HAIR AND RELIGION

The long and the short of it

At her last hair appointment, Mademoiselle Lili realised that she had become rather conservative about her hair. So, she racked her brains about a big topic: hair and religion.

Same as always, I recently told my hairdresser. And suddenly I felt very boring. For 10 long years, I’ve had the same hairstyle, mid length, the same hair colour, light blonde chocolate golden. The only change I allowed myself the whole time was a fringe. So have I found my style or have I just grown old and conservative? Oh, how I used to experiment with lengths, cuts and, above all, colours! Precisely 12 years ago, in the month of May, I dared to try out the most extreme form of hairstyle that a woman can have: no hair. I had my extremely long hair shaved to just two millimetres. I got the idea from a documentary on a Buddhist ashram in India. The students who came there gave up their hair as their first sacrifice. As a sign of a new beginning, cleansing, letting go of their old life. And that’s exactly what I wanted too. Even today, I can clearly remember the almost religious feeling of bowing my head over the bathtub and asking my friend who was in the process of shaving his head to also shave mine. The feeling of lightness afterwards. As if I had freed myself of all my old baggage in just five minutes. In actual fact, I now believe that this triggered an external and internal change that helped me move forward in life.  


Hair is attributed great significance in many religions. It has always symbolised vitality, a closeness to God or feminine erotic, which is supposed to be hidden. Orthodox Islam therefore forces women to wear a veil, orthodox Judaism gives women the option of wearing a scarf or wig and orthodox Christianity makes nuns wear a wimple. In early Christendom, people about to be baptised had their heads shaved and placed on the altar – as a sign of dedication to the son of God. The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament tell the story of Samson who lost his divine power when Delilah secretly cut his hair off while he was sleeping. The Sikhs, on the other hand, never cut their hair because for them it signifies their connection to God. In all great religions and in their scriptures hair plays an important role.  

Scientifically nothing more than horny fibres of keratin and a biological feature of mammals, particularly the hair on women’s heads is ascribed an ominous power of seduction in myths and fairytales: Rapunzel, who let the prince climb up her hair to her room in the tower, and subsequently the jealous witch punished him with blindness, or the Loreley, who sings as she combs her hair and lures the boatsmen on the Rhine to their deaths.  


In all cultures, long, full hair has always been a symbol for female sexuality, of both its glorification and suppression. It wasn’t until the 1920s that women began confidently wearing short hair of their own accord and not as a sign of punishment. Or simply the way they wanted to. As an expression of their individuality and identity. As a celebration of their beauty. Many societal and personal transformations began in the hairdressing chair. I think that’s where I will also symbolically usher in the next stage of my life: once I am ready to no longer colour my hair, but to let it go grey naturally. But till then I’ll continue to say: same as always.         


I realised that hair for women is a big topic and also a piece of their personality, their femininity and that a wig, no matter how well made, cannot be a substitute for it. These days, where my job is all about beauty, I know that in all three religions there are indications for this, whether in the Bible, the Torah, the Talmud or the Koran. These rules did not yet exist in ancient civilisations, such as Egypt, Greece or Rome. And they don’t exist in other religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism. In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, however, female hair seems to constitute part of sexual symbolism, and it is imperative that it is hidden. Particularly in front of strange men as it could provoke impure thoughts. And in actual fact: women and their long, loose hair always have played an important role in myths and fairytales.