Hair: 'Tyranny over the mind of man'

Thomas Jefferson with Helmet Hair
Thomas Jefferson with Helmet Hair

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

–Thomas Jefferson

When someone starts an article with a Jefferson quote, you already know it’s going to be a rant, right?

Clearly, Jefferson was talking about hair.

The mind is in the brain; the brain is in the skull.

And what is over the skull, or as Jefferson put it, “over the mind of man?”


Search any Website or forum where bike commuting is discussed — not just here, but anywhere — and you’ll find great, and not-so-great tips on commuting, bikes, strategies, etc. Read long enough and you’ll find yourself sucked into the black hole of the bike blogosphere.

Hair: Handmaiden to the divisive helmet debate.

Hair: Destroyer of intentions to commute by bike.

It will be framed as an impossible conundrum.

I want to bike commute, ever so much I do. I know I’ll save money, burn less gas, and it’ll improve my health. I know I’ll see my community and the world from a new and more intimate perspective. I know I’ll achieve enlightenment and save the earth. But none of that is worth messing up my precious hair! I just couldn’t do that to it.

And some sensible person will say something like this:

I wear my hair in a lightly, lightly layered classic bob and it is easy to shape up again after a ride wearing a helmet.

But you just know it won’t get through to some people. If they don’t say it explicitly, you can almost hear them crying, That’s easy for you to say, but I have absolutely no choice over how I must wear my hair!

This is an exercise in pissing into the wind, but I’m going to do it anyway.

Ladies, gents, It’s just hair! It’s something that comes out of your body, like snot, earwax, or the aforementioned piss — only less important. In humans, the evolutionary function of hair — the main reason we still have it on our heads, armpits, and pubes — is to announce to potential mates, Look, I can grow hair; there’s nothing wrong with my genes.

It is not a hairy magic oracle that, when sculpted on the head, confers to the wearer special powers. Really, it’s not.

Furthermore, that bike helmet is not a magic shield that protects you from all potential head injuries. I wear a helmet about 99% of the time that I ride. I wear one for that subset of potential head injuries that a helmet can prevent or reduce in severity. But chances are that you and I do half-a-dozen things everyday that are riskier than biking without a helmet, such as climbing stairs. The health risks of driving everywhere you go, and getting no exercise — for the sake of your hair — are greater than any hazard associated with cycling, helmet or not.

But if you are someone who really worries about the social and professional consequences of changing your hairstyle to one that is compatible with a bike helmet, or about arriving to work with anything other than your current perfected hairstyle, then your problems are bigger than your hair. You are oppressed by your hair.

Bike commuting, likely, is just one of many fulfilling life experiences you are being denied by that tyrant on your head.

The devotion some of us have to hair approaches something resembling a religious practice. But even Rastafarians, who grow their hair as an actual religious practice, are more concerned with not cutting their hair than they are with preserving a pristine hairstyle.

Hair: The oppressor. Or as a Rastafarian would say, downpressor.

Imagine yourself on your deathbed. God comes to you and makes an offer, “I’ll extend your life,” He says, “for a time equal to every second you spent worrying about your hair.” But there’s a catch, “Your tombstone will read, ‘Sometimes Had Helmet Hair.’ In addition, every photograph ever taken of you — and also every memory of you — will be changed with Holy Photoshop into one where you have a low-maintenance ‘do.”

Would you take the bargain?

Ted's Yearbook Photo
If there is a God, why are there still yearbooks? Yes, that’s me.

Hell, I would. There are plenty of photos of me from high school I’d love to have replaced with the short, worry-free buzz I’ve worn for the last decade or more (but preferably without the creeping male-pattern baldness I enjoy so much today).

Speaking of high school, I once had success in convincing someone to worry less about her hair. Perhaps that memory is why I cling to the hope this rant might not be a complete waste of time.

It was a rainy day in Phoenix. Ironically, I was waiting for Drivers Ed. class to start. Kathy, one of my classmates, came slinking into the room with her hands up in her hair, manically apologizing to everyone about her appearance, and pleading for understanding, “It’s raining, and… and… I couldn’t help it.”

Something inside me snapped. I asked Kathy to step outside of the classroom for a second. “Listen,” I said, “Your hair isn’t anyone’s business but yours. You can shave it off, dye it blue, or rat it like a witch. But you don’t ever need to apologize to anyone about your hair. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your hair.”

Maybe I was more charismatic back then, but she actually listened to me. It was like a radical perspective she’d never considered before.

Crafty Chica
Kathy: The Crafty Chica | Photo:

Kathy made a remarkable transformation from being someone crushed between the conformist pressures of two or more high school subcultures, into someone who was liberated to be her own funky self. Then she went on to have a fantastic life and career full of art, creativity, and music.

Kathy is now an entrepreneur, author, and artist known to adoring millions as The  Crafty  Chica.

All thanks to me!

No, I don’t really believe that I deserve any of the credit. She was ready for that epiphany, and it would have come to her with our without me. But her transformation began, in part, when she downgraded the significance of her hairstyle, and stopped worrying so much about how she imagined others expected her to look.

So get over your hair already. And maybe get on a bike. Who knows where it will take you and your hair.

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