The Politics of Hair

I was thinking earlier today about the politics of hair. As we know, "Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle" is a recent slogan of the North Korean regime. Peter the Great campaigned against beards, while the Taliban mandated them. I'm told that the easiest way to tell a Partisan from a Chetnik in wartime Yugoslavia was by looking to see if he had a beard or not. Authoritarian institutions tend to like men to have short hair. Long-haired boys get special treatment in the Salic Law ("He who kills a long-haired boy, and it is proved against him, shall be liable to pay twenty-four thousand denarii"). There seems to be a politics of body-hair today in both gay and feminist circles these days, and so on, though I can't say I know a great deal about where things stand these days. What other good examples have I missed, and how far back can we push the politics of hair? I probably should know about this, but I don't think I do. (And, dull academic bibliography question, has much been written about the politics of hair in the history of political thought, or not?) (My goodness, a moment with Google reveals a Politics of Hair Carnival from earlier in the year, which seems to be largely about the hair of African-Americans. I'll work my way through this as soon as I can.)

13 Comments


  1. Would Sampson count? Or the “religious woman”/”modern woman” diagram in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, where the modern woman is distinguishing by a curl of hair poking out from under her headscarf?

    Quote | Posted 29 October, 2006, 8:23 pm

  2. Don’t ask me how or why I have this trivia in my head, but I definately remember a mention in Republic, along the lines of long or short hair being irrelevant to one’s ability to do a job, and, by analogy, one’s gender also being irrelevant. Perhaps it stuck because I wasn’t expecting to find equal opportunity polemic in the Ancients (probably rather ignorant of me, with hindsight).

    A quick Google suggests pages 454-6. Of what edition I don’t know.

    Quote | Posted 29 October, 2006, 8:23 pm

  3. Oh, and in the right circumstances, one lock of hair can come close to triggering cosmic war, but you know that.

    Quote | Posted 29 October, 2006, 8:43 pm

  4. Well OBVIOUSLY there’s the Beard Liberation Front…

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 1:22 am

  5. The politics of hair are pretty important in Ursula le Guin’s sci-fi anarcho-feminist yarn The Dispossessed.

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 9:34 am

  6. Though it’s not that political, I like the Bible line “And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.” (Lev 13:40)

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 2:26 pm

  7. Ok so it is not about hair so much as having it cut … but in Anarchy, State and Utopia Nozick argues that the fact that someone needs something does not entail that the state should provide it. So when Williams says that health care is a medical need and should be provided by the state, Nozick asks whether this entails that those who need to have a haircut should have free haircuts provided by the state. Hmm.

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 8:10 pm

  8. There was a pretty interesting special issue of Eighteenth Century Studies on hair, maybe 10 years ago.
    Also, Don Herzog’s Poisoning the Mind of the Lower Orders has a great chapter on hairdressers.

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 9:15 pm

  9. sorry, I mean two years.

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 9:15 pm

  10. Yes, you’re quite right Katherine: I’ve got it kicking around somewhere. Though, being 18th century, I think quite a bit of it is about wigs, and I want to keep the politics of wigs for a separate post (obviously). I’ll dig it out.

    We’ve touched on the Herzog book, and on hairdressers, at the Stoa late last year here (see comments), though I have to confess that though I bought Herzog’s book, following that discussion, I only read the first half of it, and never made it to the chapter on hairdressers.

    Quote | Posted 30 October, 2006, 9:31 pm

  11. my hairdresser has asked me to give a lecture to his beauty school students on the politics of hair – so let me know what you find out. I always thought immediately of Marx on wigs.

    Quote | Posted 31 October, 2006, 11:48 am

  12. I think the reference to ‘long-haired boys’ in Salic Law actually refers to members of the Merovingian royal house who set themselves apart by their long hair and who in the chronicle of Gregory of Tours are constantly assassinating each other, having their grandmothers torn limb from limb by wild horses and so on.

    Apropos of the post in general I would highly recommend Hal Draper’s wonderfully deadpan appendix ‘Marx and Pilosity’ from one of the volumes of Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution – collects together every mention of beards and haircare in Marx and Engels.

    Quote | Posted 4 November, 2006, 6:07 pm

  13. That sounds brilliant! Sadly, it looks like it’s not available on the net. These things are sent to try us.

    Quote | Posted 4 November, 2006, 10:29 pm

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