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Hair: ‘Tyranny over the mind of man’

by Ted Johnson
Thomas Jefferson with Helmet Hair

Thomas Jefferson with Helmet Hair

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

–Thomas Jefferson

When someone starts an article with a Jefferson quote, you already know it’s going to be a rant, right?

Clearly, Jefferson was talking about hair.

The mind is in the brain; the brain is in the skull.

And what is over the skull, or as Jefferson put it, “over the mind of man?”

Hair.

Search any Website or forum where bike commuting is discussed — not just here, but anywhere — and you’ll find great, and not-so-great tips on commuting, bikes, strategies, etc. Read long enough and you’ll find yourself sucked into the black hole of the bike blogosphere.

Hair: Handmaiden to the divisive helmet debate.

Hair: Destroyer of intentions to commute by bike.

It will be framed as an impossible conundrum.

I want to bike commute, ever so much I do. I know I’ll save money, burn less gas, and it’ll improve my health. I know I’ll see my community and the world from a new and more intimate perspective. I know I’ll achieve enlightenment and save the earth. But none of that is worth messing up my precious hair! I just couldn’t do that to it.

And some sensible person will say something like this:

I wear my hair in a lightly, lightly layered classic bob and it is easy to shape up again after a ride wearing a helmet.

But you just know it won’t get through to some people. If they don’t say it explicitly, you can almost hear them crying, That’s easy for you to say, but I have absolutely no choice over how I must wear my hair!

This is an exercise in pissing into the wind, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Ladies, gents, It’s just hair! It’s something that comes out of your body, like snot, earwax, or the aforementioned piss — only less important. In humans, the evolutionary function of hair — the main reason we still have it on our heads, armpits, and pubes — is to announce to potential mates, Look, I can grow hair; there’s nothing wrong with my genes.

It is not a hairy magic oracle that, when sculpted on the head, confers to the wearer special powers. Really, it’s not.

Furthermore, that bike helmet is not a magic shield that protects you from all potential head injuries. I wear a helmet about 99% of the time that I ride. I wear one for that subset of potential head injuries that a helmet can prevent or reduce in severity. But chances are that you and I do half-a-dozen things everyday that are riskier than biking without a helmet, such as climbing stairs. The health risks of driving everywhere you go, and getting no exercise — for the sake of your hair — are greater than any hazard associated with cycling, helmet or not.

But if you are someone who really worries about the social and professional consequences of changing your hairstyle to one that is compatible with a bike helmet, or about arriving to work with anything other than your current perfected hairstyle, then your problems are bigger than your hair. You are oppressed by your hair.

Bike commuting, likely, is just one of many fulfilling life experiences you are being denied by that tyrant on your head.

The devotion some of us have to hair approaches something resembling a religious practice. But even Rastafarians, who grow their hair as an actual religious practice, are more concerned with not cutting their hair than they are with preserving a pristine hairstyle.

Hair: The oppressor. Or as a Rastafarian would say, downpressor.

Imagine yourself on your deathbed. God comes to you and makes an offer, “I’ll extend your life,” He says, “for a time equal to every second you spent worrying about your hair.” But there’s a catch, “Your tombstone will read, ‘Sometimes Had Helmet Hair.’ In addition, every photograph ever taken of you — and also every memory of you — will be changed with Holy Photoshop into one where you have a low-maintenance ’do.”

Would you take the bargain?

Ted's Yearbook Photo

If there is a God, why are there still yearbooks? Yes, that's me.

Hell, I would. There are plenty of photos of me from high school I’d love to have replaced with the short, worry-free buzz I’ve worn for the last decade or more (but preferably without the creeping male-pattern baldness I enjoy so much today).

Speaking of high school, I once had success in convincing someone to worry less about her hair. Perhaps that memory is why I cling to the hope this rant might not be a complete waste of time.

It was a rainy day in Phoenix. Ironically, I was waiting for Drivers Ed. class to start. Kathy, one of my classmates, came slinking into the room with her hands up in her hair, manically apologizing to everyone about her appearance, and pleading for understanding, “It’s raining, and… and… I couldn’t help it.”

Something inside me snapped. I asked Kathy to step outside of the classroom for a second. “Listen,” I said, “Your hair isn’t anyone’s business but yours. You can shave it off, dye it blue, or rat it like a witch. But you don’t ever need to apologize to anyone about your hair. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your hair.”

Maybe I was more charismatic back then, but she actually listened to me. It was like a radical perspective she’d never considered before.

Crafty Chica

Kathy: The Crafty Chica | Photo: CraftyChica.com

Kathy made a remarkable transformation from being someone crushed between the conformist pressures of two or more high school subcultures, into someone who was liberated to be her own funky self. Then she went on to have a fantastic life and career full of art, creativity, and music.

Kathy is now an entrepreneur, author, and artist known to adoring millions as The Crafty Chica.

All thanks to me!

No, I don’t really believe that I deserve any of the credit. She was ready for that epiphany, and it would have come to her with our without me. But her transformation began, in part, when she downgraded the significance of her hairstyle, and stopped worrying so much about how she imagined others expected her to look.

