Why is Hair so Special? The Evolutionary Role of Hair

Have you ever wondered what’s the purpose of hair and why it receives so much attention in today’s society? Read ahead to find out what’s the evolutionary and biological reason for humans appreciating such biological tissue with so much affection!

Why is Hair so Special? The Evolutionary Role of Hair

Darn, we’re getting some pretty-interesting discussions over at The Men’s Hair Forum already, and one of the forum’s members has asked a very interesting question, which I found myself answering and thought I might as well share it with you folks here at Manly Curls.

The question is about why hair is so special and valuable in today’s society, which is a very-true observation: women (and men) go to great lengths to have their hair looking its best despite hair is essentially a bunch of dead cells piled up to make filamentous-like structures; in fact, when looked under a microscope, hair doesn’t look as pretty as it may look in the latest issue of Cosmopolitan or Men’s Health.

I’m sorry to break it to you ladies, but this guy…

Adrian Grenier in a photograph with his wavy curly hair


…has about 100,000 of these filamentous fibers on his scalp

A hair strand under the microscope

Not so sexy now, huh?

I touch upon the evolutionary role of hair in my first book, The Curly Hair Book: Or How Men Can Now Rock Their Waves, Coils and Kinks, as hair has played an important role in the development of both male and female social status. Since The Curly Hair Book has a strong motivational component (for all you dudes with hair that you’ve given up on), I tell you things as they are with male hair, and it is a fact that healthy-looking hair is among the top physical traits that women want in their “perfect” man (is there such a thing as a “perfect” man, though? I dare ask). Viceversa, men want women with lusciously-long and defined hair, so it’s not like women are being the picky ones just for the sake of it.

Why is hair so special for both men and women in today’s society?

Hair has so much value in today’s society because, back in our caveman days, hair had a strong evolutionary advantage. While we have lost the whole nomad lifestyle that characterised our ancestors, our modern brains still retain much of the “neurological wirings” that allowed us humans to survive in the wild back in the age when being a “hipster” would have lead to immediate death.

Hair has served to protect the scalp and skull in both men and women, and, in women, hair that was capable of reaching long lengths was useful for infants to hold onto, with this being one of the purported reasons for men subconsciously preferring women with long hair: long hair signals a woman’s ability to sustain the life of a newborn. Hair is actually very strong when paired into locks and hair has no nerve endings, so it can be held tight by an infant as if it were a rope, which comes very handy when a female would have to carry his infant, especially when running away from danger. In men, long hair would serve to give a bulkier appearance, which, together with a thick and bulky beard, would roughen up a male’s physique; this in itself being beneficial when intimidating other men prior to battle or to even avoid confrontation in the first place.

You must be healthy to produce high-quality hair strands

Biologically, to be able to grow lustrous thick hair strands, your health must be in top shape, thus healthy-looking hair hints that a person is healthy enough to dedicate part of his/her body’s metabolism to growing a physical trait that is not critical to sustain life (i.e. you can be bald and live a perfectly-healthy life, so hair is not needed to live unlike skin is). Back in these aforementioned primitive days, long before we had all sorts of medications to cure all sorts of ailments, being in top health shape had an evolutionary advantage, so men and women would subconsciously analyse a person’s health status by looking at their hair (among other physical cues). Ergo, the healthier and fitter you were and looked, the more you’d procreate and pass on your DNA. This also applies to body shape, by the way, which explains why men and women also go out of their way to sculpt and “tone” their bodies.

As we modern humans have changed our lifestyle from a nomad one to a sedentary one, the evolutionary active role of hair is no longer needed, yet healthy-looking hair will still hit the right spots in the brain when seen by either a male or a female, and this why both women and men can spend incredible amounts of time and efforts on their hair; sure, hair is no longer needed to safely commute on a daily basis from your house to work without fearing that another tribal member slashes your head in battle, but hair will certainly enhance your looks by hinting that, were you to have to depend on your hair (among other physical traits) for survival, you’d do a pretty good job at it.

