Attitudes about Hair all Over the World

When I begin thinking I will write a blog, I sort through my memory to interesting stories I have heard or seen and ideas I have learned in my travels all around the world.  This morning, when I was thinking, it dawned on me that an idea kept popping up in every place I have been, it is “hair.”  You would be surprised what an emphasis people put on hair!  It is not just something that will make you look good or bad, but for some people, it can tell you if they are a saint or a sinner or whether or not they are modern or backward.  In some places, you can spot a holy man because of his hair, and in other places, you can spot a criminal because of his hair.

When I was in Nigeria, I learned that missionaries, scholars, and Bible teachers were the men who wore beards.  However, if you go to Texas, I had a friend who was a policeman, and he told me that he had been told as a policeman to watch the men who were wearing beards because they were more likely to be breaking the law.  What a contrast!! However, from what I understand from Facebook now a days, many Christian men are growing beards in American because of a TV show called …What is it? Duck Dog Dynasty?–or, something like that.

In Japan, if a girl cuts her hair, it mean she is upset beyond repair!  I knew a girl in Japan who cut her hair off because her parents told her she had to marry someone she didn’t want to marry.  When I first got to Romania, I had long hair.  I had a Romanian friend who was constantly telling me that I needed to cut my hair because long hair was old fashioned.  However, it was the 1980’s, and what they called “big hair” which meant long curly hair was very much the vogue in America, and many women were letting their hair grow long and many were also getting a perm. I was soon to learn, though, that it was just the city women in Romania who thought short hair was the way to go.

The country women weren’t thinking about modern in Romania. They were thinking about what they thought was acceptable to God.  The women from the country had long hair they kept in buns thinking that that is what God wanted.  One woman from the village was getting after me, not because of my hair, but because I wore makeup and occasionally painted my nails. She showed me a scripture in Galatians where she thought it was a command not to wear makeup and paint my nails, but it was actually talking about the beauty coming from the inside and not the outside. If she wanted to get technical, it never said anything about makeup or nail polish, but it specifically said that beauty didn’t come from braided hair, so I showed her that part that she had overlooked, and her hair was braided. She shut the Bible and stopped criticizing me.  There was another question like that in Romania. It was whether or not a woman should wear something on her head to cover her hair.   They had a scripture for that one too. It was in 1 Corinthians 11.  Women were told not to pray or prophesy in the church with their head uncovered, and if you kept reading to the end of the chapter, you realized that hair has been given to women as their covering, but they were trying to bind a headscarf on me. I just read to the end of the chapter and showed them what the covering was, hair is not a headscarf. As far as the makeup, at times, I thought about not wearing any, but people like my Romanian teacher, got after me because they thought women were made to be pretty and should never not wear makeup. They though it was part of a woman taking care of herself.

woman s face
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Romanians were not the only people who tried to bind a headscarf on me.  The Nigerians tried too.  They didn’t have a scripture to show me, but insisted that a woman must wear something on her head to show that she was in subjection to her husband.  To a modern day American woman, they really don’t like to be told they must be in subjection to their husband.  Americans think we are equal partners with our husbands when we get married.  I heard something funny a Jewish woman said. She said, “The husband is the head, and the wife is the neck. She can turn him any way she wants.”  However, I understand that the Bible says the husband is the head of the wife, and the husband is commanded to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave his life for her.  Those are two pretty hard things for modern man and woman to swallow. I showed the Nigerian my wedding ring, and I told him my wedding ring was a symbol to American Christians that I was in subjection to my husband, and that satisfied him.  When I was in Mexico, they wouldn’t let me in to tour the historic, beautiful Catholic church buildings in Mexico City if I didn’t have a head scarf covering my hair. I was surprised to learn that in the Ohio Valley in the United States, there was a little country church of Christ who had recently changed, but who used to insist that women must wear something on their heads to church. They all wore hats.

woman wearing red and black feather hat
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When I was in Oklahoma in high school, one of my aunts had long hair which was unusual for the older generation. My mother always wore short hair as my other aunts did. One aunt wore long hair because she was Pentecostal, and she was convinced it was wrong to cut her hair, but the last time I saw her, she had cut her hair off too.

