Long hair

Long hair

:"This article is about human head hair. For other uses, see Longhair (disambiguation) or Hair"Long hair is any hairstyle which is relatively long. Exactly what constitutes "long hair" can change from culture to culture, or even within cultures. For example, a woman with chin-length hair in many cultures may be said to have short hair, while a man with the same length of hair in some of the same cultures would be said to have long hair. Scientists view long hair as playing a large part in any animal species' natural selection, since hair length is frequently a sign of health.Watson, James. Darwin: the Indelible Stamp; the Evolution of an Idea. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2005. pg. 1042 ISBN 0762421363] Freudian psychoanalysts also see it in a sexual light, as a representation of the id's release from the suppression of the superego.

Culturally, long hair—particularly amongst men—typically signals the individual's separation from structures and rules, although there are exceptions, such as the Thai people. Ways of life often viewed as more rigid, such as religious cultures, often have explicit rules regarding hair length. For example, one passage in the New Testament of Christianity considers long hair shameful for men, while encouraging it for women. Also, Buddhist monks shave their heads as part of their order of worship. Even outside religious structures, cultures often associate long hair with ways of life outside of what is culturally accepted. Subservient cultures, for example, are sometimes detected by their rulers through hair length, as was the case with the Irish under English rule and the Moors under Spanish rule in Medieval times. During the cultural revolutions of the sixties and seventies in America and across the western world, long hair remained a strong symbol of rebellion against the cultural norm. Again, though, there are exceptions to these rules, notably among the long-haired and religiously devoted Nazarites of the Hebrew Bible (Samson being a famous example) and among the Sikhs. Modern non-western cultures such as Islam and China see long hair as a western influence. The Taliban of Afghanistan punished its male citizens for western long hairstyles at times.

Among women, this is often reversed: Long hair becomes an acceptance of culture, while short hair signals a rebellion from it. Long hair is traditionally accepted as a female characteristic in western cultures. Feminists and women's rights activists have long debated whether to advocate long hair as a solely feminine trait, or to call for short hair in opposition to a stereotype. Asian cultures see long, unkempt hair in a woman as a sign of sexual intent or a recent sexual encounter, as usually their hair is tied up.


Exactly what "long hair" is can change from culture to culture, or even within cultures. For example, a woman with chin-length hair may be said to have short hair, while a man with the same length of hair could be said to have long hair. The traditional definition of "long hair" in English meant, roughly, someone artistically knowledgeable or wise, an aesthete.Oxford English dictionary] As a descriptive term, it has been applied to Merovingians and classical music enthusiasts, as well as hippies and aesthetes.


Anthropologists speculate that the functional significance of long head hair may be adornment, a by-product of secondary natural selection once other somatic hair had been lost. Another possibility is that long head hair is a result of Fisherian runaway sexual selection, where long lustrous hair is a visible marker for a healthy individual. For some groups, however, short hair is the selected trait. Some Psychoanalysts and Freudians argue that long hair represents the id and aggression, and that cutting the hair is thus akin to castration.Leach, E. R. "Magical Hair." The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. (July 1958) 88.2 pgs. 147-164] Hair is thus considered to be a potent sexual emblem, both for men and women, having many parallels with intercourse. Further connections made with sexuality are made with the fact that historically, adulterous men would cut off their partner's hair if she threatened to reveal their secret, thus violating the role of her husband.

Cultural history

Hair is one of the most important ways humans have of both presenting themselves and judging one another socially, being one of the parts of their body which is easiest to manipulate. Throughout many cultures, hair is seen as representing sexual control over oneself—those having long hair having less control than those having shorter or no hair. Also, having short, cut hair, is often viewed as being under society's control, while having long hair signifies being outside of the systems of society.Synnott, Anthony. "Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair." The British Journal of Sociology 1987-09 38.3 pgs. 381-413]

Western culture

In the Bible

Men in Old Testament times often would go for long periods of time without cutting their hair to show devotion to God. They were called Nazirites. [Num. 6: 5, 18-19] Samson is one example; his strength depended upon his refraining from cutting his hair.Judges 13-16] The New Testament, however, says, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering."KJV 1 Corinthian 11. 14-15] The statement was given in a time when hairstyles were changing from what was considered to be a normal (and longer) length, to a short-cropped haircut. Short-cropped hair and a shaven face was a pagan tradition that grew from the expansion of Rome. Paul may have gotten the idea because he was Roman, since there is no law elsewhere in the Bible teaching that long hair is a shame or even what qualifies as such. (with the exception of unkempt hair styles). There are even references in the Bible where having no hair, baldness, or a shaven head or beard is a shame. [Meeks, Wayne and Jouette Bassler. The Harpercollins Study Bible. London: HarperCollins, 1993. ISBN 0060655801] [ex.2nd Sam;10:4-5, Judges; 16:19, 2nd Sam 10:4, Lev 21:5, Is 22:12, prov 16:31, S of S 5:11, Is 3:24, Hos 7:9]

