A large 1867 replica of Lady Lilith, painted by Rossetti in watercolor is now owned by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a verse from Goethe's Faust as translated by Shelley on a label attached by Rossetti to its frame:
Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks;
And when she winds them round a young man's neck,
She will not ever set him free again.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The incredible attraction of a woman's hair is undeniable. Poets attest to the overwhelming attraction of a lady's crowning beauty. Men become babbling idiots at the sight of a well-coiffured female. Like it or not, attractive hair is part of the accepted standard of feminine beauty.
Women spend incredible amounts of money and time to insure their hair meets their own critical standards. A poll of 2,500 women in 2006 found the average British woman spends an astonishing £36,903.75 (over $53,000) on her hair in a lifetime.
In that same lifetime, she will spend the equivalent of just under two years of her life washing, styling, cutting, coloring, crimping and straightening her locks in salons or at home.
And, to break that down, the research revealed a woman spends a whopping 650 days dedicated solely to creating a "salon look" in her own bathroom. That is the equivalent of 41 minutes at home every day washing, styling and restyling her hair -- more time than doing her makeup.
The average woman invests a monthly average of £10.08 ($15.00) on shampoos and conditioners, £14.03 ($20.00) on home styling products and £301.14 ($434.00) a year on haircuts and coloring.
The US hair care services industry includes about 80,000 establishments (76,000 beauty salons; 4,000 barber shops) with combined annual revenue of about $20 billion.
The survey also showed that a third of women say their hair is the most important part of their appearance.
("Women spend two-and-a-half years on their hair."
Daily Mail. August 29, 2006.)
How have pigmented filaments of keratin become the center of attention and attraction? The real story of women's hair is as old as time and filled with meaning.
Hair is one of the most important symbols of a woman's femininity -- a reflection of a woman's identity that is both personal and public. This deep personal relationship between hair and self-esteem is evident throughout history, philosophy, and even religion.
The negative implication of a woman with a bare head is still apparent in today's society. Consider references to hair in the Bible.
According to 1 Corinthians 11:15 …
"But for a woman, if her hair is abundant, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering."
As shown in 1 Corinthians 11:5 …
"And every woman, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonors her head; for she is on a level with her whose head is shaven."
The aesthetic attraction of a woman's hair is straightforward. Since hair frames the face, the feature considered most important in terms of first impressions, it has irresistible intrinsic beauty. It is commonly believed that following a person's smile, eyes and skin, hair is the next feature people notice on first encounters. After all, it is among the top three features -- along with height and weight -- used when describing others and one of the feature most often recalled after a social interaction occurs.
As long ago as Greek and Roman times, elaborate wigs were signs of status and wealth. Beautiful hair was associated with royalty, worn like a crown.
At most times in most cultures, men have worn their hair in styles that are different from women's. American sociologist Rose Weitz once wrote that the most widespread cultural rule about hair is that women's hair must differ from men's hair.
(Galia Ofek. Representations of hair in Victorian literature and culture. 2009.)
History tells us that throughout time women have worn their hair in a wide variety of styles, largely determined by the fashions of the culture they live in. Hairstyles are markers and signifiers of social class, age, marital status, racial identification, political beliefs, and attitudes about gender.
In many cultures, often for religious reasons, women's hair is covered while in public, and in some, such as Haredi Judaism or European Orthodox communities, women's hair is shaved or cut very short, and covered with wigs. Only since the end of World War I have women begun to wear their hair short and in fairly natural styles.
(Doreen Yarwood. The Encyclopedia of World Costume. 1978.)
Sociologists say upper-class females have always used their hairstyles to signal wealth and status. For example, wealthy Roman women wore complex hairstyles that needed the labors of several people to maintain them. Rich people have also often chosen hairstyles that restricted or burdened their movement, making it obvious that they did not need to work.
Wealthy people's hairstyles used to be at the cutting edge of fashion, setting the styles for the less wealthy. But today, the wealthy are generally observed to wear their hair in conservative styles that date back decades prior.
(Paul Fussell. Class: A Guide Through the American Status System.1992.)
Middle-class hairstyles tend to be understated and professional. Middle-class people aspire to have their hair look healthy and natural, implying that they have the resources to live a healthy lifestyle and take good care of themselves.