Hair is a highly-visible asset

In terms of the visibility of hair, well, hair could not be located in a better position in the body. Scalp hair sits on top of your head, so it is highly visible and is spotted immediately when someone sees you at a first glance. If we take into account the hair’s intrinsic ability to subconsciously enhance your attractiveness by reinforcing the evolutionary advantage that is still sought by our brains, then it begs no question that both women and men will try to make sure that their hair looks its best no matter what. In fact, many women and men will not think twice about faking their hair via wigs and/or hair extensions, which is akin to getting a boob job or wearing shoulder pads: it enhances your physique outside of what can be achieved by your genetic makeup.

On top of (no pun intended) hair being highly visible, hair is also highly malleable and can be put into a myriad of shapes and styles in an instant. Unlike other physical traits such as facial structure or height that cannot be changed, or unlike skin tone that takes time to change, hair can be revamped ipso facto; you can essentially have one hairstyle and 5 minutes later have another hairstyle. Just this fact alone of being able to change your hair in an instant makes hair a highly-desired asset to own and customize as the right hairstyle can even give the illusion of having a more refined facial structure! Hair is basically a tool to temporarily enhance other features of yours that cannot be enhanced on their own.

Going back to the forum thread that I was posting this big pile of anthropological ramblings on, one of the forum’s admins actually posted a picture comparison of Matthew McConaughey to illustrate how having healthy-looking hair can greatly enhance one’s looks. I have posted the same picture comparison below of Matthew McConaughey; if I recall correctly, the picture of the mugshot (one the left) is from 1999 whereas the picture on the right is a recent one. How Matthew McConaughey went from having a receding hairline with hay-like hair back in 1999 to having long healthy-looking curly locks in present day is a question not many people could answer, but, what is a fact, is that not many ladies would be willing to go out with the dude on the left picture whereas they’d be throwing their panties at the dude on the right picture. And the major difference between the pictures is the hair.

Picture comparison of Matthew McConaughey with plenty of hair loss and new regrowth

Conclusion to my ramblings on the evolutionary role of hair

Of course, all that I’ve written above is nothing more than theoretical speculation based on anthropological research, but, then, I personally find the field of anthropology a fascinating field of study (i’m a nerd!), if only so that I can come up with all sort of interesting theories (aka mumbo jumbo) in my spare blogging time. In any case, hair no longer has an evolutionary advantage outside of being an ornament that serves as eye candy, which means that having great-looking and/or healthy-looking hair should not really be an endeavor that’s central to a person’s life. If you read The Curly Hair Book, you’ll soon realize that having great-looking hair is actually not that difficult and that I’m against turning you into a hair diva whose only goal in life is to achieve perfectly-defined coils. Sure, go ahead and make your hair look better, but don’t do so at the extent of self-castrating yourself, metaphorically speaking. Also, if you’re bald or are balding, don’t feel bad: male pattern baldness (typical male hair loss) is a perfectly-normal part of being a male and being bald doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you; about 60% of men are bald by age 65 and all males, if given enough lifetime, will lose their hair (including yours truly).

So there, I hope I’ve done an OK job in outlining the reasons for hair being still so highly regarded in today’s society. Really, it’s amazing how something that is so dead can be given so much attention!

All the best, fellow cool cats.


P.S: if you still haven’t joined the online community over at The Men’s Hair Forum, then you’re missing out on the fun! Come and join us over at The Men’s Hair Forum and be part of this new online community that is is the vehicle for our revolution of cool dudes with equally-cool hair!

Image credit: David Shankbone

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Rogelio is the go-to guy when it comes to men's hair. Having embraced his natural curly hair for over a decade while living in 5 countries, Rogelio has learnt a thing or two along the way. Rogelio is the author of the two bestselling men's books "The Curly Hair Book" and "The Men's Hair Book", and his motto when it comes to hair is, "Gentlemen, having a good head of hair should not cost us our testosterone".

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