Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The tumbleweeds of the underbed, and other hairy topics

Perhaps it is because people, collectively, have much less hair than just about any other mammal wandering about that we spend so much time fretting about it, fretting about not having it, fretting about what to do with it, fretting about how to get more of it, or fretting about how much of it we should get rid of even if nature has done most of the job for us already. Witness the eternal debates about underarm hair, leg hair, beards, moustaches, etc, etc.

Since every person on the world seemingly has a position on hair I have a position on hair too. My position is this: I rather like it. I am interested in the fact that we have less of it than almost all other mammals: how did that happen? Shouldn't that mean we are biologically conditioned to think of ourselves as genetic freaks? And the bits of hair that we did keep fascinate me even more: why did we keep them? Did we make a collective decision as a species to keep head hair, and the odd bit of pubic hair after that? Why is it that men have beards and women don't?

I like hair words: oxter, vellus, hirsute, pogonology. I like all sorts of pubic hair, but especially (pardon my vanity) beards: I like the way our body develops these little forests and groves; their presence seems to provide an appropriate balance and variety to the body - some skin here, some hair there. I like the way a beard can hold objects, pens, pencils, even the odd carrot; and I like being able to thoughtfully yet absent-mindedly rub my beard whenever I feel like it. Why do some centuries like beards and others do not? In the Victorian age, men were required to have a beard, full and flowing; in some cases it was compulsory*. Beards were out in the first half of the twentieth century, and then in for a brief period in the sixties and seventies, and then out again until today.

I even like fake hair: wigs and toupees are a wonderful thing, even - and especially - when they are wigs for pubic hair, merkins and the like. I like how the whole of Western Europe, for a period of some hundred years, became crazy about wigs, so that the sight of a person not in a wig would have been regarded as appalling. How did that happen? Was there an original wig model, a person with wig-like hair, that proved inspiring to the several generations of people that came after him? I like the extravagance that accompanied many hairstyles in the 18th and 19th century with, for instance, patriotic Parisian ladies having their head styled up to resemble great naval battles.

Even if hair is a small subject, it is not a subject that is small; you could go on and on about hair, and truthfully, there is not as little of it on our bodies as we might think. Vellus hair is tiny, fine hair that grows all over our bodies, on both men and women, children and adults. There is even, I discovered to my pleasure some time ago, a special hair for newborn babies and foetuses, lanugo hair, which is eventually replaced by vellus.

If there is anything better than hair on the young, it is hair on the old; I like the dignified tonsure that an ageing gentleman who has been slowly growing old gains as he loses his hair. When they led the Tory Party in the UK, both Ian Duncan Smith and William Hague had this tonsure, and I wondered how the British people told them apart. I also like how some people's hair slowly ripens from brown to a gentle grey to white; this is the kind of family that I come from, and indeed, that process is happening as we speak - though principally on my head and beard; my pubic hair doesn't seem to be ripening nearly so quickly. Indeed, the colour of my pubic hair seems to be quite different to the colour of my head hair, and I wonder if this is the same for everyone. Can red heads have red pubic hair? Or blondes have blonde pubic hair (the idea does seem rather strange)?

Animal hair is fascinating, too, and I like comparing notes with the cats about our whiskers. Cats apparently use their whiskers for balance and measuring up distances; I once heard a story about a poor cat who had its whiskers thoughtfully snipped off as part of a an early experiment in hairdressing, and who had to wait months for the same whiskers to grow back before daring to jump again. I am afraid to say that my beard does nothing whatsoever for my balance, although perhaps this was not the case for upright moustache bearers such as Lord Kitchener.

And I like the way hair detaches from one's body eventually, and floats around the house or the world, perhaps minutely altering the composition of some soup or cheese, maybe finding other hairs to mesh and play with until it forms Slut's Wool, the tumbleweeds of the underbed. So you see, there is very little that could be said about hair, but only because there is too much to talk about in any one conversation. Hair. I like it. 

*I read somewhere that the British army regarded the beard as a protection against the inclement weather, and I find from personal experience that this is true: I'm never troubled by my beard on hot days, but it insulates my face wonderfully against water and other liquids.

No comments:

Email: timhtrain - at -

eXTReMe Tracker

Blog Archive