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Posts Tagged ‘youth’

The Tao of Hair

Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy, daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair
© 1967 James Rado & Gerome Ragni (lyrics); Galt MacDermot (music)


So many things to worry about in the world and yet I find myself thinking about my hair–and why not? We are our hair. More than eye color or height or weight, hair seems to be how we humans make a statement. Some of this is evolutionary: healthy hair indicates youth and well-being, two desirable traits when it comes to the propagation of the species.  Hair is a distinguishing characteristic of mammals, providing both temperature control and, for many animals, camouflage. As most of us (but clearly not all of us) understand, our animal friends don’t really care how they wear their hair as long as it does what their instincts tell them it’s supposed to do: namely, protect and serve.

But we humans are different. We care about our hair (or lack of it)…and we experiment.

While there is ample evidence that men are attentive to styling (the early Greeks, the upper-class Renaissance, the Chinese warriors, fans of Elvis’ pompadour and even—shudder—the mullet), men generally seem to have two styles available to them: long and short. Oh sure, we may go through periods of mutton-chops or fringe bangs (heaven forbid) but at the end of the day, most men stay with short hair, with a few hold-outs opting for shaved heads or the less than inspiring ponytail.

Women, on the other hand, have infinite permutations, notwithstanding they’ve often followed the lead of their leaders—monarchs, movie stars and various trend-setters. In any given decade, you could find a pleasing variety of straight and curly, waist-length and bob, flip and page-boy, worn up, worn down, decorated with beads and feathers or worn unadorned. If you had a little money, you went to a fancy hairdresser and chose a style that suited you; if not, you flipped through pages of hairstyle magazines and selected something and had your mom or your best friend cut it.

So what’s with all the long hair?

I mean long, below the shoulder, tendrils gently brushing one’s breasts or tickling that spot on the back it’s so hard to reach when showering. These days, I feel surrounded by women who look as if they’re auditioning for roles on “Gossip Girls,” women of all ages whose tresses fall far below the shoulder. Some of them sport the super-straight look, apparently ignoring the recent reports about the dangers of formaldehyde in the most popular straightening formulas. More recently, I’ve seen an explosion of the gentle tendrils that make the wearer look like an aspiring fairy princess. A surprising number of women (including a close friend of mine, a financially comfortable woman with great clothes) have long hair that simply sits on the head, as if the wearer had absentmindedly allowed her hair to grow without benefit of cutting or conditioning. It’s not unusual to see three generations of women out on the town with identical hairstyles, tossing back stray strands while they munch on Waldorf salads or scour Target for matching T-shirts.

Popular culture shoulders part of the blame, especially television. These past seasons, we’ve seen a raft of smart, funny, capable women, most between thirty and fifty. Their independent spirit seems to extend to all parts of their lives save their hairstyle choice. Doctors, lawyers, detectives, coroners, therapists, operatives, mothers, U.S. marshals, drug dealers: everyone wears prom-ready do’s, showing up in the operating room, in the courtroom, or at the scene of a crime with locks akimbo. Wouldn’t a flowing mane obstruct a clean shot or a brilliant summation? Isn’t anyone worried about contaminating evidence or interfering with a crime scene?

Maybe it starts with the ads for the latest shampoo, conditioner, coloring or balm, all of which feature attractive young people cavorting under sunny skies swinging great masses of gleaming tresses back and forth without getting whiplash. It’s hair you want to sleep in, dress in, bathe in; who wouldn’t want some of that?

Long hair conveys sensuality and pre or post-menopausal women these days are particularly sensitive about competing for attention in a society that still doesn’t know where to put or how to treat its older women (we can’t all be Betty White).

My own hair has hovered between my chin and my shoulders for years now, occasionally retreating back towards the ear. If the base of the neck is my wire-fenced, heavily-patrolled, “may I see your passport, please” border, then the area to the collarbone is a no-fly zone. Part of the issue relates to sheer volume: as my hair gets longer, it becomes fuller, threatening to engulf my small face in sweeping waves and errant curls. There’s also my ongoing struggle to stay relevant yet also “appropriate.” I mean, as much as I approve of cross-generational pollinating, some fashions, like some behavior, are better worn by the young.

