Neither Hair Nor There
I go in cycles with loving and hating my hair. A year and a half ago I even blogged about throwing out my straightener and traditional shampoo and re-embracing my curly hair. It may not seem like a big deal to others. But for me I felt like I was embracing the beauty that God gave me instead of trying to make it over.
One of the many aspects of pregnancy that I enjoy is that my hair gets thicker and healthier. It is wonderful that for at least nine months my hair is fantastic. I don’t look forward to losing my hair postpartum but I came to realize that this too is symbolic. The use of hair in the scriptures can mean many different things but the “overarching meaning of hair in the scriptures . . . is that of life” (The Lost Language of Symbolism, 41). After pondering this meaning I realized that maybe I should embrace this transition a little more rather than dread it. On a biological level the thickening and then losing of our hair is a result of a shift in hormones. On a spiritual level it is symbolic of the life-giving transition of our bodies.
In pondering this symbolism it appears not an accident that upon experiencing puberty our bodies begin to grow more hair, symbolizing the transition that our bodies make to prepare to give life. I have to be honest and say that I really did not like the changes my body was making as an awkward adolescent. I struggled to understand it. What point is there to pubic hair for heavens’ sake?
So forgive me but I looked into that. I guess since I am a childbirth educator I have become more comfortable discussing such *ahem* tender subjects. From a medical standpoint the purpose of our pubic hair is to block bacteria from entering the vagina, protect from friction (during intercourse and in general), provide comfort and warmth, provide a home for pheromones to reside (for more on why pheromones are important read this post from Birth Faith), and even protect us from STDs*. Believe it or not but in years past lush pubic hair was considered a sign of significant and abundant health, a lack thereof a sign of poor health and disease. Syphilis was a common STD, the treatment for which caused pubic hair to fall out. This brought to style the merkin, a pubic hair wig (think toupee for the southern regions). No, I’m not kidding.
For a time our mothers and grandmothers were required to be shaved before giving birth. This became the norm without any real research to back it up. The reasoning was that there would be less infection when in fact the opposite was true. Shaving before birth increased the risk of infection. When research confirmed this, the practice slowly died out.
It seems that the style today is that less is more as it pertains to our legs, armpits and even our yoni**. The Brazilian is becoming more and more popular particularly among the younger generation. I’m not trying to make a statement on how you should wear the hair on your head or even down there but I do find it interesting the trends and fads that have found their ways into women’s beauty regimens. But isn’t it our additional hair that separates us from being girls? Some have commented that the trend for less is influenced by the increased access to pornography and its emphasis on hairless objectified bodies. Some wonder if it has carried over from child porn. Whether that is true or not, I’m not sure, but what I do feel is important here is to not loathe our matured life-giving bodies but to embrace them and celebrate them.
As I look at my daughters I feel a deep responsibility to teach them to respect and revere their God-given bodies. I want them to feel their body is a sacred gift to be honored through virtue not revered as ugly and flawed and valued only as a sexual object that has been made-over. Was not the embodiment of woman the crowing event of the Creation? Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us,
Woman is God’s supreme creation. Only after the earth had been formed, after the day had been separated from the night, after the waters had been divided from the land, after vegetation and animal life had been created, and after man had been placed on the earth, was woman created; and only then was the work pronounced complete and good.
Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.” (“Our Responsibility to Our Young Women,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 11.)
We do so many things to alter our image. And I have to admit, as I find more and more gray hairs on my head I’m tempted to do something about it. However, I find myself pondering that “white or gray hair was most often a symbol of aging, wisdom, maturity, and honor***” (The Lost Language of Symbolism, 42). And so every time I see a woman with her white or silver hair, I don’t think “old” anymore, I think of wisdom, maturity and nobility. How beautiful to age with such honor and grace. I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing anyone for changing their appearance. I like a little variety too. I just think it is good to keep things in the proper perspective. I like to keep in mind what Jeffrey R. Holland said,
In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” as Lehi saw, because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough. (“To Our Young Women,” Ensign, November 2005)
I much prefer this standard of beauty,
A woman not of our faith once wrote something to the effect that in her years of working with beautiful women she had seen several things they all had in common, and not one of them had anything to do with sizes and shapes. She said the loveliest women she had known had a glow of health, a warm personality, a love of learning, stability of character, and integrity. If we may add the sweet and gentle Spirit of the Lord carried by such a woman, then this describes the loveliness of women in any age or time, every element of which is emphasized in and attainable through the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Our Young Women,” Ensign, November 2005)
How do we teach our daughters to embrace their changing bodies? Lani wrote a fantastic post, “Red and Powerful,” about the symbolism of menstruation and celebrating with our daughters this change. I look forward to taking part in celebrating this change with my daughters. The most significant way to pass on a healthy attitude for our bodies comes by example. If we are constantly preoccupied with our appearance, our daughters will be too. If we speak well of our bodies we will feed our daughters with positive thoughts about their bodies too. I hope you will share some of your ideas here too. I know there is vast knowledge out there among you mothers and I want to learn.
In conclusion, I just wanted to express my love for the women who have surrounded me, gently showing me how wonderful it is to be a woman. One of which is my beautiful silver-haired mother. I love you Mom, you exemplify this definition.
*“Some clinicians are finding that freshly shaved pubic areas and genitals are also more vulnerable to herpes infections due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to virus carried by mouth or genitals. It follows that there may be vulnerability to spread of other [sexually transmitted infections] as well.”
**”Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is the Sanskrit word for the vagina. Its counterpart is the lingam, interpreted by some as the phallus. It is also the divine passage, womb or sacred temple (cf. lila). The word covers a range of meanings, including: place of birth, source, origin, spring, fountain, place of rest, repository, receptacle, seat, abode, home, lair, nest, stable.” (wikipedia)
***see Leviticus 19:32); Deut. 32:25; Proverbs 20:29