“Yeah, only I already know that,” I said.
“Years and years and years,” said Daddy.
I did a huffy breath at him. “I already know that, I told you,” I said again.
After that, I leaned back in my seat. And I thinked about the years and years of practice.
Finally, I did a big sigh.
I would have to get started right away.
from Junie B. Jones Is a Beauty Shop Guy
written by Barbara Park
illustrated by Denise Brunkus
Random House Books for Young Readers, 1998
accessed on Libby 9/29/22
Mom combed my hair every morning and tied it up in one long braid that reached below my waist. I was not a tall child, but still. Putting in the braid was the easy part. All I had to do was sit still and I’ve always been pretty good at that. It was much harder to sit still when Mom was taking my braid out. In those olden days, coated rubber bands had not yet been invented. I know she didn’t mean to yank out all those single strands of hair. They couldn’t help but get caught.
When I was about six and a half, my mom and I decided we would ask our neighbor to cut my hair. I was ready to say goodbye to the ouchies.
Mrs. Osika helped me up to her twirly chair. I faced myself in a big mirror, but I didn’t really want to look. “Ready?” she asked before she whacked off my long braid with her big scissors. I probably nodded. After, a rubber band held each end, and I kept that braid in my bottom dresser drawer for many, many years.
I wish I could have donated it to a child who needed a wig. (See Locks of Love, if you’re interested.) My older granddaughter did that a couple of years ago. She donated the 12 inch minimum and looked really cute with her new not-too-short style. Mrs. Osika, on the other hand, permed what was left of my hair. The kids at school laughed at me after they got over their shock and called me Curly for a couple of weeks. I was embarrassed, but lived to tell the tale.
Hair has been important throughout history. Beginning with the Bible story of Samson, long, uncut hair symbolized not only physical strength, but strength of character. Many modern cultures, from the Sikhs to much of Native American culture, still prohibit cutting one’s hair. Whether described as gift from Gd or a sign of community identity, hair is viewed as sacred.
Styles have varied throughout the ages. Ancient Greek sculptures depict gods with long hair, a symbol of their power. In the Middle Ages, long hair was a symbol of wealth. From the Germanic Goths to the Gaelic Irish, people prided themselves in their long hair. Shorter hair often identified a person as lower class.
By the late 1500s, syphilis had been raging throughout Europe for several years. Since long, thick hair was a status symbol for men and the disease could cause hair loss, many who recovered chose to don a wig. In time, wigs became status symbols of their own. Even today, British judges wear wigs as a sign of formality and to continue a tradition.
Portraits of classical musicians are often depicted in long hair, or wigs. Think of Scarlatti (1600s Italy), Mozart (1700s Austria), and Beethoven (late 1700s to early 1800 Germany). While Beethoven is not shown in a wig, he let his hair grow long. MerriamWebster.com defines a “long hair” as an impractical intellectual, a person of artistic gifts or interests, especially a lover of classical music, or a counter-cultural, non-violent person.
When I was in high school, boys’ hair had to be above their shirt collars. Girls had no such restrictions, but when the dress code became more relaxed, both boys and girls let their hair grow. As an outward expression of a growing counter-culture and encouraged by the musicians of my day from The Beatles to Bob Marley and Willie Nelson to Jimi Hendrix, long hairs were not tied to a specific genre. They introduced an era. An important counter-culture, a movement had started. During those explosive days of the Vietnam War, growing political strife, and violent street riots, the most courageous of us worked for change brought by “good trouble.”
When the rock-musical Hair opened on Broadway in 1968, it played along side among others, Fiddler on the Roof. With its emphasis on “Tradition!” Fiddler can be seen as the opposite of Hair, where the focus is on change. But really, both stories are showing their audiences, us, that while change is necessary, it is the way the world works, it is often painful.
The painful nature of change is most clearly seen in today’s Iran. Since 1979, when the Guidance Patrol was established after the revolution that deposed the Shah, women have been forced to cover their hair with a hijab. Commonly called the morality police, these officers are charged with enforcing the religious moral code of extreme Islam.
The world watched when a 22-year-old woman was arrested for wearing her head scarf too loosely. The world protested when she died in custody. Protests continue.
While laws and definitions of morality can hold a society together, the strong-armed dominance of a minority over a like-minded majority can encourage, maybe even incite revolution.
-—be curious! (and embrace good change)