So get over your hair already. And maybe get on a bike. Who knows where it will take you and your hair.

 
Burley nomad 229

20 Responses to “Hair: ‘Tyranny over the mind of man’”

  1. Karen says:

    You KNOW the Crafty Chica?!?!

  2. Kevin Love says:

    Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner and serial slave rapist. To quote him about “hostility to every form of tyranny” is a bit over the top.

  3. John says:

    Cycling is a pastime or mode of transport to get us to the shops,school or work.
    To say to a woman that she should not care about her hair style so that she can wear a helmet is ridiculous.
    There are 24 hours in a day and it is only right that they want to look their best for the 23 hours in the day that they are not on the bike. You would not expect someone to wear lycra all day long because they are a cyclist would you!
    I do not wear a helmet and have no plans to unless some busy body in government insists that I do, after many years of cycling and a few crashes with the ground I have noticed one thing, if you come off a bike it is mostly side ways and your shoulders stick out a lot more than your head and thus tend to take the impact, leaving you at worst with a nick above an eyebrow on a bad day.
    Be yourself on a bike and enjoy life, unless the only way to ride a bike for you is to be clad in lycra and kitted out with a helmet, if that is you then I know you will enjoy yourself just as much.

  4. Chrehn says:

    Thunk… Was the sound my helmet made when it hit the pavement. It happened so fast that I was already on my feet, staggering around mumbling “I’m OK, I’m OK”. I had a headache for two days. I should have went to emergency, but hey! I’m a man, I deserve it. But, seriously I am past the age where I get a haircut, Now I get my hairs cut, which means I don’t have to worry much about what my hair(s) look like when I remove my helmet. JOYBAG!

  5. Spence says:

    Good topic key reason women don’t exercise or bike to work more.

  6. Misty says:

    So, John….You’re expecting this hypothetical woman to look good for the 9-10 hours that she’s in bed? What about the 1 hour while getting ready for work? A few hours of downtime before bed that evening? And you’re calling /Ted’s/ post ridiculous? At least his made some attempt to avoid this kind of misogynistic hyperbole.

    Or maybe you’ve never had an actual woman in your life that wasn’t a television character. I assure you, tv is not at all accurate when it portrays women falling out of bed looking gorgeous. :)

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Men have no business telling women what they should or shouldn’t feel about their appearance, particularly when they do so with the arrogance and condescension demonstrated in your comment.

    If a woman wants to look a certain way, more power to her. I hope she’s doing it for /herself/, and not other people, but that’s her business. She doesn’t need any man to come along and justify it for her.

  7. Lisa Black says:

    It’s pretty well known that women are judged on their appearance in professional situations, so this is more than a matter of ego.

    Would you trade your career progression for a helmet?

  8. BluesCat says:

    I’m not the first to say this, but I think I say it pretty well:

    Helmet-less bicyclists are arguing that their hairdos are more important than their brains and … they’re probably right.

  9. Mike Myers says:

    John, as someone who was hit from behind by a dually truck and awoke with a fractured helmet, I will say your assumption is untrue. It is also easy to have a bike slide out from under you and bounce the side of your head off the pavement. You are free to not wear a helmet, but minimizing what can happen when a skull impacts pavement is not necessary to justify your decision. If I was helmetless when the truck hit me, I certainly would have suffered a head injury.

  10. John says:

    Misty -
    If I wanted to take up a page of how a woman gets prepared for her day then I think I would have bored everyone stupid with stuff they already know.
    If you read my article instead of ranting about men telling woman how they should then you would have noticed that was exactly what I meant.
    Oh and by the way I have never wanted to replace the woman of my life with a painted lady from the TV shows, films or media, I am a perfectly happy chap.

  11. Gene @ BU says:

    I was with a group of cyclists and there was some tension in the air over the helmet issue. One side advanced a “Live free, bike free” argument that biking in general is becoming too restricted by rules like bike lanes, paths, and the pressure to wear a helmet. The argument was based on the perception that middle class urban yuppie types with political influence are taking over biking and imposing restrictive rules and their ideas on what makes up urban culture. The group espoused what can be termed “blue collar biking” or bike as you feel. One guy said; “This urban cycling nonsense is a yuppies backlash to NASCAR”.

    The other camp seemed be saying that in order to be taken seriously by politicians and the public then some common understand of the rules of the road and safety measures are necessary. Otherwise the “Biking community” looks fragmented in the eyes of policy makers. Therefore helmets are good as a safety measure and as a means to represent responsible biking with the public and policy makers. If the general public is to accept biking as a means of general transportation then they need to see order coming out of the existing chaos.

    So the question; Can cycling retain its “messenger biker” spirit in an increasingly urban biker setting?

