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


Views: 11

Comment by Norm on June 8, 2010 at 2:21pm
Suze, that's a fascinating and extremely well-written article. I agree with everything you said.... how can a few "celebs" speak for the world?? But hey, it's only TV, and very successful TV at that - after all, it's got you tuning in every day now, right? :)

However, let's just take a step further back, and look at this whole thing about female beauty being equated to hair. Why? When did society decree that? How did it come about? Because that's a laaaarge part of the problem with alopecia... it's ingrained into people from a very early age that "hair is good" and it's a woman's "crowning glory". If you could box those thoughts and ideas up and lock them in that room in your mind marked "Emotional Baggage and Left Luggage", how much better would you feel? Unbelievably so, I reckon....
Sure, a sudden change in appearance is a real body-blow, but without the thoughts of "I'm no longer feminine, I'm not a real woman any more" you'd be able to adjust much faster and only have to contend with getting others used to New You.... it's all about "self-image". And the sad thing is that all the girls on here desperately want their hair back, because they can't help but go along with that programming.

Can you break your programming? Can you overcome those ingrained ideas? I think you can - I think some already have.
Comment by Carmen Dayhoff on June 8, 2010 at 3:14pm
***A standing ovation and applause*** GIRL, I AM WITH YOU WHEN YOU ARE RIGHT! What the society teaches people thses days!!! OMGooodness, Goodness, Goodness!
Comment by margaret staib on June 8, 2010 at 3:55pm
Susan I CALLED the today show and said HELLO!!!! you are missing a huge part of this; (in a very nice to the point way) women with NO hair at all is what your are missing from your piece. I e-mailed as well. No phone call, no return response. Your post was so well written, bravo. I guess they can't really say they covered the whole story can they? The woman that answered the phone did not even know what alopecia was. There ya go.
Comment by Susan Beausang on June 8, 2010 at 3:57pm
I sent a letter as well but have not heard back. I think we should get as many people as possible to email them...I am so offended by the message that they tried to portray. Thanks for reading by venting post!
Comment by Susan Beausang on June 8, 2010 at 4:11pm
Absolutely it is possible to break socially ingrained programming in terms of appearance values, yet for women and girls especially this proves enormously challenging. Here is an analogy: when you are a leaf in a forest full of tree's, it is only inevitable that you feel as if you are an outcast. Yes, the media does heavily push this idea that in order to assimilate into society successfully you should look, dress, and act a certain way, and yes, often these ideals are self-perpetuated with purchases of hair and makeup products, clothing and other items. But escaping these ideals in the face of a drastic appearance change IS NOT an easy task. I would no doubt argue that it takes extreme healing and support to reform one's idea of femininity, beauty, and appeal if you suffer from alopecia.

So, can feelings of desperation and depression due to a major life change--such as Alopecia, or cancer, or extreme weight loss/gain--be overcome? Yes, they can. But is it easy? No, it is not easy. I would even venture to say that it is often seemingly easier to shy away from resolution, and to hide, than to face the main issue and break that "programming" you speak of. Yet we do have one tool with which to overcome, we can at least point the finger at the unreasonable expectations the media and often society impart upon us from a very young age (though the final steps towards emotional recovery is ultimately up to us). Success in life need not be defined by one's appearance, despite what anyone says. Until the media and society truly embrace these values, however, it is up to us to rally against such ridiculous notions as hair somehow defining the entirety of a woman.
Comment by Tallgirl on June 8, 2010 at 10:18pm
As one who used to work in the media (advertising...down the hall from a rock station...and part of the yearly variety show put on by TV and media personalities), I can see the side that is MARKETING of an image to make the money. Poor people...them, and the audiences...who put it out there, buy it, copy it, must have it. But, it is all marketing...even when a Biblical king had to put his daughter out there for marriage. I am sure the long, coiled, scented tresses brought more dowry. And then, after marriege...head coverings for married women! At least good ol' dad had one less female mouth to feed around the tent!

I suppose those who cannot yet...or will not yet...use money, movement or education to attract others, get jobs, etc. may resort to using hair to open doors. And, if men are threatened by a woman's good job or education, then what is left? Yep: packaging. Is that really all you want to offer? A young girl or religious girl may not know or want to know more about "feminine wiles" or the tenderness that outshines hair. But at least now talent is also admired...as is helping others, sports success, or saving the environment. These are plusses for even church-going, adventurous women. Write a book! Help a child! Sing a song that makes the world aware of injustice! And be glad that you are not a newscaster who can only make money as long as her skin and hair look fashionable! Consider the source...these were media women, with advertisers who pay for their programs to air!
Comment by Tuesday on June 8, 2010 at 10:39pm
Very wise posts, Susan. And thanks for sharing your information. I didn't see that Today show but I would have found it infuriating. I agree with your thoughts. I'm a skeptic, though. I think many people - regular normal people - realize life is not defined by our appearance. And YET as you say - the media promotes the idea that we are not truly whole, complete people unless we are as close to superficial external perfection as possible. I don't know if the media will ever change - too much is at stake. Too much money involved in pushing this idea.

When I developed AU, I became incredibly angry and determined. I was not absolutely not going to let the loss of my hair stand in my way - in how people view me or how I view myself. It's been a challenge but I think that "fire in the belly" attitude had helped. Sounds like you have it too!
Comment by Susan Beausang on June 9, 2010 at 12:59pm
Yup - I'm very passionate about being heard!
Comment by Chefpam on August 10, 2010 at 3:59pm
I didn't see this show but your article left me with a knot in my stomach. It saddens me to think this is what are little girls are growing up with, a world with an attitude that your looks are everything. Ok, what happens when you get a disease, lose your hair, get burned or maimed, is life over? Everyone wants to look nice and not be ridiculed but I would rather make an impression based on my heart and beliefs rather than my appearance. Looks fade anyway...a strong spirit and heart are forever!
Comment by Susan Beausang on October 27, 2010 at 10:32am
I am with you 100% - it's totally out of control!


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