There's no doubt about it, more than elections or the economy or even terrorism, people's interests are rarely piqued higher than when discussing a topic of supreme personal importance. Hair.
From the shaved heads of medieval monks to the long-haired hippies of the '60s to the weave in the hair of today's rappers, hair has always been on our minds as much as it's been on our heads.
"It's one of the leading ways people can establish their individuality and express their style," says Jerome Shupack, M.D., professor of clinical dermatology at New York University Medical Center. "Hair has had sociological importance throughout the ages."
Because of its importance, anything that happens to our hair that we can't control-- falling out or turning gray, for instance --can be the source of much anxiety and fear, notes the FDA.
Normal fear can propel a person to do constructive things, like running away from a psychotic Cambodian handyman or single-handedly lifting a Hummer off a barefoot wrangler from the Sundance Institute, or thinking that plenty of checks in your checkbook means plenty of money in the bank.
But when it comes to hair, well, that's another story.
Young women learn how to toss their long hair when flirting, and practicing The Hair Toss is no mean feat. It requires three things: a target, a will of steel, and a neck.
Women rush to their salons to get their hair cut like Jennifer Anniston's or CSI's Marg Helenberger's with stiff tendrils bristling out like wind socks in a hurricane. What do they do, dip them in Viagra? There was a time your mother wouldn't let you out of the house with erect hair; now we pay a fortune for that look.
Rapper Inga Marchand, better known as Foxy Brown, has a thing for salons. Last October, she was sentenced to three years probation and anger management classes for assaulting two salon stylists after a dispute. Evidently, the anger management classes failed her because on February 16th 2007, she was again arrested after a disturbance broke out in a South Florida beauty supply store when Brown threw hair glue at an employee and then spit on him. Glue holds better than spit.
A 12-year-old English boy, James Marshall, suffered from fear of hair cuts, and refused to go to a barber for ten years. His hair grew to a whopping 26.8 inches. Eventually, he agreed to have it cut and sold on the internet with the proceeds going to charity. He ended up with a David Beckham-style cut -- skyward spikey.
Hair's terribly important. Britney Spears rebellion was not complete until she shaved hers all off. The rest of us dye it, cut it, grow it, shape it, brush it, supplement it, and mourn its loss. If we have straight hair, we curl it; if it's curly, we straighten it. If it's long, we cut it, if it's short, we grow it. We supplement our tendrils with false hair and extensions in an effort to look like Tina Turner. Sexy. Hairy.
Yet, when a few errant follicles are found in the bathroom drains, we get hysterical. "Arrgghhh, hair!!!" We get on our knees to scrub the tub and check the drain for slimy and knotty used hairs.
Then there's the Hair in Your Food Syndrome. Grown women have been known to faint at the sight of a hair on their cottage cheese, which must be delicately picked off, not blown off like you would a fallen eyelash on a child's cheek. Or worse yet, a lone hair might show up in your lunch at the Jewish deli begging the question: If there's a hair on your kreplach, does that mean it's not Kosher?. It's even more traumatic when a hair shows up on your tongue and you can't remember how it got there.
You can have hair of the dog that bit you, a hairy experience which makes your hair stand on end, even get grabbed by the short hairs, but one thing's for certain: gray hair isn't a sign of wisdom, it's a sign of age.
As women get older, we start by coloring the roots until we're forced to color all of it. We also learn to wear bangs to hide forehead wrinkles necessitating an effort to stay indoors on windy days. According to the biddy section at the salon, one day we'll have to color our eyebrows, too. Eyebrows grow longer and lashes shorter as people age. Look at Golda Meir whose heavy, black brows gave new meaning to the definition of "elongated." Look at Jack Nicholson whose arched brows give a devilish expression to an angel of an actor. Look at Andy Rooney whose hairy brows enter a room five minutes before he does. How old do you think the Mona Lisa was? We'll never know. She shaved her brows off in the cab on her way to Da Vinci's studio.
Take heart, not all women are afraid of losing hair. There's Signourney Weaver, who was beautifully bald in "Alien," Persis Khambatta from "Star Trek," voted 2003 Bald Woman of the Year, and Demi Moore, who's equally fetching whether hairless or hairful.
Despite these facts, when it comes to hair, women aren't nearly as radical as men.
Some men think it's still the sixties and allow their long hair to flow behind them into a matted mass as they enjoy vibrational frontal wedgies from a Harley. Occasionally, hot-blooded women have caught and lost their acrylic fingernails in a man's tangles, resulting in today's trend of merely running barefoot through his head.
We've come full circle, from the shaved heads of monks, to the shaved heads of celebrities like Michael Jordan, Damon Wayans and Jesse Ventura. Formerly hairy Michael Chiklis, star of FX's "The Shield," shaved it all off and won an Emmy, while Andre Agassi appears to have torn his out in a fit of masculine pique. Ving Rhames, Vin Diesel, and Samuel L. Jackson have all achieved hairless success, leading one to conclude that their movies could technically be considered skin flicks. Not to mention Jack Nicholson, who was handsomely bald at the 2007 Academy Awards.
Above all, hair is nothing to fear, for, if it really mattered, John Kerry would be president.