Working-class people's haircuts have tended to be practical and simple. Working-class women have typically pulled their hair up and off their faces in simple styles. However, today, working-class people often have more elaborate and fashion-conscious hairstyles than other social classes. Sociologists say these styles are an attempt to express individuality and presence in the face of social denigration and
(Martin Sánchez-Jankowski. Cracks in the Pavement: Social Change and Resilience in Poor Neighborhoods. 2008.)
Hair and Biology
Vivian Diller, psychologist and author of the book Face It, says another way to understand the psychology behind hair is to note its role biologically. Diller explains ...
"For example, we instinctively view babies born with thick hair as heartier than those are with little or none. As children grow, we continue to see hair growth as a signal of good health. For adolescent boys, early facial hair is associated with virility, and on teen girls with signs of fecundity. Luscious thick hair is often equated with female sensuality and sexuality. Likewise, as we enter midlife, thinning or losing hair is associated with aging, loss of health, decreased fertility and virility."
(Vivian Diller. "The Psychology Behind a 'Good Hair Day.'" Huffington Post. April 01, 2012.)
A study by Verlin B. Hinsz and others explored the possibility that women's hair signals their reproductive potential. Evolutionary psychology and related approaches are considered as rationales for the belief that women's hair is a signal for mate selection and attraction.
In the research, a significant sample of women were approached in public places and surveyed as to their age, hair quality, marital status, hair length, children, and overall health. A significant correlation between hair length and age indicated that younger women tend to have longer hair than older women. Hair quality was correlated with women's health.
Consistent with the principle of intersexual selection, the results of this study indicate that hair length and quality can act as cues to a woman's youth and health and, as such, signify reproductive potential.
(Verlin B. Hinsz, David C. Matz, et al. "Does Women's Hair Signal Reproductive Potential?" Accepted online July 22, 2000.)
As people get older, they inevitably feel loss in a number of ways -- decreases in strength, flexibility, height, cognition and acuity. Even people in very good health are faced with dealing with changes that are inevitable. Hair loss, thinning and graying are natural consequences, and older women often enhance their hair style in response to aging.
Diller says, "Unlike surgical and cosmetic interventions that are used to update other physical features (e.g., lasers, face lifts, tummy tucks, teeth implants), enhancements to our hair are much less radical, and yet they can make a huge difference in how we feel about our aging appearance."
(Vivian Diller. "The Psychology Behind a 'Good Hair Day.'"
Huffington Post. April 01, 2012.)
Hair – Sexual Attraction
According to a study by Tamás Bereczkei, PhD from the University of Pecs in Hungary, modern men rate faces surrounded by long and medium-length hair as prettier. The research found the beauty boost is most dramatic for women who are the least attractive to begin with.
The simple definition of short hair is that which falls above the shoulder. Of course, there are lots of varying degrees of short hair, including very short above the ear and that which is just to the shoulder.
The same study confirmed that men also associate personality traits with different cuts: Women with longer hair seem healthy, intelligent, and mature, while women with short hair are seen as more youthful, honest, caring, and emotional. In general, men prefer youthful traits in a woman's face because they signal fertility, so what's with the preference for long hair? The researchers suggest there might be a stronger signal at work: Demanding time and energy for growth and grooming, the extended locks advertise both health and wealth.
(Liz Somes and Meredith Knight. "Long-haired Ladies and Tall Men: Why We Are Drawn to Long-haired Women and Tall Men." Beauty Beat. January 01, 2008.)
And what hair color do men prefer?
Nicolas Guéguen from the Université de Bretagne-Sud, in France published a research paper entitled "Hair Colour and Courtship: Blond Women Received More Courtship Solicitations and Redhead Men Received More Refusals," in the academic journal Psychological Studies (2012).
Guéguen found a massive consensus appears to exist about which hair color is preferred, and there also appears to be such severe prejudice associated with the tint of the locks that it is possibly as harsh as racial discrimination.
The intriguing results are that blond women were more frequently approached by men, whereas blond males did not receive more acceptances to their requests. However, in both conditions, red hair was associated with significantly less attractiveness. Scarcity of red-haired individuals in the population and negative stereotypes associated with red hair were used to explain the negative effect of red hair.
(Nicolas Guéguen. "Hair Color and Courtship: Blond Women Received More Courtship Solicitations and Redhead Men Received More Refusals."
Psychological Studies 57. November 2012.)
