Harriet Walker: The long and the short of it – a haircut can sum you up

Share
Related Topics

What's dull, thick, smooth and coarse and is currently on everyone's minds? No, not politicians or pop stars – something much more literal than that: the answer is hair. We're a nation obsessed in our pursuit of the hirsute.

From the keening over actress Emma Watson's decision to cut all of hers off, to our commoners' awe at Kate Middleton's abundant and flowing locks, our fascination goes far beyond the follicle. We characterise other people by their coiffures; we make assumptions about them. Stringy and lank? Someone to avoid sitting next to on the bus. Shiny and full? Ripe for a career in TV. See? It's easy! Let's try another.

Julian Assange may be the most reviled and revered man in the world right now; he may even be a threat to national security, but that hasn't stopped us going after his short and curlies. And his elaborate silver quiff sums him right up: a greying faux intellectual sexed up with a bit of styling product and turned into an anti-hero. He even had it cut for his TV appearance after being released on bail (to Bungay, Suffolk, which by all accounts is a town with an unusually large number of hairdressing salons, no less). Assange knows the power of a pompadour as well as any popstar does, and this reveals more about him than any press conference ever will. There are more subtexts here than in a leaked cable.

Other official documents laid bare to the public this week include Brylcreem's Best Celebrity Hair 2010 poll to celebrate the 9th annual National Men’s Hair Week. What a diplomatic kerfuffle when Simon Cowell finds out he's in the bottom 10, while his protégé Harry Styles (he of the Byronic mop) has made the top spot. How will Prince William feel when he finds out the public has chosen his brother's carrot-top over his own thinning thatch?

Now, I'd be the first to point out that a Best Celebrity Hair 2010 poll does not a zeitgeist make, but it does point to a certain localised scrutiny – a Best Celebrity Nose contest is a rarer sight, I'm sure you'll agree, or Best Celebrity Forefinger. But hair is an emotive subject all round – just ask people who are losing theirs, or those who hide its allure beneath a hijab. Ask the punks who chose the Mohican to look as anti-establishment as possible, or the French collaborators who had their heads publicly shaved. When David Cameron changed the side he wears his parting on, he made more of a political U-turn than his buddy Nick Clegg.

We're attached to our hair; its roots go deep. But it's also a great leveller. You think William chose Kate because she's a nice girl? Think again. It's because she has rich girl's hair, despite her humble origins. You can't achieve those sleek tresses; you're either born with them or not. Kate's hair will reinvigorate the royals like a zesty shampoo.

Disney last weekend released its latest cartoon, Tangled, a reworking of that ultimate tonsorial archetype Rapunzel. Meanwhile, pint-sized popstar Willow Smith (who last week reached No 2 in the charts with "Whip My Hair") has had her trademark plaits cut into a bowl cut. And the now gaminely cropped Emma Watson told of her relief to be free of the Harry Potter contract that stipulated she did not cut her hair for 10 years. Hairdressers speak of traumatised break-up victims begging for drastic chops; our hair is an expression of our inner turmoil. Just ask Boris Johnson.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn