Iconography of hair

The evil hairs wore by Homer Simpson in a Halloween special that made him act bad

According to a survey conducted by a British hair loss clinic, becoming bald is the greatest fear that men face when they are getting older. Even worse than loosing teeth, gaining weight or becoming impotent. The reliability of this result might not be the best one, especially because of the interest of those that did the canvassing, however we can understand a fact: the status associated with the hairs when it comes to personality, self-esteem, seduction and sensuality.

The myth of Delilah cutting Samson‘s hairs to deprive him of his strength is well-known. In general, every religion portrayed gods with a long mane and a vigorous beard, from Zeus to Odin to the Jewish and then Christian God, even Jesus Christ’s iconography is based on that. While evil creatures like demons, spirits, witches, fauns and satyrs have messed up hairs.

In every culture hairs are connected with spiritual, age and sexual maturity, that’s why Hare Krishna or Buddhist monks shave their heads, to symbolize chastity. Religions have a conflicted relationship with hairs as well. In Christian churches men had to take off hats to honor the “host” while women had to cover their heads, in Jewish synagogues is the complete opposite. Then there are traditional turbans, hijabs and much more for Hindus, Muslims etc.

In wars and battle having the scalp of the enemy was considered prestigious. Even nowadays militiamen from Isis and other terrorist organization proudly handle decapitated heads by the hairs in their macabre videos.

Brad Pitt in Troy, the hero MUST have long hair

Also from a laical and modern point of view we can consider the hair status valid. We don’t know if Che Guevara would have been the same rebel icon, but sure rebellion was connected with hairs in the cultural revolution of the Sixties. Societies and armies wanted young boys to conform to certain look standard so hippies made their hairs grow to display a different personality. A couple of decades before, Nazi soldiers shaved the heads of the prisoners camps to symbolically destroy and reset individuals, weakening them in a spiritual way too.

This practice was already popular among the ancient Romans, as a form of despise and condemned witches in the Middle Ages had this treatment as well. In the first, meaningful scene of Full Metal Jacket, the army barber is shaving the soldiers, anticipation of what will happen during the training.

Max Liebermann, Samson and Delilah

Haircuts marked identities and memberships based on ethnicity, caste or type of culture. Styles like the samurais one, the Mohawk (actually used by the Wyandots but erroneously attributed to the Mohawks by the Frenches), Rastafarian dreadlocks or hip hop cornrows are immediately recognizable.

Bald people, instead, are halfway between being funny (Louis CK, Harry Hill, Damon Wayans, Homer Simpson, Mr. Magoo), wicked (Nosferatu, Lex Luthor, the Soviet spy in Dr. Strangelove, Mussolini) or both (Dr. Evil and Mini Me).

The cold reality is that hairs have no actual survival purpose, yet no culture could avoid ignoring them and their symbolism. And even now that science explained a little more on the topic, the lack of hairs is frightening. You don’t want to look like your life parabola is descending.


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