Classical period

The ancient Greeks had several heroes which wore their hair long, including Zeus, Achilles, Hector, and Poseidon. Both Greek and Trojan soldiers are said to have worn their hair long in battle. Such warriors considered it a sign of aristocracy and are said to have combed it openly in order to show off. Also, in order to keep enemies from getting a hold of it in battle, they were known to cut the front short, but leave it long in the back, where it was more out of reach. Around the sixth century, however, the Greek men shifted to shorter hairstyles. Women in the culture remained with the longer style, which for them showed freedom, health, and wealth, as well as good behavior. [Irwin, M. Eleanor. "Odysseus' "Hyacinthine Hair" in 'Odyssey' 6.231. Phoenix. (Oct 1990) 44.3 pgs. 205-218.] In men, it was considered a sign of false pride by this time.Nicolson, Frank W. "Greek and Roman Barbers." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. (1891 2) pgs. 41-56.] Women in Roman times valued long hair, usually with a center part. Men's hair was usually shorter than women's, although other cultures of the time, such as Greeks in the east, considered long hair to be typical of philosophers, who were thought to be too engrossed in learning to bother with hair. [Bartman, Elizabeth. "Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment." American Journal of Archaeology (Jan. 2001) 105.1 pgs. 1-25] Strictly in the province of Rome, however the shorter hairstyle was especially popular. When Julius Caeser conquered the Gauls, who favored long hair, he ordered it to be cut short. [Felt, Joseph. Customs of New England. New York: Burt Franklin, 1967. pg. 187. ISBN 0833711059]

Up to the seventeenth century

In the European middle ages, shorter hair often signified servitude and peasantry, while long hair was often attributed to freemen, such as the Germanic Goths and Merovingians. Often, non-Germanic cultures such as Byzantines viewed these "long-haired men" as barbarians specifically citing their hair as proof. In Ireland, English colonists who wore their hair long in the back were considered to be rejecting their role as English subjects and giving in to the Irish life. Irishman, in turn, scolded others of their race who moved into English culture by cutting their hair. Thus, hair length was one of the most common ways of judging a true Englishman in this period. Muslims in Christian areas were ordered to keep their hair short and parted, as their longer style was considered rebellious and barbaric.Bartlett, Robert. "Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1994) Vol. 4 pgs. 43-60] . [McManus, Howard Rollins. "The Battle of Cloids Mountain of Virginia, 1864." University of Michigan:1989 pg. 35] ) Knights and rulers would also sometimes cut or pull out their hair in order to show penitence and mourning, and a squire's hair was generally shorter than a knight's. Married women who let their hair flow out were frowned upon, as this was normally reserved for the unwed, although they were allowed to let it out in mourning, to show their distressed state. Long hair in the period signified youth and courtly behavior, and some scholars even suggest that in men it shows homosexuality, though this is disputed, as it was almost solely religious monks who connected long hair with woman-behavior.

In England, during the English Civil War times of 1642 to 1651, hair length was emblematic of the disputes between Cavaliers and Roundheads (Puritans). Cavaliers wore longer hair, and were less religious minded, thought of by the Roundheads as lecherous. The more devout Roundheads had short hair, although there were exceptions.

Recent meanings

Beat poets during the 1950s wore longer hairstyles, as did many of the urban gay culture, although long hair was far from popular. However, the 1960s introduced the Beatles, who started a widespread longer hair fad. In the 1960s long hair, especially on men, was worn as a political or countercultural symbol or protest. This cultural symbol extended to several Western countries in the Americas, Western Europe, South Africa, and Australia.Bronski, Michael. The Pleasure Principle. City: Stonewall Inn Editions, 2000. pgs. 95-96. ISBN 0312252870] Specific long hairstyles such as dreadlocks have been part of counterculture movements seeking to define other alternative cultures and lifestyles since this time. [Maynard, Margaret. Dress and Globalisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. pg. 104. ISBN 0719063892] Longer hair in general remained popular among the youth rebellion throughout the liberal decade of the 1960s. Homosexuals, who had adopted a long hairstyle in the early fifties, continued the trend through this decade. Clergymen and conservative parents saw the long hair fad as a threat to gender identity, cultural, and religious norms as it grew with the spread of the hippie movement in the 1960s. Notably, some country-and-western performers during this period (and many fans) also sported longer hair. [Bogdanov, Vladimir et.al. All Music Guide to Country. San Francisco: Backbeat, 2003. ISBN 0879307609] [Tuleja, Tad. The New York Public Library Book of Popular Americana. New York: Macmillan, 1994. pg. 157 ISBN 0671899872]

