If you stress over your tresses to the point that unruly hair ruins your mood, you’re not alone.
A survey from Tresemmé showed that 23% of women don’t want to leave their house on a bad hair day. Extreme? Not when you consider that young girls receive more compliments for their hair, smile or eye color than for their soccer skills or math expertise, says Dr. Marianne LaFrance, a professor of psychology, women’s and gender studies at Yale University.
Even if parents take care to spread praise around to include non-beauty traits, the checkout lady at the grocery store is cooing over her long lashes, or a kindly school teacher doles out positive attention by complimenting her braids — there’s no avoiding it.
“From early on, women are given the message that appearance is massively important, and it can become a marker for their success in life," says LaFrance.
Hair can be a significant piece of that puzzle. In a Harvard study, women who felt that they looked younger after a cut, color or both showed a drop in blood pressure, suggesting that a simple haircut can make your body more youthful.
So the question is, if your hair can make you feel amazing — is that bad? For the most part, no. “Your outward appearance projects things about you, and people will make judgments about you based on that,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and YouBeauty Psychology Advisor. Hair plays a role because it frames your face and it’s a prominent part of first impressions, so it’s fair game to care.
What’s more, he says, when you look good, it gives you an extra feeling of confidence, which allows you to take risks. You might find the nerve to speak to someone you normally wouldn’t, or do something gutsy in an office presentation. “There’s research that shows when you’re in a positive mood, a lot of things go better,” says Markman.
How Hair Defines You
Besides riding a good-hair high to social and work success, you can use hair to shape your identity. “Because hair is so malleable, it can give women a feeling of control over their bodies which they don’t otherwise have,” says Viren Swami, Ph.D., psychologist at the University of Westminster in London, and YouBeauty Attraction Expert.
Indeed, women have used hair to relay messages about who they are, and where they fit into their culture for centuries. Roman women powdered their hair with gold dust to convey wealth and decorated it with luxe accessories like gold hairnets and ivory pins. Marie Antoinette’s tall, ornate wigs indicated status and power (the term “bigwig” comes from 17th century England when wig size distinguished the upper class from the riffraff: Men of importance wore larger wigs and were called bigwigs).
In the early 19th century, Flappers sported shorter, daring haircuts that defined them and made a powerful statement about their feelings on women’s liberation.
Lack of hair also makes a statement, most prominently in religious contexts. Think nun’s habits, burqas and wigs worn in some Orthodox Jewish denominations. These head coverings prevent the public from seeing women as objects of desire. The message is that hair is a powerful attraction tool, says Swami.