Hair Apparent


If you had ever sat behind a long-haired person, trying to watch or listen to something going on in front, you’d know what I’m talking about.

Last Sunday, I was in church, appropriately paying rapt attention to the preacher when something broke into my line of sight. Before then, all I could see was the speaker at the pulpit, and rows of backs of heads of fellow parishioners.

There I was, feeling appropriately sorry for myself, for the things that I had done or not done, which the preacher was cautioning that I shouldn’t or should be doing, when this object just shot up in front of me. It took me a moment or two to realise that it was an arm, an extension of the torso of the person sitting directly in front of me. Like a crane, it was raised above the head. Bent at the elbow, the forearm lowered and the hand landed on the top of the head. The opened palm cupped the crop of hair on top, and slid down the back of the neck, following the downwards flowing contours of the pony-tail, for as far down as the hand could reach. Then the head was turned to one side, and the whole mess of hair went flying over the shoulder from the back to the front. Though that portion of the hair was now shielded from my sight, I could not miss the see-sawing movement of the elbow as the person now seemed to be engaged in finger-combing her tresses from the front.

I told myself, okay, that was that. As soon as the combing action ends, and the arm stops moving, we should have some peace. I could then rejoin the sermon. And subject myself to some more chastisements.


There was a flick of the head backwards, and a whole shock of hair flew over the shoulder to the back, strands freely and loosely tossed. Gone was the piece of whatever was holding the strands in a pony-tail. The head moved from side to side, apparently so as to shake and spread out the hair across the back more evenly. Seemingly satisfied that the tossing had been successfully accomplished, the head-shaking eventually stopped.

There was peace.

Only for a moment.

Back came two hands over the shoulders, to the back of the neck. Together, they worked to gather the strands between thumbs and fingers, and band them together at the centre of the nape. The left hand was left holding the bunch together, while the right hand shot up to the top of the head. With the left hand tugging at the tail, the right hand cupped the crown, patted it. Seemingly satisfied, both hands let go, and allowed the whole shock of hair to cascade freely down the back.

And that should be the end of that, I thought.

As though trying to echo those words from scriptures, “your thoughts are not my thoughts”, she went into a whole different spin.

She raised a hand again, and patted her crown again. A few pats later, the hand slid down the back of the head, and stopped at the point where a short while ago, the strands had been gathered to form the beginning of a pony tail. The other hand swang in, gathering the tresses, the fingers interlocking with those of the other hand already poised and waiting. Thus a pony tail was reformed. With one hand holding on to the beginning of the tail, the other quickly slid down to as far it could reach to give the whole tail a few tugs. Out of nowhere, a slim dark object appeared gripped between the thumb and forefinger of the upper hand – it looked something like a hair-band, which must have been retrieved from somewhere in the front, while I was distracted by the tugging movement going on elsewhere. The tugging quickly evolved into twisting and turning while the other hand deftly manoeuvred the object – yes, I could see it clearly now, it was definitely a hair band – into place. And viola! the pony tail was back again.

All that seemingly manic activity and frantic manipulation, and the whole object was to get back to the original point – a pony tail held together by a hair-band.

By which time, I had lost the preacher completely. I shifted my gaze back to him, and tried to re-engage. But he had either moved on, or I had simply lost the thread.

Haven’t you had similar experiences before? Maybe not at church necessarily. At a concert, perhaps. Or a theatre performance. And not necessarily the same sequence or routine. There can be so many variations on the theme, the pre-occupation and constant fussing with the hair right before your very eyes. With seeming total self-absorption by the owner, without any apparent concern for what this spectacle of flailing arms and fluttering follicles can do to distract others in the audience, or indeed even on the stage.

What do you do if you find yourself in such a situation? In church, I suppose you could change seats, if the church is not full. But in a ticketed environment, you would be somewhat constrained. And while you might walk out of a sermon you could hardly hear, my sense is that you probably wouldn’t walk out of a performance for which you have paid good money to enjoy.

What would you have done?

Would you 1) quietly suffer and mutter under your breath (no obscenities now, especially if you are in a church), or 2) tap the person on the shoulder or other part of the anatomy, and tell her to cut it out (or you’ll cut it off), or 3) place your lighter (if you have one handy) menacingly near her hair, or 4) simply compliment her on what healthy and luscious hair she has? (which might be what she’s looking for in the first place.)

But seriously, why do girls, or women, do this – play with their hair in public? Is there a purpose to this seeming madness? Is the perpetrator even conscious of what she is doing?

I read somewhere there are probably two causes for public hair-play. One is nervous energy. Tugging or stroking the hair is apparently a way to cope with the nervousness; it can help to release the tension. I can see how this might happen in a church if there is someone up there on the stage trying to convince you of your potential eternal damnation.

The other cause frequently cited seems to me to be less plausible, especially in a church environment, that it is just body language which is trying to send signals to and attract the attention of the targeted observer. Also known as preening. I say so, because the targeting of the observer in the front could have disastrous consequences – I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m almost sure there are punishments galore lined up for anyone trying to tempt or trip-up those servants of the Lord. And if targeted at the person behind, in my case, I would have to seriously doubt the judgement and taste in men of the sender of such signals.

Perhaps it’s better to leave this as one of those life’s imponderables.

But I do have one remaining question. Are guys the only people irked by this? Do ladies not get bothered? Is the sisterhood spirit strong enough to overlook all tresspasses? Like, you know, hair no evil, see no evil? And hair today, gone tomorrow?