Karen's hair

Hair Today

Karen Beilharz

I like Ben's hair. It's a beautiful colour—dark brown and curly. When I was a child I always wanted curly hair. That's why I got mine permed in Year 8 with interesting results (and I'll never do it again!) As I will never have naturally curly hair, I married someone who did. He's not particularly fond of his hair—especially when it reaches that irritating length when it gets in his eyes. So nine months ago he got it all shaved off. His first day back at Uni, one of the staff team walked straight by him, not recognising him. She later said, “I didn't want to talk to that guy—he looked scary!” Funny how cutting one's hair can dramatically change one's appearance.

But all this is relative to length, of course. I am 162 cm tall, my hair is 80 cm long and it catches on everything. In the past, when I have chopped off a significant amount of it (like 15 cm), no one really notices because the cut does not radically alter my appearance. Hair as long as mine is a bit of an oddity in our society. I have been asked many times whether I have always had long hair and the answer is no; when I was young, my mother cut my hair so short that people thought I was younger than I really was and I hated it. Somewhere around Year 12, I got kind of lazy and just grew it the way it is now to minimise maintenance. Therefore, it always seems strange to me that the amount of compliments I get about my hair are completely out of proportion to the amount of time I spend on it.

Despite my casual attitude towards my own hair, I do seem to be a little obsessed about head hair in general. Hair is one of the first things I notice about a person when I first meet them. Colour (blonde/brown/red/black), then length (short/shoulder-length/long/very long) then style (straight/wavy/curly/very curly). I like the way that hair can enhance or change a person's appearance. I am completely fascinated by the different methods by which women have done their hair throughout the ages, and the mechanisms by which they have achieved this. (A great book on this subject is Daring Do's: a history of extraordinary hair by Mary Trasko.) Not that I am willing to go to the same lengths as the Egyptians who used to shave it all off and wear wigs made out of goat's hair, or the French women of Marie Antoinette's era who created giant sculpted towers out of lard and glue which would occasionally knock the chandeliers and catch fire during masked balls. But there is something appealing about the complicated loops and twists that adorned the heads of nineteenth-century corseted women (who often employed bits of fake hair, thus paving the way for pony falls and hair extensions), the flowing tresses of anime characters, the austere elegance of Japanese and Chinese buns and pins, and, yes, even the distinctive coils of Princess Leia's “earmuffs” and Queen Amidala's gypsy tangles.

However, all this seems to require way too much effort. When I was a bridesmaid for one of my friends, it took 99 bobby pins and half a can of hairspray to turn all 80 cms of my hair into a full head of barrel curls, which then proceeded to give me a splitting headache. The average woman in this day and age prefers to wear her hair in such a way so that it is both efficient and attractive. And isn't all this messing about with locks and tresses all vanity anyway?

I think it can be. There is the temptation to get so obsessed about your own hair that you spend more time washing/drying/dyeing/cutting/curling/crimping/straightening/braiding/brushing it than doing more important things like reading your Bible, praying or meeting with other Christians. There is the danger of relying on external beauty to get others to accept you/admire you/like you/esteem you/respect you instead of taking time to cultivate the kind of inner beauty “which in God's sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). There is the risk of becoming excessively dissatisfied with the way God made you—to the point where you start to long to become a candidate on Extreme Makeover.

But we don't want to go to the opposite extreme like the Pre-Raphaelites who saw a woman's hair as being a net or snare to trap men, simultaneously sensual, seductive and something to be feared. Hair is part of God's good creation (even if it grows in places where we don't want it to grow). Paul says, “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory” (1 Corinthians 11:15). Hair—smooth, silky, distinctive or striking—is a body part that God has given us to enjoy and appreciate about each other.

I'm not saying that it's wrong to get a fashionable haircut, to spend a couple of hours in the salon getting it done up for a special occasion, to experiment with different colours, to get it permed or dreadlocked. But keep things in perspective: your hair is temporary. It and its glory is just like the grass of the field: “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

So whether you have a beehive, a bob, a bowl cut, a mullet or a mane of gorgeously long hippie hair, do not waste time longing about what you don't have but revel in what you do. Enjoy it while you have it for it may not always be with you.

(This article was first published in Issue 16 of The Page for ECU Wollongong, Week 4, Session 1, 2004.)

In September of 2005, Karen chopped off most of her hair and sent it to these people. In return, they sent her a postcard.


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