Thought Leadership

Hair today, gone tomorrow

By Colin Walls

Hair is an odd thing. Most of us are born with little or none, then we acquire some and it has odd influences on us for the rest of our lives. It is affected by fashion, religion and the social norms of our society. The biology of hair is very strange. And this ties in to the fact that everyone seems to have too much hair or too little hair at any one time…

First off, I will think about the hair on our heads. Fashions come and go. In my life, for men, it has been fashionable to have shoulder length hair, but nowadays [near] baldness seems to be the in thing [except for men, who are going bald naturally, who seem to want more hair]. Women generally seem to want less or more hair than they have at any given time. And when it comes to color … I live in a suburb of a small town. Within 200 yards of my house are 8 hairdressers. They outnumber any other kind of business by a factor of 4! They all seem to be thriving. These are uncertain financial times, but hair keeps growing. I guess it is a good business to be in. My hairdresser is always busy, but so cheerful and positive that I look forward to my visit. She talks to people about their lives and I have explained that she is 90% therapist and 10% hairdresser.

The biology of hair growth completely eludes me. Here are some facts/observations:

  • we all grow hair on top of our heads
  • most people have some hair elsewhere
  • men tend to have more hair elsewhere than women
  • men grow beards and women rarely do
  • men often go bald, but women rarely do
  • men grow extra hair in odd places as they grow older, but women less so

If someone can explain, in terms of changes in hormone levels, why all these phenomena prevail, I will be impressed.

The language around hair is totally confused too. In English, we say “one hair” or “two hairs”. However, we talk about the “hair on your head” or “having your hair cut”; why the singular? In languages where nouns have a gender, I observe that the word for hair tends to be masculine [at least in French, German and Italian]. Maybe that makes sense as men are hairier. However, an old friend of mine used to call me “l’homme avec la grande barbe” – “the man with the big beard”. My beard was quite unruly in those days, so it was a fair description. But why, in French, is the word for beard – a very masculine thing – feminine? At least in German it is masculine.

If a road [for example] is particularly challenging – maybe very narrow and bendy – people might describe it as “hairy”. Go figure.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at