May 21, 2012

Hair - Practices in Custom and Culture

I have been trying to pay more attention to my habits - why I do the things I do.  Some questions I have been asking include: Which things have become routine?  Is there meaning there, or merely the comfort of habit?

One of the habits I’ve accumulated over the past 5 years or so, that I’m finally taking some time to look at, is a hair-removal routine.  Each month, just as my body begins its custom of releasing and cleansing, I take some time and go through a hair removal ritual.  I don’t touch the hair on my forearms or head, but all other hair on my body is removed. It is a completely separate entity from my regular beauty routine.  It’s not about beauty at all.  It is simply a recognizing and a gentle nod to the process occurring in my body at that time.

A friend of mine from Bangladesh has told me that she too has a similar routine, but in their culture the hair removal comes after the cycle is complete.  It is more of a ‘fresh start’ custom for women.

Taking a quick look at other cultures, I’ve found that many have customs surrounding hair and its removal or retention.

From a social stance, ancient cultures had hair removal practices both as a sign of beauty (in Greece and Egypt) and as a practical way to keep healthy, such as with tribes people who wear little clothing and may be exposed to insects such as lice or ticks.  Although it has been observed that this custom may also be partly related to an idea of desirability, even in tribal culture.

Another social instance of hair removal is the practice or removing facial hair or the hair of the head and body as a sign of grief.  In some cultures it is expected that the grieving would remove their hair or even contribute hair to the deceased’s tomb.  Or, in the case of the Chinese, the families of the deceased would not cut their hair for 49 days after a death.

Moving over to spirituality-based reasons for hair removal, the Buddhist monks are a well-known example. They are required to shave their face, eyebrows and heads as a nod to Siddhartha who by rejecting his outward self, would eventually find enlightenment and become Buddha.

In Islam, law dictates that Muslims remove underarm and pubic hair as a hygienic practice (also seen as cosmetic.)

In Sikhism hair is never cut, as a sign of respect and gratitude to God.  Hair is wrapped in a turban and let down to comb twice daily with a comb called a Kanga.

In many ethnic groups, we begin to see that over time the younger generations adopt more modern ideas of what is appropriate for them spiritually and in society.  Many young Sikhs cut their hair and modern Jews forgo the “peyos” or long sideburns common in Hasidic practice.

In Western culture today, hair removal is almost exclusively seen as cosmetic.

For me, acknowledging my body and its rhythms and participating in my own releasing practice feels like an offering to myself.  Not to a god or in exchange for enlightenment.  Just a simple gift to my own body and spirit.

Update: This post triggered interesting dreams for me, one of which was a reminder about a dear friend who, being a devout Christian once, vowed to never cut her hair short as a tribute to Mary's humility, when she washed Jesus' feet in this verse:

"Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair."  John 12, Verse 3 (NKJ)

Hair was extremely valuable in biblical times and another verse (and story) that always struck me as fascinating was that of Absalom.

"But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
And when he cut the hair of his head, (for it was at every year's end that he cut it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he cut it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king's weight."  2 Samuel 14:25-26  (NKJ)

In those days, the hair of the king was considered the most valuable and sold for the highest price, but Absalom's hair was so beautiful that it garnered the same worth as the king's (his father.)  Absalom's tale is one of grief, anger, vanity and betrayal.  In this, his beauty seems to be a cautionary tale against vanity.

The most popular Bible story regarding hair would likely be that of Samson and his ultimate undoing by Delilah.

I keep my own hair long because after having cut it short a time or two, I've found that longer hair is a more suitable style for me. But I have also found that over the years of battling body image, my hair is the one part of me I could find pleasing and feminine and sometimes, powerful.

Information presented in this post found:
The Encyclopedia of Hair Removal
China Culture
Real Sikhism
About Judaism
Hair Removal Forum
Photos from Wiki Commons


Anonymous said...

It's been a tradition in the past of my family not to cut the hair unless in mourning. That went to the wayside, but I tend to only cut me hair these day to invoke change.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the info. Very interesting !!


Barbara F. said...

This is such an interesting post. I have spent thousands removing hair, electrolysis, waxing, depilatories, even one time laser!!! Thankfully most of it has never grown back. Now it is just the eyebrow wax. Unfortunately, it is not growing the same way on my head. Oh well. xo

Anonymous said...

My hair is the only consistent thing on my body that gets constant compliments. I will never allow it to be shorter than the small of my back again.

The Country Witch said...

I like my hair long, I don't know why but I have always had long hair plus it is probably the most interesting thing about me appearance wise...

Lois said...

Very interesting, and thought-inspiring. I love the Orthadox Jewish tradition of head coverings, and for some reason feel more close to spirit on days where my hair is covered. It becomes like a private secret. Recently decided to allow my hair to be long, it has a long way to go, and I am loving my silver that is glimmers when the light hits it. Body hair has changed so much in the years between 40 and 50, and I'm sure it will continue to do so...

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm too lazy to do a monthly hair removal regime like you, Rue! But I salute your diligence.

Jeanne said...

Interesting post. My hair is long & has only been cut short once in my life. Though I do have it trimmed about 4-6 times a year to get rid of the frazzled ends. Did you know that if you trim/cut your hair right before a full moon, that your hair will grow more rapidly? I have always held to this belief and my hair does grow quickly - but then maybe it is my diet....

howto make your hair grow faster said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.