December 3, 2010

Variance in hairstyles as a measure of cultural conformity

In the comments to the post on nudity in movies, I noted that of all the things that girls are willing to change about their appearance when they play dress-up for '80s night, their hairstyle is off limits. Maybe they'll put it in a ponytail to one side, but that's it. In three years of almost weekly attendance, I've seen a girl with crimped hair less than 5 times. They just won't alter the length, how straight vs. wavy it is, or how close to the scalp vs. how mane-like it is. Of all ethnic markers, hairstyle must be one of the most inviolable.

Just to remind those who were there, or bring it to the attention of those who weren't, here's what we imagine when the hairstyles of the wild times come to mind. They're all examples of Big Hair, whether from the '60s or the very early '90s:

Then that died off and was replaced by more moderate length, super-straight, and hugging-the-scalp hairdos during the mid-late '90s (already evident by the time Clueless came out in 1995) and the 2000s (one of my tutorees around 2006 said that she and her friends, before going out for the night, were going to make their hair "super super straight... like, Mean Girls straight").

So my first thought was that there's something about Big vs. Small Hair that responds to how wild the culture is. But that would imply that the '90s and 2000s should have been known for very short hair, and they weren't. In fact, when you think of cropped hair, you also think of the '60s through the '80s:

You also saw this split between the rising-crime era of the Jazz Age, when bobbed hair exploded in popularity alongside more luxuriant styles, vs. the mid-'30s through late '50s period of plummeting crime.

So how do hairstyles respond to the level of wildness in society? There's no strong shift toward either Big or Small Hair on average. Rather, the variance increases when crime soars and people are more wild. The average girl may have a pretty similar hairstyle during dangerous times, but there are a lot fewer people at that average level and a lot more who've ventured out into the extremes of tent-like hair as well as boyishly cropped hair.

This is one example of greater cultural and social conformity when times are getting safer, the chief example there being most of the 1950s, and this decade will probably be just about as bad. When the world gets more dangerous, people discount the future more, and part of that means not caring as much about how their present actions will affect their reputation down the line, in general. Being less constrained by worries about what everyone else will think about them, people let loose, branch out, and do their own thing more in dangerous times.

In safer times, people do get more varied in some areas, but this is not due to a shrinking concern for what others think -- rather, it is due to the opposite, whereby sheltered and complacent people spend more effort trying to broadcast their epic authentic uniqueness in an attempt to climb one rung higher on the status ladder. If they truly did care less than before about what others thought of their behavior, then they'd be more promiscuous. But as I've pointed out forever, promiscuity surges during dangerous times, the logic of which I elaborated on in a post below.

It would be worth quantifying this effect. You could take the covers of Vogue, or Playboy playmates, or something, and measure the volume of hair on girls' heads. Lump girls of a single year of Vogue (or whatever) into one group, and then find the variance in their hair volume. Plot that over time, alongside the homicide rate, and see how close the impression comes to reality.


  1. You could take the covers of Vogue, or Playboy playmates, or something, and measure the volume of hair on girls' heads.

    You could measure something else with Playboy playmates. You know exactly where I'm going with this.


  2. The 1950s sounds like a really good time to have lived through, though I don't think most would associate it with attempts to broadcast "epic uniqueness".

  3. One step ahead of you there, Peter. I'm using Playboy playmates of the month. I'm doing 1985 to 2009. I have some years in the '90s and early 2000s left to do, but the decline is apparent already by 1995. Even 1991 was still like the '80s for seeing fur.

    TGGP, the '50s was an era of trying to show off your gadgets, even if you were a female. It's just like today with dorks trying to show everyone the Apple logo on their iPhone or Mac laptop, and women trying to make one another jealous by showing off their marble countertops, brushed stainless steel refridgerators, panini presses, etc.

    Back then it was futuristic vacuum cleaners, kitchen gadgets, tupperware, etc. Not to mention the craze for "interior design" centering around mid-century modern.

  4. It's not surprising that the decline would be evident as early as 1995. Hairlessness became fashionable in pornography, including soft-core stuff like Playboy, some years before it infested the wider population. It wasn't until around 2000 that hairlessness became unexceptional among ordinary women and even then the spread took a few more years.

    One interesting thing is that even though hairlessness got its start in pornography, today it is nearly universal even among women who abhor pornography. A 40-year-old Republican-voting, minivan-driving, churchgoing soccer mom in a Red state who's been married to the same man for 15 years would not even think of allowing a single hair follicle to go unshaven, yet she considers pornography to be unalloyed evil. What gives?


