A Brush of Fresh Hair or How
Pubic Curls May Save Your Life
Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?
THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material – also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
* Show it, Grow it
just washing and combining one’s own hair. Quirks of nature are short lived and maybe it’s all for the best.
But for Natasha, who reportedly wept during her very first haircut, it was a way to achieve something more permanent: buying a house. Whatever she got, wasn’t nearly enough to get her family a prime place at the ‘favela carioca’ where she lives. But she proved that hair may come and go; it’s what it’s f deep underneath it that really counts, all the way to the split ends of it.
YOU’VE GOT A CHOLOLI CARD
Despite all the cliche and the stereotyping, the Japanese are indeed one of the most polite people one can ever meet. And their culture reflects that fact in ways that both startles us and schools us too. For who else could’ve come with a way of discreetly inform people that their nose hair is, well, slightly overgrown, and may we suggest, shouldn’t you trim it just a little bit?
In not so many words, that’s what was behind the idea of Chololi, a Web-based service where you fill a form and have a tasteful notification card to be sent to that friend who’s been behind in his or hers self-grooming duties. Or awareness of how that’s provokes grief on those around. With the great selling point of giving you the comfort of anonymity.
It’s understandable. We’re all increasingly busier, bathroom trips rarely include the luxury of monkeying time in front of the mirror, and it certainly beats the mean-spirited Twitter, exposing someone to a lifetime of shame. Unless, of course, you’re a troll and a douche (or a self-obsessed orange-tanned would=be tyrant) who enjoys doing just that, in which case, you don’t really deserve your friends.
Through the service, which requires ID and personal info, you may even chose the ‘tone’ of the warning you’re sending your friend, assuming that he or she will remain so, even if one day they find out that it was you. The site is actually keen at warning you that those targeted must be capable of taking your joke, or otherwise, of course, you’re on your own, buddy, in case of losing limb or head.
There must be a disclaimer somewhere, in case you wind up murdered because of what you did, but one assumes that your privacy is paramount in the terms of service. Which, by the way, you must be committed to follow in all its rules and regulations. Unless, of course, you plan on sending a Twitter-like, mean-spirited message, in which case, you’re a douche, etc.
THE WAR ON PUBIC HAIR
One of the most baffling social conventions adopted over a century ago is shaving. But not all shaving is done equally: the patriarchal society has rule that, while with men, shaving faces is optional, no such luck for women, or so many wished. Females have been shaving armpits and legs and, with time, an elaborated ritual of waxing other parts of their bodies also became required.
At its inception, shaving may have been part of the 19th century drive to extricate at all costs the new, clean-cut, civilized modern human, from the literal 800lb furry creature of its past. But the convention could not help but to speak volumes of men’s domination over women, objectification, and all that tiresome but relevant discussion we’re still having about gender and social mores.
Theories attempting to justify shaving can’t disguise their original, archaic prejudice. Consider hygiene. Even medicine jumped in the wagon and shaving for surgery became standard practice. It shouldn’t, claims recent research. Pubic hair is actually a protection, curly as it may be. Or rather, shaving it may cut the skin, expose follicles to germs, and make the body more susceptible to infections.
For a while, U.K. physician Emily Gibson lead the charge to change people’s mildly negative perception towards the ‘bush.’ Besides, of course, it’s a waste of time: while we ravage the skin day in and day out, with the relentless action of blades and razors, hair always grows back and ultimately wins.
HEIR TO OUR BODIES’ PAST
As for extreme waxing and the high value we place on hairless, smooth bodies, it’s a matter that belongs more to the pathology of esthetics and physical attraction, than to the multibillion dollar industry that caters to the obsession. As with plastic surgery, it’s hard to determine when it stops being a tool for self-acceptance, and becomes harmful to the individual’s psyche.
Being pragmatic about it, it’s unlikely that waxing for ‘entertainment purposes,’ i.e., for wearing a thong, will be considered unacceptable any time soon. No matter how many doctors may advise against it, citing study after study about how beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, we’re still bound to go to great lengths eliminating any signs of our past as apes before our mates.
As usual, women got the shorter end of the stick, despite all cultural progresses: men still get to choose whether a clean, stubby, or craggy bear look is the way to go, while for a woman, well, you fill in the blanks. But even that notion may be finally coming out short, as stats show males spending large amounts in personal grooming products, full-body waxing kits included.
Notice that we’ve avoided other disgusting implications about that preference for hairless bodies. You, the reader, however, are free to connect the dots on your own. We can’t help thinking that the more we invest in our appearance, and pursue an impossibly classic ideal of physical beauty, the more we show how terrified we’re getting of sexual intimacy and getting closer to each other.
(*) Originally published on Oct. 19, 2012.