Skepticism

Hair Hysteria

It’s a topic that girls don’t talk about that openly in public, but unless you’re French, we all do it: removing body hair.

‘Tis not as hard as it once was. Roman women used to have their hairs plucked out one by one with tweezers and have special oils applied to their skin. Smooth, hairless legs were a symbol of class.

But this is a battle made in vain, no?

When I first entered puberty my mum gave me a book which talked about the changes I’d be going through and how I would have to change the way I cared for my body. It said that shaving would prevent B.O. and stuff, but that if I started to shave the hair would always grow back faster and thicker than before. Doesn’t it?

I simply accepted that “fact” for many years and thought that it was indeed the case through personal observation, but one had to wonder if it were the case that hair grew back faster each time one shaved, wouldn’t the hair eventually replace itself the second you removed it as the pace accelerated?

Obviously that didn’t happen, and Snopes.com (that most invaluable website I point my friends to each time they send me a chain letter, as well as Chain Letters Anonymous) will back me up in saying that it is, in fact, a myth.

The part of the hair that you shave our cut is actually dead hair cells. The living hair cells are beneath your skin so cutting them shouldn’t cause them to grow any more.

Also, as one of my friends pointed out, to have thicker hair you’d need to produce more hair folicles which would require genetic manipulation.

So why is this myth so widely believed?

I wouldn’t find it too paranoid to point the finger at the waxing industry for perpetuating it, which always has a little thing about “shaving makes it grow back faster and thicker but waxing keeps it from growing back for a while”, but I think that there may be a tad of confirmation bias going on here too.

The Snopes article cited the fact that older hair looks finer and perhaps less dark at the ends whereas new hair looks dark and thick. Indeed, some people have darker hair at the roots which turn a lighter colour as they are exposed to the sun more.

But, the other thing which I think is worthy of note is the fact that razor blades get dull each time you use them, thus not cutting the hair as well the next time so the hair grows back sooner.

Another misconceptions about hair from the Snopes article which I found interesting…

Moon phases should dictate timing of haircuts. It was long believed hair snipped during the waxing of the moon would be quick to grow back, but hair trimmed when the moon was waning would stay short and lose its shine.

There are certain things that people associate with the motion of the heavens which are simply too absurd for me to prevent myself from slamming my head into the desk when I hear them besides astrology.

There’s some other hysteria over hair which I am tempted to potentially place under the category of child abuse.

This article in the New York Post is about women taking their children to salons for a waxing at ages as young as 6 years old.

“We’re seeing younger kids coming to the spas with their parents,” says Martin. She estimates that Juvenex waxed 10 child-clients, ranging from 8 to 10 years old, this year. That’s compared to none five years ago. “I know other spas are also seeing younger children getting all sorts of treatments, like waxing,” she says.

And… why are parents doing this?

The reason she started so young, says Glynis’ mom, Monica Longworth, was she noticed her second-grade daughter was becoming “a hairy little girl” and that her blond hair on her legs was becoming a “bit too thick.”

And… what benefits come out of this?

“You feel grown up and fashionable; it’s like getting your first haircut or nails done,” says 14-year-old Glynis Coyne, who will start ninth grade at Manhattan’s Marymount School next month. Coyne started waxing her legs when she was 8.

Oh, you feel grown up and fashionable do you? Righto! That means that it’s perfectly justified for parents to take their 1st graders in for a potentially highly painful procedure so that they can be all cheerful about their child’s appearance!

In a certain genetic sense children are artwork formed by their parents, the sculptors. Parents should help their children along ’til their adulthood, shaping them up into proper adults, but there are certain parts of adulthood the sculptor shouldn’t impose too early.

At that age kids don’t need to look like supermodels. Appearance is something they can worry about later, though I wish they wouldn’t have to inevitably deal with it as much as they do.

Oh, the lengths we go to for beauty.

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13 Comments

  1. August 18, 2008 at 6:55 pm —

    Incidentally, today was the fiftieth anniversary of the American publication of Nabokov’s Lolita.

  2. August 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm —

    I think part of the “thicker if you shave it” idea comes from the fact that most people start shaving pretty quickly after the hair first appears, and the natural process of puberty dictates that it will be getting thicker over the course of the next several years in most cases.

    Also, I have pretty hair. Sorry, but I have to point that out when hair discussions are going on.

  3. TheNerd
    August 18, 2008 at 8:36 pm —

    Because nothing says “I love you, sugar, no matter what” like telling your daughter her leg fuzz disgusts you.

