Work in progress: The Meaning of Hair

Work in progress: The Meaning of Hair

03 Nov 2015, Posted by kate_mercer in Hair Project, Work in progress

Evening folks – a later post then usual from me today. I’m pleased to say though after a week of ups, downs, ponytails and back-coming, the photo part of my hair project, working title ‘The Meaning of Hair” is up and running at last. YAY! I’m in the process of editing the photos, so at the moment am keeping the material my collaborator Daryl Wood and I shot under raps (sorry all – such a tease) but I promise I will begin posting images from this project soon.

Behind the scenes - Daryl Wood in the making of "The Meaning of Hair"

Behind the scenes – Daryl Wood in the making of “The Meaning of Hair”

Those of you who are connected with me on Instagram will have seen a number of informal photos posted though out the week – if you fancy a peek, head to: – it’s also another great way to catch up with me on my travels around South Wales and beyond (like I said – have camera, will travel).

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you so much to Daryl for her handwork, patience and commitment working with me on this project. Although it may have put her off agreeing to any future projects with me for life, it was an incredible journey to start on with her. Hugely productive, this week was always intended as a trial run to see how long it takes to do things with my hair, what it’s abilities and limitations were, but also to see what would work what wouldn’t.

There are certain things we established quickly:

  • It’s heavy… really heavy… I turned into a human kirby grip pin-cushion at times just to hold some of these hair styles in place. The weight also has clearly had an effect on my posture.
  • It’s long (2 ft too long… In the words of Daryl Wood, “You know you have long hair when I have to put it over MY shoulder just to get it out of the way!”… Yeah, this actually happened).
  • It has a mind of it’s own. It will not be tamed. It’s a trichological Unicorn.

I’m making light of these points – I acknowledge I’ve chosen to grow my hair to this length, to carry out this performance rather then get a hair cut like anybody else, and that this project is only possible because of having this much hair – but there are some quite important revelations and implications on this project as a result. These characteristics bring about their own limitations, which reflect behaviours people have about hair. As a sweeping statement from a female perspective, there is a desire in Western Cultures for women to have long, wavy luxurious hair. Many women are happy to purchase hair products, treatments, or accessories to create a version of their hair that they can not naturally achieve. There is money to be made with hair – you can sell it, buy it, colour it, style it, adorn it, embellish, nourish or cut it off, most decisions of which are directly influenced by fashion, finances, politics, and social behaviours. We’re touching on topics here – ultimately our genetics govern what we can or can not physically with our hair, sometime it’s best just to accept it. Genetics will be a limitation of this project.

What was really interesting about this week for me was that, for the first time, someone was able to share the emotive response I got about my hair with other people. Staying and working in a one bedroom basement flat in Newport, Daryl and I tried our best to escape into day light – when we did, the conversation with people we met in the real world was all about hair… both hair generally, but mostly my hair… The hair attached to my head, a part of me and my identity. I am lucky to be able to grow hair, and at this length it is a novelty as much as a vanity. For other people, when I tell people one day I’ll be cutting it, a large proportion are indignant, emotional, and verge on possessive. Doing projects with performative elements to it naturally encourages curiosity and opinions; it goes to show the importance people place on hair socially. But, Daryl and I battled with it this week. It will never be this long again, and part of me can not wait.

At this point I’d like to say a huge thank you for the 50+ people who have got in touch with me about helping with interviews for this project – safe to say I’m overwhelmed by the generosity, interest and support from men and women alike who have shared their stories and experiences with me. There will be a series of excerpts from interviews I’ve conducted already to be published on here, but that’s some way off in the future I’m afraid… lots of transcribing still to do.

If you still want to get in touch with memories, stories, reflections, regrets etc, please contact me at or you can write to me with answers to the following questions:

  • How would you define ‘good hair’?
  • Have you ever had to change your hair a particular reason, i.e. for work?
  • What is your earliest memory involving our hair?
  • What does your hair say about you?
  • Have you ever been treated in a particular way because of your hair?
  • Has the way you feel about your hair changed as you’ve got older?
  • Have you ever had to change something in your life, or the way you do something, because of how you have your hair?

Thanks for you’re interest in this project – until next time.

K x