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Who Gives A Follicle?

By Scott E. Roeben

How much do you really know about that stuff on your head? I'm referring, of course, to hair.

Sure, there are some who have no hair—like Skinheads and people who live directly under power lines—but most people do, and they take their hair for granted.

Hair takes many forms. Curls, spikes, waves. You name it, and people have sprouted it. What is it? Well, if you are science-minded—and hence, prone to wearing fabrics that do not exist in nature—you might describe hair as "an appendage of the skin that has protective and sensory functions." Being science-minded, you might also know hair is made up of three layers: the outer, flat scale-like cuticle layer, the middle keratinized cortex layer (that contains the pigment) and the inner medulla layer. If you knew this already, please, please, watch some television or go on a date with someone other than your sister immediately.

Hair can be found everywhere, although a majority of it is located in the vicinity of your shower drain. Here are some other places you might come across hair:

1) The lawbooks. For instance, it's against the law to doze off under a hair dryer in Florida.

And in Mesquite, Texas, it's still against regulations for youngsters to have haircuts that are "startling or unusual." I'm glad this law was not in effect in our town when I was a kid, or Mom would have surely ended up doing a stint in the bighouse. Her bowl would've been seized as well, I'm sure.

2) The Bible. Who can forget the wildly entertaining story of the ill-fated lovebirds Samson and Delilah? Unfortunately, people sometimes get the facts of the story wrong. It was not, in fact, Delilah that cut off Samson's hair.

First of all, we should note Samson’s head was shaved, not clipped. Delilah made Samson "sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head." So, it seems poor Delilah has received a good deal of bad press she didn't deserve.

It is no coincidence that there were seven locks, either. The number coincides with the Seven Deadly Sins also discussed at nauseating length in the Bible. The Seven Deadly Sins are Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Dopey and Bashful. Wait, that's six. Well, so, the Bible is flawed. God doesn't take kindly to the implication that he should have a "Suggestion Box," believe me.

While on the topic of the Bible, it is interesting to note that Mary Magdalene is the Patroness of hairdressers. A duo by the names of Cosmas and Damian are the Patrons of barbers. There is no known Patron Saint for itching and/or flaking, though, unfortunately. Rest assured that papal officials will get to work on it as soon as their schedules allow, although, be cautioned that the duration of most arraignments is difficult to predict.

3) Politics. The Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro was once considered a great threat to our way of life. The CIA, desperate to undermine his popularity, once planned to put hair-remover inside his shoes during an overseas trip so that his famous beard would fall out. While this plan may be considered "amusing" today, you would have described it differently during the 1960s, namely you would have called it "moronic."

4) Mythology. Medusa is a well-known figure in Greek mythology. No other culture's mythology has been as popular as the Greek's. It's likely they just gave a little more thought to their marketing strategy.

Medusa was one of the Gorgons—consisting of three monstrous sisters who were always borrowing each other's sweaters. According to mythology, Athena turned Medusa's hair to serpents, which made braiding it a real pain in the neck.

One sight of Medusa and her face turned the viewer to stone. This became especially inconvenient when Medusa went on a blind date. But in time, she made the best of her situation by rubbing her dates together and inventing fire which served to tick off another mythological personage, Prometheus, no end. Prometheus, by the way, was later chained to a rock by Zeus and an eagle consumed his liver for eternity. Medusa was slain by a cunning fellow in a skirt—Perseus—who used her head to destroy his enemies. Charming storytellers, the Greeks.

5) Plaster. Plaster is most often a mixture of slaked lime, sand and water, often with hair added as a binder. "Plaster of Paris" is one kind of plaster, and can be easily identified because it is far more rude that other types of plaster.

6) Your local zoo. Ever get close to a rhino? What is the first thing you notice? I mean, aside from a stench that could strip the paint from your car in just under 10 minutes? You probably notice the rhino's horn next. Well, you may find it interesting that a rhinoceros horn, much in demand for medicinal purposes, is not horn at all, but the animal's hair. But unlike most hair, when it belongs to a rhino, teasing it can result in a lengthy chase, and possibly an unpleasant goring. Not recommended.

Other animals are known for the special qualities of their hair as well. The migratory locust, for example, is kept flying by a bundle of hairs on its head. When these hairs are stimulated by an air current coming from the front, they create a nerve stimulus that keeps the locust's wings beating. You should look for the locust exhibit at your zoo. Yeah, right. You can find it right next to the flying bison exhibit.

7) Fairy tales. You even find hair in the story of Cinderella. The slippers she wore were not glass, you know. Charles Perrault, whose version of the story made it popular in the West, mistranslated the French phrase pantouffles en vair. It was really white squirrel fur that Cinderella wore.

Sure, fur is comfortable, but any fashion consultant worth their salt would tell you glass shoes would be preferable—because they really don't clash with anything. Except, perhaps, for a fiberglass belt.

8) Psychology. Recall that thing about truth being stranger than fiction? Take a gander at the following psychological quirks related to one's follicles.

Trichotillomania is the uncontrollable impulse to pull out one's hair.

Chaetophobia is the official term for a fear of hair.

Peladophobia is the fear of becoming bald.

Pogonophobia? The fear of beards.

9) India. The Todas, a sect in India, hold in high regard their "holy milkman." He must be celibate, and he can never cut his hair. The average "holy milkman" takes approximately seven weeks to blow dry his hair for social engagements.

Ordinary customers—you and me, for example, but with Indian accents—can only approach the "holy milkman" on Mondays and Thursdays. The reason for this is unclear, but it appears that it may have something to do with the fact that the people in this sect are completely nuts.

There you have it. Hair. It's everywhere. We spend a lot of time thinking about hair, shaping it, and keeping it under control. We wax, trim, shave, bobby pin, tweeze, clip, curl and bleach, not to mention the hours and hours we spend talking to our hair, naming the strands and asking them lots of questions about life and what decisions to make about love and investments.

Or maybe that's just me. But I don't think so.

Read an article about the history of hair.


© Scott Roeben. All rights reserved.