The Psychology of Hair

Chances are, your hair sets the mood for your day. Find out why women’s tresses mean so much.

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| August 10th, 2011
In the early 19th century, flappers sported shorter, daring haircuts that defined them and made a powerful statement about their feelings on women’s liberation.

Lack of hair also makes a statement, most prominently in religious contexts. Think nuns' habits, burqas and wigs worn in some Orthodox Jewish denominations. These head coverings prevent the public from seeing women as objects of desire. The message is that hair is a powerful attraction tool, says Swami.

The mating game
Long before wigs, scarves or hair pins, there were cavemen and women. Many scientists believe that hair played a role in mate selection.

“Hair on the top of our heads evolved to pad and warm the scalp, but that doesn’t account for why we are able to grow it so long,” says Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty.”

MORE: What Can Keratin Do for Your Hair?

Eyelashes prevent sun glare and brows help animate facial expressions and keep sweat out of the eyes, but a long mane serves no practical purpose. It might have acted as an advertisement of fertility. Younger, fertile women have thicker, shinier, healthier looking hair than older women, and hair could tell a male instantly how likely you were to have children and if you had the stamina to care for them.

“Every strand of hair has a blood supply and reflects what’s going on in the body,” says Etcoff. Being able to produce a lush head of hair can (and still does to this day) indicate health and youth, just as having thinner, graying hair signals aging. (Hair was an equal-opportunity fertility signal—it flagged healthy young males, too.)

Although expert opinions differ, there is also a theory that blonde color evolved to attract mates: When early humans migrated from warm desert climates to northern areas, fertility cues like a curvy or muscular body shape were hidden under warm clothing, so it’s possible that blonde hair, which is typically seen only in younger women, became a way to get attention.

Most of this still holds true today. Thick, abundant manes do look youthful and healthy, but many a raven-haired beauty or romantic redhead would challenge the notion that blonde is the most attractive.

MORE: The Best Blonde Hair Color for Your Skintone

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