I started this project by Googling, “What is hair?”
It’s kind of embarrassing, honestly. I didn’t try to make the question more intellectual or academic. I just asked it plainly, joining the other dummies who asked such head-scratchers as:
I mean, I know what hair is in context—I have seen, felt, smelled, and even accidentally tasted human hair. But truly, what is this weird, stringy stuff poking out from our skin? According to internet sources of varying degrees of credibility, it is a protein filament that covers mammals’ bodies, primarily for warmth. It differs person-to-person—by length, color, thickness, texture, type, and what I’d call “overall magnificence.”
But now that we live in a modern civilization with central heating, puffy jackets, and hot coffee, most humans don’t really need hair to keep warm. We kind of just have it hanging around ornamentally. Like your appendix and wisdom teeth, it’s mostly useless at this point. But unlike those internal vestiges, hair has some pretty prominent real estate, where everybody can see it. Which is why we use it as a means to express our self-identity to the world: whether we’re edgy or conservative, punk or mainstream, self-loathing or self-accepting, lazy or attentive, religious or secular, put-together or deliberately disheveled.
Hair is versatile. It doesn’t conform to binaries—it always falls on a spectrum from styled to free, long to bald, compliant to wild, and on a literal spectrum of any shade occurring naturally or from a bottle.
Hair is marvelous. I cannot think of another way that dead cells can tell such a vivacious personal story—not cadavers, not fossils, not anything. And I’m intent on understanding the way that different hair makes different people feel.
When I first met Jared, he had short hair, but within months, he was on a quest to have some of the most distinct and incredible hair I’d ever seen. I had no idea how much effort went into maintaining it. It looked so fucking radiant, so effortless, so right, that I just assumed it was meant to be.
After growing it out to roughly shoulder length, Jared’s hair was his singular identifier—like Anthony Davis’s eyebrows or Bette Davis’s eyes. He had magnificent flow, and in my opinion, the perfect shade of red.
But being the dude with excellent red hair is kind of a burden. People act like they know you, but they don’t fucking know you. And, as I learned through this exercise, having that spectacular lion’s mane was not effortless: It was a pain in the ass.
Auburn, thick, poofy, straw-like.
My head requires a solid head of hair to mask its elongated and oversized shape, but my hair’s thickness doesn’t allow for much creativity. Mostly I wear a baseball cap after I shower so it dries flattened to my head.
Smothered in argan oil and shoulder length. If you witnessed it, you’d know why.
For some reason, in second grade, a barber shaved my head. I was the laughingstock the following day in school. While everyone guffawed through through their Capri Suns and Lunchables, my crush tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Did you get a haircut?”
To which, I responded, “Yes.”
To which she replied, “I really like it!”
To which I smiled, and said, “Really?!”
To which she responded, “No!”
However long it takes to find my hat.
Once every 6 to 8 weeks. I don’t get out much.
Like a disappointed father plays with his unathletic son.
It makes me submissive, sunburnt, and subject to offensive nicknames.
Through decades of misrepresentation in the media, redheadedness is associated with negative traits, i.e. ugliness (see: Carrot Top), submissiveness (see: Chucky from Rugrats), incompetence (see: the Weasley family in Harry Potter), and general annoyingness (see: Ferguson from Clarissa Explains It All, Barb from Stranger Things).
For more of The Story of Your Hair, check out what’s going on with Sarah’s hair. And check back all this week to see more of this multi-part series.