Why are religions so concerned with hair?
Devout Muslims grow beards even though it is not specifically mentioned in the Koran and Arab women cover their hair at the onset of puberty. Religion commands Jewish men not to cut the hair on the side of the head, hence the dreadlocks called payot sported by the ultra-Orthodox. Pious Jewish women cover their heads or wear wigs over their own hair. They are not supposed to be attractive to men other than their husbands. In the Catholic Church, men and women have their hair cut when they enter a monastery or convent. For men it is a tonsure and women also cover their hair with a wimple. Apparently hair is associated with eroticism and sexuality and so has to be left behind when you devote your life to God .
I remember the movie “A Nun’s Story” where Audrey Hepburn’s long hair is savaged and falls slowly to the floor. I was thinking: Why must one abandon beauty in order to tend to the lepers in the Congo? Hair makes a huge difference to one’s appearance. In another film Cate Blanchette shaves her head and wears men clothes as a disguise because she is on the run for a crime. She is immediately unrecognizable.
For two centuries, royals and nobles wore elaborate powdered wigs which became a status symbol. But actually it was to hide the ravages to their own hair caused by poor hygiene and various illnesses. This custom was thrown out, as so many other traditions during the French Revolution.
The word “hair” is usually a plural in other languages, presumably because one has more than one hair on one’s head:
Les cheveux in French
Volossy in Russian
Saarot in Hebrew.
Capelli in Italian
The word for “hairdresser” also has a funny journey emigrating from one language to another:
In Russian it is “parikmacher” which comes from the German and means wig maker. The Germans however no longer use it. They have imported the word “Friseur” from the French where it meant “one who curls your hair”. The English word “barber” comes from the French word barbe which means beard. But the French now say “coiffeur”.
You may have heard that Man is the only animal who empathizes, mourns, reasons, experiences consciousness, makes tools etc. It turns out that other animals do these things too, but there is one area at least where man is still distinct from beast:
Man is the only animal who wears clothes because his body is no longer covered with hair.