woman sitting in grey fur sofa
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As far as long hair, when I was in high school in America, both my sister and I had long hair.  It was the early 1970’s. My dad bought a Volkswagen van to drive because he had three teenage kids and a little girl. The van gave everyone enough room. However, when people saw my sister and I getting in and out of that van with long hair, we overheard them talking, and they though we were hippies, but we weren’t.  Back then, long hair for young people, whether they were male or female, could mean rebellion, but more so for the boys, but President Washington, the Father of America, had a pony tail. When I was growing up, we had traveled through France and Spain from England to Morocco, and my mother decided to stop at a French hair parlor and have my hair cut. They cut my hair in what was called a pixie, an extremely short hairdo that was all the rage at the time.  I hated it!  I thought it made me look like a boy, and from that time on, all I wanted was long hair.

toddler boy standing beside woman
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However, in my travels, I have learned, that if you want to be acceptable to most of the world, women should wear long hair.  In many countries, women wear long hair, and they don’t feel uncomfortable with foreigners who cut their hair off.  However, in the English speaking church of Christ here in Korea, one of the ladies told me that since I was American and getting older, I really should cut my hair. She thought it was unacceptable for older women to wear long hair. I didn’t listen, and now that lady has long hair too.  Many of the older Korean women cut their hair off like a boy’s hair, keep their hair colored black, and put a perm in it.  My daughter looks at them and says to me, “Promise me that you will never do that.”

woman in white dress
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In the States, my older sister was called in by her boss once.  He shamed her because she was getting white hair. He told her that she wasn’t taking care of herself, and she must color her hair.  People are so worried about hair!  Here in Korea, it doesn’t matter how old people get, both men and women color their hair. They keep it black, and they have for centuries according to the books that I have read about Korea. As long as I have been in Korea, I have kept my hair dark.  I was teaching at a university, and I understood how important youth and beauty are in Korea and that everyone kept their hair dark, so I kept mine dark too because I didn’t want to find some boss calling me in complaining about my hair like they did my sister’s hair. I am finally at a point in my life that I am not answering to a boss, and I wonder if I should go ahead and let my white hair grow out, and my daughter said to me it would be okay, but it would be strange because I have always had dark hair my whole life, and I agree because I have always had dark hair, but when do you get old enough that it is acceptable to let your hair be natural? I have fought my natural curl my whole life, but everyone is telling me now to just let it curl because they like the curl.  There are so many attitudes about hair!

In a church in America, there was a woman who always kept  her hair blond. I heard someone criticizing her because they thought it made her look like a loose woman.  Probably that idea came about because of Marilyn Monroe.  However, Doris Day also had very blond hair, and everyone thought of her as “the girl next door.”  If we see a redhead in America, we think, “they are going to have a fiery temper!”  Where did we get that idea?  Or if a little boy has red hair, the teacher seems to focus on him.  Many English have a prejudice against people they call “ginger,” the red heads. Dark hair means smart and studious to an American, but where did we get that idea? Everyone in Korea has dark hair, and they all try to go on to not only college, but graduate school. Is that where we got it?  However, the Koreans are also considered a passionate race among the other Orientals like the Italians are in America, like Americans look at red heads.  In Romania, most of them have dark hair, but there are two kinds of Romanians, the very educated Romanian from the town, and the one from the village who only goes to the 4th or the 8th grade, according to what education the local school will give them. What about the American idea that people with dark hair are smart and studious?

man sitting while reading book
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As you can see, for some reason, we focus on hair all over the world. It is just something that grows, or in some cases, doesn’t grow, on our heads.  My daughter’s Korean mother in law insists that her husband wear a wig because he is bald.   American men wouldn’t color their hair, but some may wear a wig.  My dad was bald, and for many years, he just shaved the rest of his head, and as he got older, he let it grow and developed what they call a “comb over.”  People are so funny about hair all over the world.  There are so many different attitudes about the same thing, and it is according to where you are from as to how you look at a person’s hair and what you think when you see it.


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