western society, long hair on a man can be considered unkempt and untidy.
On a purely aesthetic basis, long locks can arguably conceal blemishes, frame the cheekbones and make the face appear leaner and more delicate. However, with the uprising of pixie and crew cuts (see Emma Watson and Amber Rose), the eradication of long locks boasts a liberation that implies women are comfortable with their facial features and want to exhibit them openly and proudly. So why don’t we see these hairstyles more often? Could it be attributed to the fact that short hair or baldness is associated with rebellion and power while longer hair suggests sexual charge and femininity?
The tradition of associating hair with sex reaches as far back as the fifteenth century. In parts of Senegal, in a tribe called ‘Wolof,’ young women not of marrying age were required to partially shave their heads to ‘emphasise their unavailability for courting’, while widows were required to keep their hair untidy as they were ‘not meant to look beautiful to other men.’ In the Mende culture, a woman who left her hair neglected was either considered ‘insane’ or had ‘loose morals.’ Hair was to be kept ‘shiny and long…it wasn’t cut, it was arranged.’ These ancient traditions perhaps herald society’s long running obsession with long and healthy hair. After all, if celebrities like Britney Spears can’t escape with a shaved do without being deemed ‘damaged and sick’ …why should the rest of us escape without judgment?
In some cultures, long hair is associated with fortune, love and longevity. In parts of China, Hongyao women are only permitted to cut their hair once in their life, at the age of eighteen. Before marriage, they are required to keep their hair hidden under scarves as the grooms are the only men allowed to see it. Around two thirds of women have hair that measures longer than 1.4 metres long. Some even possess hair that reaches two metres.
Today, even those who aren’t born with the natural ability to grow out their locks have the option of spending money on long extensions. The African hair industry alone sits at an astonishing 9 billion dollars, built on a range of hair straightening products and weave extensions. According to artist Chris Rock, 10 million people donate their hair each year in India during a religious practice. ‘Removing hair’ Rock says, ‘is considered an act of self sacrifice.’ During this ‘sacrifice,’ the amount of profit which is raised is equivalent to the money made in the Vatican city. Rock acknowledges that these Indian people are unaware of the value of their hair or where it is being taken when it is exported to companies who ‘distribute it around the planet.’
Meanwhile, online forums display women and men alike boasting their obsession with long waves. ‘Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls…and wanted to sleep their forever?’ one man quotes from a film while another woman confides ‘If I were male, I’d want someone with long, girly hair…something I can run my fingers through.’
On the topic of growing out hair, one woman shockingly advises, ‘Get a cheap long wig to wear in the bedroom, until it grows out. Most men really do enjoy long hair during the act.’ Does this mean that the male populace is so disturbingly superficial that they’d prefer their short haired partners to wear wigs during sex? It seems highly doubtful.
We all know the world of beauty is fickle and vastly changing and because of this, there cannot be a generalisation that claims that we all long for long hair. Because there are those amongst us, albeit a smaller percentage, who are content when they have no hair of which to speak.
Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s a matter of inches that determines a woman’s femininity and sexual prowess. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s 1 inch, whether it curls around your ears, drapes around your shoulders or hangs above your hip bones. Our hair doesn’t need to flow like the ocean or look as glossy as a varnished floor because if we can wear it confidently, then that is an asset in itself.
By Sophia Anna