How to Look at Your Hair

Curly hair
Lalonde, Alex. “Mane.” 2017. Photograph.

© Copyright 2017 Alex Lalonde, Ryerson University.

Your hair. You’ve probably left a sample of it everywhere you’ve been today. To the naked eye, a single strand of hair just looks like an extra thin piece of coloured floss. Group a dozen of them together and they become a tress, a straight or curly, shiny or dull, light or dark, hanging lock of your own DNA.

But hair is so much more than that.

Fed by nutrients, strands grow from the root – tucked neatly just underneath the surface of your scalp. The glossy mane that runs down the nape of your neck, or grazes your chin, or only barely breaks the surface of your head is charged with protein; your shield from the sun and your defender against the cold. Protruding locks that shine and swirl into tousles, sliding down the back like silk are the healthiest, engorged with vitamins and moisture. Short, brittle, broken strands are an unfortunate yet common fate, the result of deficiency, thirst and neglect. Twisted and matted hair is synonym to poor care, hair that has made a nest of itself.

Dark hair welcomes dark features, thick eyebrows, chocolate eyes. Lighter hair is sunny: skinny brows and bright irises. Your hair has the power to shape you, paint you as rich, trendy, outdated, alluring, or unsightly. Pulled away from your face, you can appear inviting and warm, while hanging down sharply by the edge of your eyebrows, your hair becomes a hiding place.

At times hair is confined, folded away and hidden from sight. It is tucked behind ears, wrapped beneath a hat or a scarf, put to sleep until called upon. Most hair is tamed from the moment it is born, a life constrained by scissors, razors, elastics, pins. In its lifetime, hair is run through with nervous fingers, anxiously chewed on, untangled with brushes, combs and picks. It is tightened into braids, combed into buns and ponies; slicked back, gelled, and blown out.

As you age, your hair begins to wither and fall, losing its brilliance. Grey and white strands untuck themselves from the root or simply break off lazily. Your mane becomes thin and colourless, losing its softness and appeal, growing old with you. Still, some handfuls remain, desperate to clothe a wrinkling scalp.

But what if we really look at our hair? What can we see? Well, I can see a story from root to tip. Strands, emerging from the top, new, fresh, and soft. Twisting into curls as they grow over the base of the head and fall downward toward the ground. Gaining colour and life as they go, bouncy and vital, kissed by the light of long days spent in the sun. As the tresses grow longer, now resting against the lower back, time has not been so kind. They are splitting from one another, breaking in all directions. Slowly they uncurl, becoming stiff and dry. Locks die quietly as they meet with a cold floor, snipped away by the blade.


Works cited

Elkin, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Lalonde, Alex. “Mane.” 2017. Photograph.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.