September 29, 2011
Glamour Factory: Mark Pagel
Evolutionary biologist Professor Mark Pagel will join us at the Glamour Factory, our late night at the National Portrait Gallery on October 7, to discuss our “love-hate relationship with hair” in a Vintage Drawing Class with Susan Wilson. Here he tells us about the strange uniqueness of the naked human condition, and asks: What is this fascination we have with hair?
A recent newspaper article in the Daily Mail claimed that women change their hairstyles about thirty times throughout their lives. More than one woman I put this figure to responded, “Only thirty?!”
What is this fascination we have with hair? To sharpen this question, it must be pointed out that we humans have a love-hate relationship with hair. In fact, out of all the mammals – the group of species we belong to – we are naked, having lost the hair that covers most mammals’ bodies! Think of your pet dog sheared of all its hair, save for a little bob on its head, and that ridiculous image you have in your mind is in fact what you look like.
Now, mammals are not distinguished for much, but they did evolve one very good thing, and that is their fur. In fact, so good is fur at providing warmth and shielding us from the sun that, having given up our fur, we now kill other animals so that we can wear theirs.
So, to understand our fascination with hair we need to look beyond our evident repugnance of hairiness itself. And here our old friend Darwin can help, because he realized that we use our hair in ways not so different from the ways that other animals use bright colours and feathers to attract members of the opposite sex.
But, still, why our hair, and not some other part of our bodies? And why so many different styles? Why are women seemingly far more pre-occupied with it than men, when in most other animals it is the males that are elaborately decorated? Come along to the Glamour Factory on October 7 to find out.
See more from Mark in his TED Talk on how language transformed humanity.