  12. Tom Bowden says:

    It has been said that the almighty only makes a few perfect heads, and the rest he/she covers with hair. That can’t be true, or there would be a lot more bald women, and that would be a bad thing, (Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture notwithstanding http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001422/). Still, as one for whom the whole “helmet hair” thing is an amusing but irrelevant consideration, I have to say that whether or not one wears a helmet really should be about something else. I think that’s what Ted is trying to say here. And I think the most important point he makes is that we all do many things everyday that are more dangerous than riding a bike without a helmet – with or without hair. Like, for example – driving a car without a helmet – or – what is worse, driving a car without a helmet,and texting, talking on the phone, eating, or…..messing with your hair. SO I would say to all the would be commuters whose only excuse is “what about my hair” – JOYBAG and skip the helmet if you want to. If you like commuting enough, and you are still worried about your head, you will figure something out.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      …whether or not one wears a helmet really should be about something else.

      Judging from some of the off-the-rails comments prior to yours, you said in clearly in 13 words what I failed to muddle out in 1103 words.

      Thank you.

  13. Tom Bowden says:

    PS – for all of those who condescendingly point out that they cracked their helmet in a crash, and “would have died” had they not worn it or “would have been injured severely” etc. – While it may be true, this does not justify mandatory helmet laws or even a stern rebuke to those who choose not to wear helmets – occasionally, or always. There are tens of thousands of motorists and passengers and pedestrians who truly might still be alive if THEY had worn helmets, but you don’t see self-righteous scolds wagging their fingers at their bereaved families saying “If only they had worn their passenger/pedestrian/driver helmets – they might be alive today.” In my opinion, if you are truly concerned about bike safety, you should be lecturing the drivers, and the bozo cyclists who ride recklessly, even though they know better. I’d rather be a careful safe and traffic-wise helmetless rider any day of the week than someone who thinks that helmets are the alpha and omega of bike safety. And please – we should all wear helmets so we will look like we are a “community” to be taken seriously? That’s like saying all democrats should wear blue shirts so that they will be taken seriously (as if). How about – let’s all obey traffic laws? Or let’s all be better road users than motorists?

  14. Jesse says:

    AHAHAHA, I honestly can’t decide if I find the post or the first few comments more entertaining. I know which I find more on point and useful.

    Folks, read the post again, then read Tom’s first comment. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    OK, better?

    As for the can of worms that is the helmet debate, I’m staying the heck away from that one. All I’m going to say is that by far the vast majority of riders I see breaking every traffic law I know…have mustaches.

    Didn’t see that one coming didya?

  15. Ted Johnson says:

    In retrospect, I realize that to (a) challenge the sanctity of hair while (b) mentioning the words “helmet” and “debate” within 100 yards of one another on (c) a bike blog was bound to obscure my point.

    The helmet debate is just one way that the tyranny of hair comes into sharp focus. I don’t even know if my friend Kathy has a bike helmet — or a bike. I do know that Kathy and I live life more fully than we would if we worried more about our hair.

    Cycling — even without a helmet — is just one pleasant life experience that does not mix well with fastidiousness over hair. Other experiences include riding in a convertible, swinging on a swing, getting friendly nuggies, and taking an afternoon nap. These are all off the top of my short-haired head. The list could go on.

    On the other hand, hard-top cars are ideal for getting your hairdo from place to place with minimal opportunity for disturbance.

    If “perfect” hair is fanatically important to a person, then that person is something of a willing prisoner — not only to cars, but a prisoner to and enabler of the social conventions about appearance.

    It didn’t occur to me when I wrote the original post, but now I wonder if hair fanaticism is just another byproduct or symptom of our car-centric culture.

    Throughout history, fragile and expensive hairstyles have been a conspicuous way of advertising that one belongs to a class that does not toil. When cars were first mass produced, they became symbols of financial success. But since one couldn’t always be seen in one’s car, perhaps one’s unruffled hair served as a proxy for having traveled in upper-middle-class luxury.

  16. Tom Bowden says:

    @Kevin Love

    Plato owned 5 slaves at the time of his death and Aristotle wrote that slavery was a natural condition. That doesn’t make it any less deplorable, but it doesn’t mean they were wrong about everything else. As to your other allegation, I seriously doubt it. As the saying goes “The sign need not go to Paris to point the right direction” (by a philosopher who was accused of not practicing what he preached – can’t remember who).

  17. Tom Bowden says:

    Jesse – In Richmond they (the bozos) all have tattoos – we have been proclaimed the most “inked” city in the USA. I want to be cool, so I have tattoos all over my body, but I kept it conservative by only using invisible ink.

  18. Kevin Love says:

    Tom,

    Thanks to modern DNA technology, we know for sure of many of the black descendents of the slave rapist Thomas Jefferson.

    I invite you to Google “black descendents of Thomas Jefferson” and pick your favorite site.

  19. Ken Rumbarger says:

    While it can still be important to a man’s career how his hair looks at work – I think all of us unconsciously tend to equate a sleek, perfect haircut on a man with affluence, simply because we know how expensive it is – it is unfortunately (for the women) true that women’s pursuit of “the right look” is far more likely to be messed up by a helmet. (Whereas that “sleek perfect haircut” I mentioned is if anything convenient.)

    Not caring what people think of your appearance may work well in high school or college, or for the self-employed, (Kathy apparently being the latter). For those in higher-income positions, one may have to choose which matters: what one’s peers or superiors know about banking or investment or law that helps keep the firm and one’s own job in existence, or whether they are open-minded enough about appearance.

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