A Hairy Symbol. Yeah, That’s Right, I Punned

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)

What is the deal with our hair? Everyday we’re assaulted by advertising for products to help give us more hair, curlier hair, straighter hair, different colored hair, stronger hair, well, you get the idea. Like most women, I’m guessing, I spend too much time daydreaming about having different hair, better hair. Unfortunately, for me, vanity has a lot to do with that, but for just about all cultures from every era, hair is a big deal.

Wear it long. If you’re like me, one of the iconic images of long hair is found in the Hippie movement. Their long hair, particularly when worn by men, showed that they were free of the conservative confines of past generations. However, a look back in history shows that the Gauls and many of the Celtic peoples wore long hair as a symbol of liberty and independence. Therefore, although the Hippie movement can be credited for many things, they did not invent the concept of long hair symbolizing freedom. For many past cultures long hair was a signifier of royalty. One wonders if this stems from the fact that long hair can represent holiness, and for many past rulers appearing to be chosen by God or the Gods was a handy bit of PR. The Khalsa community of Sikhs let their hair and beards grow because they believe it is a symbol of God’s love.

Feel the power! Yep, hair has long been a symbol of strength, power, and virility. I’m guessing it’s why the Rogaine folks make so much money. Let’s face it, left to its own devices; hair will just grow and grow. It’s unstoppable. Death doesn’t even beat it. That’s pretty tough, that’s awfully powerful. We all know the story of Samson, whose strength came from his hair. His power faded when Delilah cut his it.

Hair sends the sexual signal. Boy howdy does it. Single, married, courtesan, chaste? There is a symbolic hairstyle just waiting for you! Long, loose hair used to symbolize youth and virginity, while braided or bound hair would be a symbol of marriage or that the woman was a courtesan. Christian art shows the redeemed St. Mary of Magdalene with very long loose hair to symbolize her chastity. In Russia, a single braid would signify a maiden, where as two braids indicates marriage. Letting down hair is viewed as a sexual signal, you know, like when Rapunzel lets down her hair so that a prince can climb her tower…I don’t need to spell that one out for you, do I?

Time for a haircut! Monks and nuns of many traditions, primarily Buddhist and Christian, will shave their heads. This is symbolic of submission to God or a rejection of the material world. With hair being such a potent symbol, it comes as no surprise that there is a long tradition of locks of hair being exchanged between loved ones, particularly ones who have to cope with separation. This act symbolizes a surrender to love. In China’s past, a shaved head was the equivalent of castration (and Samson thought he had it bad). There is also one step past a shave…scalping. In many Native American cultures, scalping was believed to remove an enemy’s power. Many warriors would shave their heads, save for a small bit of hair that they left to taunt their enemies.

What about style? Hairstyles have a long tradition of symbolizing an individual’s social status or religious practices. Rastafarians have dreadlocks. Hassidic Jews wear ringlets. Hindus and Buddhists frequently wear a top not, which is believed to cover the spot where the divine spirit enters the body at birth and departs at death. Red hair once had demonic associations. Golden hair would symbolize solar or royal power. Black hair stood for terrestrial authority.

We all have hair, and it is safe to say our relationships with our hair are as varied as all the different things hair can symbolize.