In many a culture, the lusciousness of a woman’s locks says something about her status. Kate Middleton’s hairdresser arrived a good five hours before Kate ventured outside holding the third king in waiting of England. And the symbolic photo of US pop princess Britney Spears’ meltdown involved her hair, or lack of it. After hairdressing staff had refused to do the deed, she apparently grabbed the razor from their hands and shaved her head herself.
Despite the fact that women are expected to remove their hair elsewhere on an ongoing basis, for a woman to remove the hair on her head is deemed a clear sign of psychiatric illness.
In the small town of Huanglou, near Guilin, the role of women and their hair takes on a different but no less important role. For Yao women, the rituals surrounding their hair have transcended their original purpose (to symbolise their fertility and marital status) and instead become the principle way the town earns money in a 21st century economy.
A girl’s hair is never cut until she comes of age (at around 18.) At that point, it’s lopped off in one go and kept somewhere safe. As she bears children, she changes her hairstyle and threads together the hair of her childhood with her current growing locks.