From the Archives: The Way We Are Created: Eco-feminist Explorations of Bodily Hair by Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee

Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted May 29, 2012. You can visit it here to see the original comments.

In the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about hair. It’s hard to avoid thinking about it when you are the greyest, hairiest woman in your suburban, north shore town.  Myself and the other two ‘all natural’ women in town stand out like beacons among a sea of smooth, streaked, glossy manes of gorgeously cut and styled hair. And each spring, I stare at my shorts and tank top a little longer before wearing them around town. I’ll be perfectly honest – I don’t blame those slaves to fashion one bit. Although I try to avoid what I call the ‘crazy witch woman’ look, there’s no getting around it – smooth legs look slick, and dye smooths out those grey frizzies and takes a good ten years off your age!

So, it got me wondering – what does hair have to teach us as women of faith? Is there something unique about hair that causes us to fixate on it so much? And it occurred to me that hair actually symbolizes so much about our relationship with the Creation. We exist in an interconnected matrix of the living and non-living – as a matter of fact, we rely completely on the abiotic sphere, for life and as the matrix within which relationships occur.  Our bodies exemplify that relational paradigm; our living cells are inseparable from the non-living matrices of our skin, teeth, and hair.  From our living bodies emerges a non-living, interconnected medium, symbolic of the whole ecosphere.

In this way, hair represents an interesting case study of the eco-feminist critique.  Although hair appears to be nothing more than a collection of dead cells extending from our living bodies, the cultural and spiritual significance of hair belie such a reductionist view.  As a culture, we expend vast amounts of energy, time, and money on having hair, getting rid of hair, or styling hair.  These expenditures reveal the great significance of hair, which dates back to biblical times.

Our scriptures equate hair with strength (Judges 16); religious purity (Leviticus 13); and holiness and beauty (Numbers 6:5; 1 Samuel 1:11).  Pauline texts also discuss hair with great concern, and scholars debate the significance hair as a symbol of fertility or genitalia, and how these cultural influences led to the practice of asking women to cover their hair (I Cor 11:6-15). Poor Mary Magdalene was labeled a prostitute simply for loosing her hair to dry Jesus’ feet, a practice that likely symbolized grief, humility, reverence, supplication, or gratitude, rather than amorality (Luke 7:35-6). Consequently, the stain of this stigma overshadowed her contributions to the early Jesus movement for millennia. How many women have been stigmatized for hair-related ‘offenses’?

Proverbs 16:31 asserts, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”  Was this idea wishful thinking? Did it apply only to men? Or have we simply lost this idea in our culture, particularly for women? The fact is – for good or for ill – our hair communicates much about us socially, and these messages vary from culture to culture. But wherever we are, our hair represents a tangible kinship with much of the rest of Animalia.  Could this connection – and our desire to sever it – lie behind some of our desire to conquer our hair?

Women spend countless hours and funds trying to change themselves from the way they were created to be, whether in body hair, head hair, facial hair, hair texture, or hair color.  Often, the ability to change one’s hair becomes associated with wealth and then social status. Sadly, many women have come to believe that the hair on their created bodies renders them ‘disgusting,’ ‘gross,’ or ‘nappy’ – used derogatively to describe African hair.  Why do we see male body hair as erotic, yet female body hair as repulsive? Why should anything about our created bodies ever be inherently repulsive?

Whenever I spend time with the ‘hippy-crunchy’ Earth lovers, I notice the great abundance of hair.  No matter the ethnic origin, Earth-lovers seem to have a great appreciation for hair – body hair, head hair, dreadlocks, beards, and more.  Now, certainly cultural pressures can go both ways – perhaps some people feel pressure to go ‘natural.’ Yet I still wonder if there might be something inherently questionable about feminine or other cultural practices that try so hard to de-foliate our natural bodies and/or ruthlessly subdue our hair’s natural look. Do not these practices harm our self-image as well as our understanding of our relationality with other animals, undermining an eco-centric understanding of self and humanity? Might our quest to remain young – no grey hair, no body hair – further alienate us from kinship with the Creation?

We each must follow a unique path of discipleship; and I pray that whatever we choose to do with our hair, we know without a doubt that our created selves are beloved and beautiful as they are.  I know I’ve never seen a baby – or a pet dog – judge someone over their hairdo; they just love us for who we are. Maybe the rest of Animalia has something to teach us after all.

BIO: Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee, PhD is an ecological ethicist and the founder of Climate Resilience Chaplaincy. She studies intersections of ecofeminism, permaculture ethics, grief, and nature connection. She previously did graduate research on Alzheimer’s Disease and preventive research on Ovarian Cancer. She received a B.Sc. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.A. in Molecular Biology from Harvard University, and an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology. She lives in metrowest Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys gardening, canoeing, learning about medicinal and edible wild plants, and rewriting old hymns to make them more inclusive.



Categories: Activism, animals, Eco-systems, Ecofeminism, Ethics, General

Tags: ,

5 replies

  1. I’ve read the Bible, but I sure don’t remember reading anything in it about hair. I was therefore fascinated to read your post.
    It seems to me that our hair and teeth and nails are not dead cells, but living parts of us, which is why our hair and nails grow. I’ve also noticed that “the ‘hippy-crunchy’ Earth lovers” do indeed love hair–they even wrote a Broadway music titled “Hair, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” (1967), which I’ve seen a couple times. (Who else can hum “The Age of Aquarius”?) Their PR says this show changed Broadway. Perhaps 50+ years later, we should all take another look at our bodies and the tops of our heads and reconsider the hair growing out of our skin. Bright blessings to your observations and to leading us to think some perhaps new thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s true, Barbara – in fact, is anything truly dead? We are all inextricably connected with all parts of the Creation. Yay for hair – in music, writings, ritual, everywhere!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Tallessyn, I thought this was an important blogpost because hair (or lack thereof) is so much a part of our identity. Barbara in Judges 16 the reference is to Samson who was a Nazirite and one of the things they could not do was to cut their hair. When his hair was cut, he lost his strength.

    There is a tale about Native Americans who helped to write and to break codes in WW2 (if I have the story correct – my details might be wrong). They all had long hair and the army forced them to cut it due to regulations. Without their hair they lost some of their skills. There are also tales in the shamanic community of hair as being an antennae of sorts that channels expanded perceptions. I kinda love those stories (even though male pattern baldness does run in my family).

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing that, Janet. It’s interesting how much power hair has that we can sometimes take for granted. I have seen women who have long hair experience a huge surge of power upon cutting it short or shaving it off. I think there can be power in baldness as well, when we are able to claim it.

      Thank you for the interesting conversation, and blessings to you!

      Like

Trackbacks

  1. Eco-feminist Explorations of Bodily Hair by Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee – Mama News Sang Haplas

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: