Along the way, you'll surely look in the mirror—both literally and metaphorically. You'll get new perspectives on body shapes, on fingernails, on tongues, on depression, on knee pain, on energy levels, on sexuality, on prayer, on so many things in your life that you can strengthen to live healthier and happier. It may be hard to imagine that hangnails and deities belong in the same book. But as we hope you come to appreciate, beauty isn't about the parts. It's about how those parts work together to form the whole. The whole YOU.
When it comes to appearances, some of us may be predominantly defined by our faces, some by our bodies, and some by our addiction to tattoo ink (nice skull, Grandma!). Many others, of course, are largely judged by their hair. And for good reason.
Your hair—on your scalp, face, or back—is your body's fashion statement. While you're born with a natural color, shape, and style of hair, you also have the power to control how good (or bad) it looks, how long (or short) it is, and whether it's black or blond (or blue). With a few snips or tricks, you can tell the world you're wacky (Britney's shave job and Sanjaya's famous faux-hawk). You can say you're sexy (pick your favorite celeb). You can let it grow (Rapunzel) or hack it off (Kojak). You can be the inspiration for millions (thank you, Ms. Aniston) or the proud butt of jokes (sorry, Mr. Trump).
Sure, hair is great for running your fingers through and growing make-a-statement goatees, but hair used to be more purposeful than simply serving as bodily ornamentation. Today, the hair on our scalps protects us against the sun, and our eyelashes act as our first defense against bugs, dust, and other irritating objects. But back when clothes were as scarce as skyscrapers, the hair in our nether regions camouflaged our reproductive parts from generation-threatening spears. And by lining our armpits (we docs call them the axillae) and groins, our dry hair actually acts as a lubricant, allowing our arms and legs to move without chafing. Then and now, our body hair serves as a protector against malaria (see more on body hair on page 75). The anopheles mosquito—a low-flying bug that likes the legs—hates hair, in part because hair warns its victim to start swatting. While their bite is painless, our hair signals their presence before they bite (it's why kids are at greater risk—they have less hair on their legs). That's most likely the original purpose of hair: It served as an early-warning system of bodily threats. We seem to ignore the armor function of our hair today, removing it every chance we get, except on our heads and eyes.
In addition to its utilitarian functions, hair reflects a lot about our self-esteem, taste, gender, age, and attitude. It also plays a major role in how we're attracted to and attractive to other people (more on this in chapter 10). It can even be a source of conflict. While men tend to prefer women with long hair (ever see a painting of Eve with a buzz cut?), women, especially as they age, seem to prefer wearing shorter hair. More important, our hair tells us a ton about our overall health status, as the growth or loss of hair can signal other malfunctions going on inside our bodies. Whatever the case, we all know why in the United States alone we spend $50 billion a year on hair care: because we care about our hair.