  4. August 18, 2008 at 8:37 pm —

    In my opinion, taking a 6 year old to get her body hair waxed is borderline child abuse. What the hell are those people thinking?

  5. vreify
    August 18, 2008 at 10:43 pm —

    At that age girls shouldn’t look like regular teenagers or regular grown women, either! Forget being a “supermodel.”

    Also, I want to note that Humbert Humbert appreciated Lolita’s fuzz. However creepy that is.

  6. Pseudonym
    August 19, 2008 at 12:37 am —

    A wonderful rant, but one correction:

    Oh, the lengths we go to for beauty.

    You misspelled “fad”.

  7. Bethor
    August 19, 2008 at 4:40 am —

    As one of (apparently) few french people to read american skeptic blogs, I have to say the credibility of your post is rather undermined by the repetition of the usual fallacy about hairy french girls.

    Although I guess I should be glad we were at least spared the usual “cheese eating surrender monkey” thing 😉

  8. Larkness Monster
    August 19, 2008 at 7:24 am —

    I think shaved hair looks thicker because it makes the end of the hair blunt. New, uncut hair is tapered at the end; when you cut it, it is no longer tapered and thus looks thicker and darker. When you wax, you pull out the entire hair, so when it grows back it will be a new, tapered hair, and that’s why waxing makes your hair look thinner and lighter.

    I’m positive that I am correct. 🙂

  9. August 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm —

    As one of (apparently) few french people to read american skeptic blogs, I have to say the credibility of your post is rather undermined by the repetition of the usual fallacy about hairy french girls.

    It seems I need to be more careful with my use of tongue-in-cheek.

    And perhaps it would be worthy to note that I have a certain amount of respect for women who may break out of whatever cultural norms there may be and not go out of their way to do unecessary stuff.

  10. Laraine
    August 19, 2008 at 3:18 pm —

    The explanation that hair growth is determined by the cells beneath the skin and not the hair end itself is precisely the point.

    A cell, filled with thousands of biochemical machines, is incredibly complex. Cytoplasm that fills the inside of a cell is made of water similar to sea water. So, you might say that we carry our ocean with us inside our body. And we stand on the Earth in a continuous cyclic relationship with the Sun and the Moon.

    We are not separate from our environment, but part of it.

    The gravitational relationship between the Earth, Moon and Sun is the moon phase effect.

    Scientists are also describing this relationship in terms of magnetics as well. Even our own human magnetic qualities are measured now with technical instruments.

    With these recent explanations the ancient myths, astrology, and superstitions start to make sense for a modern mind educated with linear thinking and technology.

    Laraine at http://www.phasenews.com

  11. August 19, 2008 at 5:03 pm —

    I don’t shave unless I feel like it, and I’m not afraid to wear skirts, shorts, sleeveless shirts, etc. I just don’t care. I find that my students don’t care or don’t notice, and most adults are too uncomfortable to ask or don’t care.

    It started because one day it was hot outside, I wanted to wear a skirt, and I hadn’t shaven in a week. I almost stopped myself and put on pants, then I thought, “why should I be uncomfortable? Screw this!” and put on the skirt. As it turns out, my fiancé likes my furry legs. 😉

    There are times I feel like shaving, but it has less to do with appearance and more to do with the way my legs feel. I like both it both ways, for different reasons.

    As for Laraine, I don’t see a damn spot of scientific evidence on that website to support any of its claims. I call BS.

  12. August 19, 2008 at 11:17 pm —

    With these recent explanations the ancient myths, astrology, and superstitions start to make sense for a modern mind educated with linear thinking and technology.

    No, they don’t. Not really. For instance, the gravitational force between two objects (in this case, the moon and the ocean) is directly proportional to the mass of each object and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the objects. In other words, the moon’s gravitational pull affects the water in the ocean because there’s a hell of a lot of water in the ocean. By comparison, the mass of the water in our bodies (much less in our individual cells) is vanishingly small, so there’s no remotely measurable effect on our bodies. We’re not so much carrying an ocean inside of us as we are a small puddle.

    If you want support that “ancient myths, astrology, and superstitions” are real, science (i.e., the way the real world actually works) might not be your best bet. I second the calling of BS.

  13. Petitemalfleur
    August 26, 2008 at 11:46 am —

    Phil Plait put it best when he said that the gravitational pull of the doctor standing next to your mother’s bed, would overwhelm the gravitational pull of any celestial bodies. I imagine this could be applied to cosmetic situations as well.

    Loraine, your website is all pseudoscientific nonsense.

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