Has anyone else out there tuned in to any of last week’s Today Show series on women and hair, titled “It’s All About Hair”? I happened to catch the Thursday, June 3rd piece discussing why women are obsessed with their hair. I’d like to share some of the thoughts and responses I found myself sharing with the television.

According to a poll cited by The Today Show, women in the U.S. spend $7.5 billion/year on hair care products alone, and according to a British survey, the average woman spends 2.5 years of her life trussing, mussing and fussing with her hair. Clearly, these are astonishing statistics that provide evidence of our obsession with our hair, but is that really the whole story of who we are as women and what priorities guide us?

As I watched my television screen, I became more and more offended. There they were, three media faces,two VH1 television hosts and the editor-in-chief of Glamour Magazine, attempting to represent all of us with their voices and hair obsessions. Missing were all those women who do not have a personal make-up and hair styling crew, who head off to a job each morning that does not include appearing on 10’s or 100’s of thousands of televisions screens across the U.S. and/or globe in hopes of selling a magazine, a TV show, stocks in the corporately owned television stations, or beauty products. Missing were the business owners, moms, school teachers, grandmothers, dentists, soccer coaches, grocery story cashiers, marathon runners, political activists, scientists, doctors, etc, etc, etc that we are. So since The Today Show left us out, I thought I’d bring us into the discussion as I believe WE are the majority.

I would be the last woman to argue that a woman’s hair is not hugely significant to her identity or that how a woman wears her hair does not play an important role in how she projects herself to others. Having lost all of my hair to Alopecia Universalis, I know better than most what contribution my hair previously made to my overall sense of femininity, beauty, and self-confidence. I talk about it and write about it all the time. But even as a woman who faces the lifelong challenge of feeling “normal,” feminine, and beautiful without hair, I have to challenge the total lack of balance and shallowness that these women portrayed with the preposterous notion that they were representing all of us. Here are just a few examples…

“Nothing says more about a woman than the way she wears her hair…” said a NYC male hair stylist interviewed for The Today Show piece.”Oh really?” I loudly responded to the television screen.How shallow that this male stylist could state that a women’s hair speaks greater volumes to her personality than her role in society as a mother, daughter, doctor, or judge? Does hair convey more than the car she drives – Hummer vs. Prius? More than the dreams she holds for herself and her family? More than her religious beliefs? Do people really believe that more than anything else, it’s how we wear our hair!?

According to one Ms. VH1 Host, hair is a woman’s shorthand way of telling the world what type of woman we are, whether we are an individual, wash-and-go, empowered, etc. In other words, you can’t be wash-and-go and still be individual or empowered. Apparently empowerment is having a hair styling crew and spending $7.5 billion on hair care products, all of which include an endless blend of carcinogens and health-damaging toxins. Is it really possible to believe that it is not through personal achievement, but by endlessly copying celebrity images that we become empowered, that we discover our individual worth? Wow. These ladies had quite the manicured hairdo’s, but I’m glad I don’t live in their world. They might look at Lady Gaga and see “creative” or “happy,” but I see a mask and stage costume. Of course Lady Gaga is a real person with blood, a heart, a brain, and human stories I could identify with, such as – once a little girl, wishes to be loved, now speaking openly with Larry King about an autoimmune disease like Lupus running in her family. If I want to know what type of person someone is, I don’t look to their hair, I look to their heart. I feel sorry for those who think it’s all in the hair or more generally, on the outside. I wonder if true friendship and human connection is something they ever get to experience.

I had to laugh when Meredith Vieira made the statement “hair makes a political statement.” After each of her previous statements, her three representatives would immediately burst with an endless string of statements reinforcing ten times over how “we women equal our hair” and, my personal favorite, “our hair is us”. As for “political statements,” I did hear a speechless breath from one of her representatives. Unfortunately, not one of them had a word to add so Meredith had to fill in her own response. That said it all, these women may equal their hair and they may define other women by their hair, but I am thankful to report that there’s a whole lot more going on both outside and inside the rest of us.

It will be interesting to watch the remaining segments of “Hair Obsession”. Thank goodness I don’t live life in front of a camera.

Susan M. Beausang


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