  5. traveling boho12/4/10, 8:20 AM

    But how did going bare even get started among the majority of millenial girls who I doubt were watching porn very much during their teenage years.

    Anecdotally, I recently was with a 22 year old for whom I was only her second partner. So she said anyway, and her naivete and initial shyness in bed backed that up.

    She was bare, and when I asked when she started shaving she said about 15 or 16. But she couldn't even tell me where she got the idea.

  6. You keep talking about how this decade will be safe. I'm thinking the dollar will collapse in the next few years, leading to riots, violent crime, Mexico- style kidnappings, all that shit. I guess if you're right that violent times correspond to the good life (you're certainly obsessed with it) we're lucky to be living during the collapse of the American empire and its fiat currency that by virtue of being the world's reserve currency, subsidized all this safety and luxury that you deplore.

  7. Well, remember that poverty, collapsing economies, etc., do not cause crime or violence. A subsistence crisis might lead to a food riot, but not to a sustained crime wave.

    The homicide rate started plummeting in 1934 and stayed low through 1958, despite much of that period corresponding to the Great Depression.

    Then there was the Long Boom of the '50s and '60s and early '70s -- yet the crime rate began soaring, not abating, in 1959.

    It's not the opposite idea -- that economic health and high crime go together -- just that they're unrelated.

  8. So what causes these waves of civilizational violence? Some kind of astrological power that is beyond our understanding (at least presently)? I don't think you've addressed this, for all your cataloguing. Can more mundane socioeconomic factors really be ruled out?
    Have you considered interaction effects of a variables inert on their own, looked at different societies across time space etc?

  9. Agnostic, if economic health and high crime are unrelated, what does lead to a higher crime period?

    - Breeze

  10. Anecdotally, I recently was with a 22 year old for whom I was only her second partner. So she said anyway, and her naivete and initial shyness in bed backed that up.

    She was bare, and when I asked when she started shaving she said about 15 or 16. But she couldn't even tell me where she got the idea.

    After reading that, especially the part about the shaving starting at age 15 or 16, I have a strong urge to gobble a bottle of antidepressants :(((


  11. There is no need to appeal to outside forces to explain cycles in crime. Look at predator-prey dynamics -- they cycle all by themselves, without outside changes in habitat quality, etc.

    Consider the criminals as predators, and trusting people as prey. When there are lots of trusting people, that allows the criminals to soar in number because they'll be unexpected and not hunted down. When their numbers get too high, that causes people to lose trust and sends down the number of trusting people for them to prey on. That in turn dries up the number of criminals. Now with so few criminals around, people re-gain their lost trust and the number of trusting people soars once more. Then the cycle repeats.

    It's just a toy example, but that's the right approach -- show how it cycles on its own, not as though people only turn to assault, manslaughter, rape, robbery, etc., when space aliens point their crime-ray guns at Earth.

  12. "After reading that, especially the part about the shaving starting at age 15 or 16, I have a strong urge to gobble a bottle of antidepressants :((("

    I was browsing through a pop psych book called The Female Brain, and the author relates a story of talking to young adolescents, I think middle schoolers. She told the girls they could ask some question relating to sex or relationships to the boys in the classroom.

    So one girl asked how much hair a girl should have, ideally. The author thought she meant hair on her head, but then all the boys yelled out "None!" "Yeah, none!" They were talking about the other hair.

    So yes, it is hitting much younger ages than when it was non-mainstream. Poor Millennial guys are deprived of the sight of a girl's animalistic nature.

    An earlier comment is right, though, about how this change is not related to porn. It's not as though mainstream people watch porn and blindly imitate what they see -- otherwise it would be mainstream to pull out and let loose.

    Instead, part of the prudification of society that began in the early-mid '90s included an intense shame about their own sexuality, and here was a perfect way to erase that aspect of their shame from sight.

  13. But inherent to your ecology example is the reason for the cycle: differential death rates owing to the dynamic fitnesses of varying strategies. One population replaces another, a population with different genetic imperatives. Whereas people can adapt to perturbations to the system, socioeconomic factors, the racial makeup of cities, technologies. So the question is why wouldn't they, if e.g. the dollar collapses etc.

    FWIW, I second that the bald cunt phenomenon is unrelated to porn. All three of the girls I saw in high school had pubes, while girls I met in college were all shaven clean. I started college in 1992, when magazines and vhs tapes were still the main source of porn, except for some nerds who had modems.

  14. It wouldn't be death unless it the criminal was a murderer. I'm talking about crime in general, and non-criminals switching from one mindset to another, not literally dying or reproducing.


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