Real As Hair

It is said that the average person has approximately 150,000 strands of hair on their head, yet recent studies from London’s Natural History Museum show that all it takes is one strand to detect everything there is to know about a person.  Researcher Emma Freeman says that hair has the capability to “tell what you eat, where you live, your lifestyles, and habits.”  In short, your hair is “what you do.”  In my case, this fact has rung true ever since the day that I was born with a full head of hair, an occurrence that my mom swears is a “sign of intelligence.”

But whether my mom’s undying faith in Old Wives’ tales has any truth to it or not, I can not deny that my hair has become an integral part of who I am. I guess that my fascination with it started rather early on in my life, as soon as I was old enough to admire the girls with the long flowing hair in the magazines, the hair that for so long I could only aspire to one day have as my parents liked to keep my style short and practical growing up.

But when that time came when I was finally trusted to let my curly locks grow beyond my shoulders, I jumped at the opportunity and  when it did grow, it grew thick and long and full of curls and color, causing me to fall in love with the large volume of hair that I now bestowed. It was a love that went beyond superficial appearance or vanity, because for the first time, I grew a kind of attachment to my hair in that it became an integral part of who I was, and I no longer worried as much what others thought of it. It was this wondrous thing that I couldn’t somehow wrap my head around, the way it swayed with me and bounced up and down when I danced, the way it cascaded down my back when I would brush it out at the end of the day. It gave me a whole new meaning when I watched as my aunt who was battling ovarian cancer lose her hair to the horrific side-effects of chemotherapy, showing me just how much hair can define a person and give them a sense of self, how it was something that I should never take for granted.

I remember the first time when I first had to wear a wig for an Irish dancing competition, a sport that requires you to wear curly headpieces as part of your costume. As I would gaze into the mirror to look at myself, I realized just how much my hair meant to me.  With the great mass of it hidden under my wig, I could no longer depend on it as part of my identity, and that was an incredibly scary thought.

Alice Walker, an African-American author and poet, once said in an essay that she had “never been given the opportunity to appreciate hair for its true self.  My hair was one of those odd, amazing, unbelievable, stop-in-your-tracks creations that the universe makes for no reason other than to express its own limitless imagination.”

For me, this could not be any more true. There is no point or necessity for hair, but it is what it doesn’t do that makes it so powerful.  My hair doesn’t break out in acne, it doesn’t scold me or bring me down. When I am hurt or lonely or sad, as pathetic or vain that it may seem, my hair is simply there to fascinate and amuse me.  Though inanimate and lifeless, there are few things to me as real as hair.