The Age of Aquarius? Maybe. But an even better name for the late 1960’s and early 70’s might be the Age of Hairiness. After all, even the song proclaiming “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” came from the musical “Hair.”
I remember, as a college freshman, walking across the campus one day behind one of the senior girls. One of the campus leaders, she was brisk and pretty, articulate and poised in ways that intimidated shyer girls like me into speechlessness. She was striding along with her usual straight-backed confidence, a cascade of soft brown curls rippling down her back, shining in the sunlight and bouncing with every step.
Those gleaming curls that gave her such an air of confident beauty probably came at a cost. Most likely, she had spent a restless night with her hair wound on huge rollers or juice cans.
Girls lacking the fortitude to torture their skulls with insomnia-inducing rollers sometimes went to the opposite extreme. They spread their long locks across the bed and had them ironed. The goal was a perfectly straight, shining curtain, the longer the better. One girl in my dorm had a glorious fall of red-gold hair that reached past her waist. Vigilant against the deadly threat of split ends, she trimmed a careful fourth of an inch every two weeks with her nail scissors.
All the attention girls paid to their hair was greatly appreciated by makers of shampoo and conditioner, if less so by the declining permanent-wave industry. But the real hair-raising excitement of the 60’s focused on boys. They started—gasp!—letting their hair grow so long it touched their collars.
This was largely blamed on the Beatles, whose outrageous mops struck some shocked observers as the most depraved male attribute to hit American television since Elvis Presley’s swiveling hips. Disgusted fathers issued ultimatums and marched boys into barbershops at the point of a rat-tailed comb. Schools added hair length (short was good) as well as skirt length (short was bad) to their dress codes. Editorials were published. Sermons were preached. A high old dudgeon of a time was had by all.
Looking back, it all seems a bit ridiculous. At the time, I suppose, the larger social upheavals and power struggles that no one knew what to do with were reflected in the smaller battles over boys’ hair.
Now, with those social changes overtaken by even greater ones, at least the matter of hair has largely gone back to being a private rather than a public concern. Nobody seems to care much what boys do to theirs. Girls, of course, still generously support the shampoo/conditioner/hair color sector of the economy, though curling irons have saved them from having to choose between vanity and sleep.
There’s one area, though, where hair still seems to be a concern. The more fundamentalist branches of several religions place an absurd amount of importance on women’s hair. Mostly, it seems to matter very much to God that they keep it covered.
Really? God cares that much about women’s hair? One might think God has more important things to do.
Personally, I doubt that God pays much attention. In support of that belief, here’s just one piece of evidence: I still occasionally see the woman whose hair impressed me so vividly back in college. She is still pretty, still confident and poised and slightly intimidating. But her now-white and now-thin hair is cut into stark stubble about an inch long. Like many of the rest of us, she has reached the age of “This is the first bad hair day of the rest of your life.”
If God really cared about women’s hair, this wouldn’t happen. As a being of great age and wisdom Herself, She surely wouldn’t allow it.