In the 1970s, the popularity of reggae music and musician Bob Marley prompted interest in dreadlocks internationally. The anti-establishment philosophy of Rastafari, echoed in much of the reggae of the time, resonated with left-leaning youth of all ethnicities — especially and primarily among African Americans and other Blacks, but among counterculture whites as well. [Gossai, Hemchand and Nathaniel Murrell. Religion, Culture, and Tradition in the Caribbean. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. pgs. 181-190. ISBN 031223242X] In the 1980s the view of long hair as a solitary signifier of political or counter-cultural identity was countered and parodied in films such as Rambo and many other militaristic heroes of media which challenged then-contemporary views of what was masculine. [Lu, Hsiao-Peng. Transnational Chinese Cinemas. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997. pg. 229 ISBN 0824818458] Today, longer hairstyles remain popular in among heavy metal enthusiasts. [Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal. New York: Da Capo Press, 2000. pg. 129. ISBN 0306809702]


Women often have a stronger inclination towards long hair than men do. Some feminists have declared long hair as "irrefutably feminine," while others argue for shorter hair. Some scholars even believe that without hair or long hair, a woman is not complete. Long, well-kept hair symbolizes wealth and luxury, as such hair is difficult to maintain in poverty. Often, men and women will protest the social system by adopting the hair length considered acceptable in the other sex: men growing their hair long, and women cutting it short, again pointing to the strong trend of long hair being a female commodity. Since short hair is frequently considered masculine, working women sometimes face a challenge in balancing between having hair long enough to appear a woman, but short enough to fit into the male-oriented business world.

Non-western cultures


There are no teachings in Islam forbidding nor encouraging a specific hair length either for women or men. The Muslim Prophet Muhammed reportedly had moderately long hair reaching almost below his ears just above the shoulders, according to several hadithes. Ibn Abbas, for example, reported that Muhammed used to "let his hair lay down" because it was a hair style commonly used by the People of the Book as opposed to the infidels. [cite web| title ="Have You Seen the Photo of the Prophet?" (in Arabic)| url =http://www.islamway.com/?iw_s=Article&iw_a=view&article_id=298| accessdate =2008-07-02 ] Culturally, some Muslims are opposed to long hair as it is important in Islam to have clear differences (in appearance) between sexes. These cultures encourage women to have long hair and men to have short hair.Joseph, Suad and Afsaneh Najmabadi. Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures: Family, Body, Sexuality and Health , Volume 3. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005. pg. 35 ISBN 9004128190] The Taliban viewed long hair as a western influence, and punished it by arrest and forced haircuts.Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban. City: I B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2002. pg. 219. ISBN 1860648304] The trend toward shorter hair in men is stronger now than it was in the past, however. In the past, Bedouin Muslims often wore their hair in long braids, but western influences brought on the view that such styles were feminine in nature. Now, Bedouins are much less likely to have long hair. [Massad, Joseph. Colonial Effects. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. ISBN 0231123221 137-140, 208-210]

Native Americans

Many American Indian men wore long hair before the arrival of western influences on their culture. (In Cherokee legends, for example, males said to be handsome were often described as having "long hair almost to the ground" or similar formulas. [cite web| last =Kirk| first =Lowell| title =Cherokee Myths and Legends| date =1999| url =http://www.telliquah.com/cherokee.htm| accessdate =2007-09-09 ] ). Both men and women of these cultures have frequently struggled to maintain their tradition, but have faced heavy opposition. Many consider it a sign of giving in to western influences, to have their hair cut. [Ferris, Jeri. Native American Doctor. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1991. pgs. 32-33. ISBN 0876144431] [Kilcup, Karen. Native American Women's Writing, C. 1800-1924. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. pgs. 314-316. ISBN 0631205187] Early American settlers saw long-haired, native men as rebelling against their civilized society. Mountain men and trappers who adopted the customs were also considered amoral, and often identified by their long hair. [Cavallo, Dominick. A Fiction of the past. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. pg. 90 ISBN 0312235011] Since the cultural movements of the sixties and seventies, however, Native Americans have felt less pressure to have short hair, as different movements have defended their cultural rights. [Nagel, Joane. American Indian Ethnic Renewal. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1997. pg. 191. ISBN 0195120639] For example, several states have loosened prison regulations, allowing Native Americans to wear long hair during incarceration, along with other cultural allowances. [French, Laurence. Native American Justice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2003. pgs. 113-117 ISBN 0830415750] There has been resistance to these changes, however, as long hair is sometimes used to hide drugs, as well as to identify with a gang. [Fontana, Vincent. Municipal Liability. City: Aspen Law & Business Publishers, 2003. pgs. 241-242 ISBN 0735513759]


In West African cultures, women with long hair were highly valued. Long, thick hair was seen as a sign of health, strength, and capability to bear many children. In keeping with this general theme, women who were too young for marriage would shave a portion of their heads to signal so. This tradition, however, did not extend to every African tribe, as several valued shorter hair. [Byrd, Ayana and Lori Tharps. Hair Story. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2002. pgs. 2-5 ISBN 0312283229] Islamic countries in North Africa such as Egypt view long hair in men as satanic and a sign of an infidel. [Heper, Metin. Ismet Inonu: the Making of a Turkish Statesman. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 1998. pg. 153 ISBN 9004099190]

African Americans

When black slaves were freed in the Americas, they struggled to reach the social status of whites. Many former slaves tried to conform their hairstyles as part of this struggle. Women, especially, felt pressure to make their hair long and smooth like white women, rather than keeping the shorter, frizzier style they had known. [Byrd, pgs. 25-49] However, during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, African-Americans such as Malcolm X advocated hairstyles such as afros and dreadlocks, in order to express their individuality and freedom as a race, and to return to African roots. Social pressures at the time were heavily influencing these Americans (especially women) to have long, straight hair, like white people did. [Taylor, Paul C. "Malcolm's Conk and Danto's Colors; Or, Four Logical Petitions concerning Race, Beauty, and Aesthetics." Journal: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. (Jan 1999) 57.1 pgs. 16-20.] More recently, scholars have pointed out the continued pressure on blacks to have long, smooth hair. Amelian Jones points out that dolls for children, such as Barbies, add to this pressure, citing as an example a new black Barbie with long hair. Blacks, she believes, should be able to be themselves without feeling pressured to "tame" their hair. [Jones, Amelia. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2003. pg. 343. ISBN 0415267056]


Asian cultures as a whole tend to view long hair as a sign of youth and femininity. Traditionally, long hair is hidden in turbans or tied up in public, as long hair is associated with private life and sexuality. Asian cultures see long, unkempt hair in a woman as a sign of sexual intent or a recent sexual encounter, as usually their hair is tied up.Maynard, Margaret. Dress and Globalisation. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. pg. 104. ISBN 0719063892] Common Buddhists have long hair, while Buddhist monks have shaved heads. For Sikhs, Kesh is the practice of allowing one's hair to grow naturally as a symbol of devotion to God and lack of worldliness.Fowler, Jeaneane. World Religions: an Introduction for Students. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1997. pg. 352. ISBN 1898723486] In Jewish and other cultures, shortening hair signifies mourning and sadness.

Around the seventeenth century, Chinese men adopted a longer hairstyle called a queue, which was basically a long braid down the back. This style lasted well into the nineteenth century, when the Chinese began immigrating to America. Americans at first judged them to be poor workers because their long hair brought an association with women. [Prasso, Sheridan. The Asian Mystique. City: Public Affairs Press (NY), 2005. pgs. 115-116 ISBN 1586482149] Both Islamic and Christian missionaries to the Chinese were strong advocates of shorter hair for their converts, but this was a small group. [Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. pg. 82 ISBN 0300047509] Around the Destruction of Four Olds period in 1964, almost anything seen as part of Traditional Chinese culture would lead to problems with the Communist Red Guards. Items that attracted dangerous attention if caught in the public included jewelry and long hair.Law, Kam-yee. [2003] (2003). The Chinese Cultural Revolution Reconsidered: beyond purge and Holocaust. ISBN 0333738357] These things were regarded as symbols of bourgeois lifestyle, that represented wealth. People had to avoid them or suffer serious consequences such as tortures and beatings by the guards. More recently, long hair was ridiculed in China from October 1983 to February 1984, as part of the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign. [cite web| title =Olympic crackdown on China's bad habits| publisher =BBC News| date =August 6, 2007| url =http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6927361.stm| accessdate = 2007-09-09 ] Li Yang, an unorthodox Chinese English teacher who brands the popular Crazy English, claims the following on his website:

What [America, England and Japan] want most is for China’s youth to have long hair, wear bizarre clothes, drink soda, listen to Western music, have no fighting spirit, love pleasure and comfort! [Evan Osnos, Crazy English, The New Yorker, April 28 2008, p.3., http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/04/28/080428fa_fact_osnos?currentPage=3]

In Southeast Asia and Indonesia, long hair was valued in until the seventeenth century, when the area adopted outside influences including Islam and Christianity. Invading cultures enforced shorter hairstyles on men as a sign of servitude, as well. They were also confused at the short hairstyles among women in certain areas, such as Thailand, and struggled to explain why women in the area had such short hair. They came up with several mythical stories, one of which involved a king who found a long hair in his rice and, in a rage, demanded that all women keep their hair short.Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. pgs. 80-84. ISBN 0300047509]

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