Religion & Beliefs

I Am Not My (Purple) Hair. Or Am I?

Jewish girls have a tendency to complain about their hair, and rightly so. If you’ve ever wrestled with a head full of thick curls that are determined to prove the Jewfro is back and chic, you know how much of … Read More

By / March 6, 2007

Jewish girls have a tendency to complain about their hair, and rightly so. If you’ve ever wrestled with a head full of thick curls that are determined to prove the Jewfro is back and chic, you know how much of a pain it is to have “Jewish hair.” Although not as universal a problem as it is in the black community, unruly hair can be the bane of a Jewish girl’s existence. And yes, I know it sounds shallow and ridiculous to complain about Jewish hair, but Jewish law actually has quite a lot to say about what we do with our hair. There are rules about when we can cut it, and which parts of it we can cut. There are rules about covering our heads, baldness, and about a married woman covering her hair. There are Nazirites like Samson whose power lay in their hair, and the Song of Songs praises beautiful hair: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil; thy hair is as a flock of goats, that trail down from mount Gilead” (4:1). So you see, the plight of Jewish Hair isn’t just a vanity issue. It’s a serious thing for some people. I found at least one article online about how wanting to get rid of Jewish Hair can seem like abandoning one’s Jewish Identity (On Jewish Hair – How I Won the Battle and Lost the War). But I have to admit, I don’t have Jewish Hair. My hair is wavy and brown and generally unproblematic. It’s hardly Pantene Pro-V Commercial hair, but other than brushing it requires no extensive care, and so I never gave it much thought. In January, though, I took some rather drastic measures: I dyed two purple streaks in my otherwise run-of-the-mill hair. I’ve always been a punk rocker at heart, but somehow it never translated into a hairstyle before. It recently occurred to me that I don’t have a job that requires any kind of uniform or professional attire, and I do have a cosmetologist roommate. If I was going to do it, it was high time to carpe the diem. So I did, and no one noticed. After two weeks some of the kids I teach in Sunday school said, “Hey! Your hair is purple! Cool!” That was the extent of the conversation. A week later my closest friend finally said, “Is your hair different? Was it always like that?” That Friday night the rest of my friends noticed, and the response was universally positive. In two months, no one commented at shul in Nashville. I don’t know if they didn’t notice, or if they just don’t care, but I took it as a good sign that they weren’t writing me off as a heathen. Nice! It turns out that was just the honeymoon period. In the last week, as I traveled from Atlanta to Chicago, I’ve gotten a bunch of unfortunate reactions to the “new me.” My poor dad looked like I’d kicked him when he saw it. More than once I was asked, “It’s for Purim, right?” In Atlanta someone told me it was obviously indicative of self-hatred and poor body image. Part of me is all defensive. I mean, people seriously need to lighten up. It’s not as if I whipped out two golden calves to worship. It’s hair, for the love of God! On the other hand, I did just establish that hair is kind of an important thing in the Jewish community. And sitting in Atlanta, surrounded by women wearing the nicest sheitels I’ve ever seen it occurred to me that if anyone is going to care about hairstyles it’s religious women. Especially in the Orthodox community, what you wear on your head makes a huge statement about who you are and what you believe. I still think it’s just hair, and I certainly don’t think two violet highlights say anything about how religious I am, my belief in God, or my enthusiasm for mitzvoth. And my hair color certainly isn’t a vehicle for self-hatred or body image issues. But for the first time I’m beginning to understand how easy I had it when my hair didn’t make a statement of any kind. I didn’t dye my hair to make anyone angry or to make a point. I did it for me, because I like it. And at the risk of sounding immature, anyone who’s not okay with that can kiss my ass. Or, you know, my hair.