Guéguen points out that previous surveys across the globe find dark fringes account for more than 90% of all natural hair, whereas blond accounts for only 2%, while red makes up only 1% worldwide. One theory had been that women who change their hair color prefer less common tints, so as to increase how they might stand out and therefore attract male attention.
Guéguen cites previous research into blond female door-to-door fundraisers receiving more donations, than their brunette counterparts. Another prior study found waitresses with blond hair got more tips. In yet another previous study, female confederates in their early twenties of the experimenter, were asked to hitchhike while wearing a blond, brown or black wig. Blond, compared to brown or black hair was associated with more male drivers stopping to offer rides, whereas no effect from hair color was found on female drivers who stopped.
But, a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology argues blonds being perceived as needier may have encouraged men to make approaches, possibly because it induced greater feelings of dominance or conﬁdence in them, which in turn reduced their inhibition.
It is felt that perceptions of the blond confederate as being more needy may have reduced men's fear of rejection or fear of an hostile response, which increased their chances of approaching her as a blond.
In general, light-toned figures were rated the most positively. Contrary to expectations, however, brunettes were rated more positively (more intelligent but also more arrogant) than blondes, and hair length had only a weak effect on ratings of attractiveness.
The red head was rated as the least shy, the most temperamental and the most sexually promiscuous of all hair colors.
(Viren Swami, Adrian Furnham, and Kiran Joshi. “The influence of skin tone, hair length, and hair colour on ratings of women's physical attractiveness, health and fertility.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, April 29, 2008.)
So, is this preference for blond hair discriminatory prejudice? The authors note that in the U.S., for example, color as currently defined in the statutory basis for non-discrimination in employment, refers to the shade of a person's skin, and not race alone. This is because within a race, a variety of skin colours can exist. There is well-documented bias in favor of lighter skin so U.S. discrimination laws refer to skin color, but, in the light of recent research, should they now also include hair color?
Yet, then comes along more theory about blond women and their perceived youth ...
Psychologists Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa say that "men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women. It is no coincidence that blond hair evolved in Scandinavia and northern Europe, probably as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth, as their bodies were concealed under heavy clothing."
(Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. "Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature." Psychology Today. December 10, 2012.)
My Five Cents Worth
A"good hair day" certainly matters to most females. Since hair represents a general sense of attractiveness, women of all ages want the most beautiful, healthy hair. And, style dictates much of what women consider pretty hair.
Arizona State University sociologist Rose Weitz wrote the book Rapunzel's Daughters: What Women's Hair Tells Us about Women's Lives in 2004.
Rapunzel's Daughters opens with a chapter on the history of women's hair. The other chapters explore how girls are socialized to focus on their hair, how teens use their hair to create their identities, how hair affects women's romantic and work lives, and how hair loss and graying hair affect women's lives. Weitz also includes a chapter on the role of hair salons and stylists in women's lives. Throughout, she explores the pleasures as well as the pains of women's obsession with hair.
According to Weitz, hair can play this role for three basic reasons. "It is personal, growing directly out of our bodies," she said. "It is public, on view for all to see. And it is malleable, allowing us to change it more or less at whim. As a result, it's not surprising that we use our hair to project our identity and that others see our hair as a reflection of our identity.
This is especially true for women. "Hair, and appearance more generally, matters in everyone's lives, but especially in women's lives," she said. "There is a wealth of research data that says that attractive people, but especially attractive women, get better grades in school, more dates, more marriage proposals, higher salaries, better job offers, and so on."
(From James Hathaway, "Sociological study examines the importance of hair." Review of Rose Weitz's Rapunzel's Daughters: What Women's Hair Tells Us about Women's Lives. 2004.)
No wonder a woman worries so much about her hair. The stakes are exceedingly high when the world judges beauty -- and success -- by the hairs on her head.
“This Nymph, to the Destruction of Mankind,
Nourish'd two Locks which graceful hung behind
In equal Curls, and well conspir'd to deck
With shining Ringlets the smooth Iv'ry Neck.
Love in these Labyrinths his Slaves detains,
And mighty Hearts are held in slender Chains.
With hairy sprindges* we the Birds betray, (noose traps)
Slight lines* of Hair surprise the Finny Prey, (fishing lines)
Fair Tresses Man's Imperial Race insnare,
And Beauty draws us with a single Hair.”
--from “The Rape of the Lock” by Alexander Pope (1717)