Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

I'll cut right to the chase for those of you who are confused by the title of this post. I was thinking in the shower this morning that the water I use to wet and rinse my hair when washing it makes up the vast majority of the water I use when I bathe, and this made me wonder whether choosing to keep it long is an environmentally unfriendly act.

Unlike Rapunzel, my hair isn't blonde, and compared to her, I have nothing to complain about when it comes to keeping my mane tamed. There's a reason they don't show her washing and drying her hair in last year's Tangled animated movie: it would have eaten up half of the running time! Still, my hair is thick and long (down to the middle/small of my back, and not layered), at least by non-fairy tale standards, and because I've used conventional hair products so sparingly over the years and only ever dyed my hair once, it's in very good condition. Since it suits me at this length, there's simply no need to change my hair style. Until I consider the water and energy waste involved in maintaining it!

This summer I've been really good with turning off the shower while I lather shampoo into my hair, but rinsing it and the occasional conditioner out requires a lot of water, especially since my hair is so thick. My showers seem to take forever! On days when I don't need to wash my hair (thankfully, two days out of three) I can zip in and out of the shower in a minute or two. Hair washing days... I'd rather not admit how long I spend under the running water.

Then there's the drying. I'm happy to let the heat and sun of the summer take care of that, but it's just not an option in colder weather. A hair dryer is necessary so I don't freeze to death in the winter, and I don't think those gadgets come in energy efficient models. Even so, it takes 20-25 minutes to get my hair completely dry. Please don't make me calculate the kW use associated with that process two to three times a week!

The question is, should my environmental ideals trump my aesthetic ideals? Maybe my long hair isn't an aesthetic ideal as much as a vanity-driven obsession. After all, the more often I am complimented for my hair, the bigger my ego gets. In that case, taking the plunge and opting for a very short hair style for green reasons seems acceptable and potentially good for my modesty. If I'm already the type of person who doesn't wear make-up, rarely accessorizes my wardrobe with matching jewellery, and almost never applies polish to my nails, why put so much importance on my hair? On the other hand, this feels like a pretty drastic move.

I'm stumped - what should I do?

Photo of Rapunzel doll used under Creative Commons from Jenny (jollyserenity27/flickr).
Photo of long hair being cut used under Creative Commons from alachia (flickr).


  1. It's awesome that you're so concerned, but I don't think making better environmental choices should entail self-flagellation. :-) If you really feel that guilty, sure, cut it off, but if not, there are lots of other ways to minimize your impact. I'm starting to think that more of our activism should focus on corporations, whose impact is so much greater than our individual impacts.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jennifer. That's pretty much what I realized after I had written all of that out. In reality, the few gallons of water I'll save after one week will be easily made up for by, say, a minute's worth of processing at the Alberta tar sands. But there's nothing I can do about that right now, whereas I CAN cut my hair. Hm...

  3. It's an interesting thought experiment, for sure. I think it would be worthwhile to decide why you like your hair the length it is, and how fundamentally it would affect you to cut... and, after all, if you don't like it short, it will grow back out eventually. And, who knows, maybe you'll really like it short!

    But I'm not saying you should or shouldn't cut it... I'm saying that this is a great opportunity to think about your hair and how it factors into your self-image and confidence!

  4. Why do I like my hair at this length? I guess it provides options in terms of styling. It's nice having the choice of leaving it hanging down vs. tied back vs. done up into a fancy do for a special occasion. Then again, all through the summer it's always in a pony tail or bun because it's too hot covering my back.

    How would it affect me to cut it? I'd probably feel a little sad to say goodbye to it, then get over it because once it's done, it's done, and only time will bring it back. I don't anticipate any long-term distress.

    How does my hair factor into my self-image and confidence? On good hair days I feel good, that's for sure. On bad hair days I avoid looking at myself in the mirror, and once I forget about it, my confidence is unrelated to my image. I'm one of those people who believes no amount of external artistry (with hair, makeup, etc.) can compensate for internal misery. Self-image originates in the brain, right? So looking good comes from feeling good. In other words, my hair shouldn't matter. It's one thing to say it, though, and another to live it! :)

  5. You could always just stop washing your hair :P

  6. Would you still be my friend, Will? Would you still hug me? :)

    But in all seriousness, the shampoo-free option is out there and gaining momentum. However, as far as I understand it, you still clean your hair - just not with store-bought shampoo. I'd still use water to rinse out the product, and I'd still use energy to dry my hair.

  7. I would still hug you! I would just probably not inhale while doing so.

  8. A good compromise... but I doubt any subsequent job interviews would go well. Image still means something in our society.

  9. Aren't there fundraising efforts or charities that accept long human hair in good condition? Might be nice to wait and make the most of an opportunity like that, if possible.

  10. You're right, Bill, and I will definitely look into that if I end up considering this option more seriously. Thanks for the reminder!