Still, I hear the siren song—or maybe it’s the swan song—of Samson, at least before Delilah got to him. Push the envelope, it sings; go long one time before you’re eligible for Medicaid. Embrace your freedom; who cares if it suits you? This is America. You have the right to look just like everyone else.

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I was surprised to learn, via a recent New York Times article, that scouting for older kids (“young adults”) has expanded to include training to deal with terrorist attacks, hostage situations and border skirmishes. The training involves producing life-like settings “not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting.”

14explorerbus

Phew, that’s a relief.

Things have certainly changed since my older brother was an Explorer back in the sixties. The teenaged boys (no girls allowed until later) were offered adventures above and beyond what traditional scouting had to offer and the chance to acquire some useful skills, like wilderness survival, navigation and first aid or even, as part of the Sea Scouts, nautical training. It was all kind of wholesome, albeit in a God-centric, homophobic kind of way.

1955.02_explorer_scouts_mayor_lawlor_c

Times are different. The article noted the training represents “…an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.” The accompanying photo made these kids – sorry, “young adults” – look like SWAT team mini-recruits. Very intense.

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I suppose you can’t have too many people trained to police our borders, or be ready to take on terrorists. But if BSA (Boy Scouts of America) wants to offer its older members excitement, discipline, growth possibility and not only career but life-skills training (I think I’m fairly synthesizing the Explorer goals), the organization is missing some real opportunities. I mean, why stop at possible jobs with police or fire departments or Homeland Security? What about training for a position that might more typically be available to young people in these days of budget cutbacks? To give just one example of a simulation focused on career preparation:

Call Center Customer Service: Explorers are trained to multi-task by simultaneously pretending to listen to customer complaints, reading from a prepared script and updating Facebook pages. call centerParticipants are also encouraged to find other, creative ways to fend off mind-numbing boredom while at the same time avoid getting caught by the floor manager or called out by a customer who demands to talk with a supervisor.

As for a practice session that simulates an absolutely true-life situation:

Explorers must stand patiently in line for up to six hours at a job fair or unemployment office before coming face to face with an uninformed, unhelpful or openly hostile worker who will either send the Explorer to the back of the line, to another line, or home. Participant will be expected not to react violently, but instead restrict reaction to mild, inaudible grumbling while complying with orders from a clearly inferior person. The exercise teaches patience, temperance and belief in a Higher Authority or at least payback. unemployment

I’d like to believe neither of these situations or the several others I came up with (but didn’t include) might require training in dealing with terrorism, hostage situations or skirmishes with immigrants both legal and illegal. Then again, it’s a whole new world out there – Scout’s honor.  scout

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I took some time today to review the findings of a recent poll commissioned by the New York Times/CBS News/MTV of young adults (ages 17-29) looking at cultural views that might shape their voting choices in 2008. The article indicated that those polled leaned slightly more “left” than the population as a whole but I am always suspicious of those kinds of observations. The group does appear a little more open-minded, at least when it comes to social/cultural issues such as gay unions or universal health care. But what I find most intriguing are the dichotomies that come through. For example, 51% appear more optimistic about a favorable outcome in Iraq, a higher percentage than for adults as a whole, yet 70% believe the country is headed in the wrong direction; obviously more than the war is troubling them. While 77% said they felt the votes of their generation would have significant bearing on who would become the next president, the percentage of those who said they were paying close attention to the race was 51%. That’s a much higher percentage of those interested than in 2004 in this age group but I wonder why the other 26% who think the youth vote will have an impact aren’t paying close attention. Are they planning to vote? Finally, while the poll showed that only two candidates generated enthusiasm among the young voters (Clinton and Obama , with Clinton paradoxically also scoring high for negative recognition), I thought it was far more interesting that fewer than 40% were excited about anyone running. The candidates hopefully understand how unpredictable the youth vote really is; clearly the young voters seem to realize that their very unpredictability makes them as significant as a majority of them thought they were.

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