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Sherri Richards, Published December 01 2011

The power of hair: Women are often defined by style, color of coiffure

FARGO - Hair is powerful, and not just in the “non-breakage strength” way shampoo commercials advertise.

It plays an important role in our lives, one we may not always acknowledge.

Hair contributes to our self-identity, whether by its color, cut or texture. It can express our heritage, the way fiery red tresses are commonly associated with the Irish. It helped define the counter-culture movement of the 1960s as hippies wore their hair long to rebel against the establishment. It plays a role in several religious traditions. In the Bible’s Judges 13-16, Samson’s supernatural power was contained in his hair.

They say blondes have more fun, and they make more money, too. A study of nearly 13,000 women published in a 2010 Economics Letters journal found that blond-haired women made 7 percent more than other women. In a 2008 study examining the ability of employees in a nonprofit organization to generate revenue, “blond solicitors were substantially more likely than other female solicitors to elicit a contribution, and the amount raised per contact was higher, too,” economist Daniel Hamermesh cited in his 2011 book “Beauty Pays.”

Hair also has an economic effect on our pocketbooks. A survey by hair care product company Tresemme found that women spend an average of $50,000 on their hair in their lifetime, including $160 a year on shampoos and conditioner, $120 for styling products and $520 for haircuts, as reported by Stylelist.com.

Mario Olivieri, owner of Josef’s School of Hair Design in Fargo, gives a passionate lecture to students about the power hair has in creating beauty. He describes hair as a picture frame for the face that can be manipulated to create the ideal, symmetrical face: oval-shaped with high cheek bones, wide eyes and a slightly square jaw.

“Hair is an appendage of the skin,” Olivieri says. Through haircutting and color, “what we’re trying to do is create an illusion.”

Perhaps no one is more familiar with the power hair has in a woman’s life than Violet Deilke, owner of the Centre for Hair and Wellness in Moorhead. For 20 years, she’s helped women facing the loss of their hair, whether from chemotherapy, female-patterned baldness, stress or trauma.

She helps fit women with the right hair prosthesis and products that could be helpful, such as the supplement biotin or shampoo and conditioners that prepare the scalp to grow hair. In 2010, she received a national Sunrise Award from Look Good … Feel Better, a public service program that helps individuals who have cancer.

“We don’t realize how much our hair means to us until we’re threatened with the loss of it,” Deilke says, adding that even for women whose hair is fine or thin and not that nice, it’s still traumatic.

“I think it must be an identity thing. I think women see their beauty in their hair,” she says. “Men always love that long hair.”

For many women, a good hair day equals a good day and a bad hair day is a bad day, Deilke says. Women who’ve lost their hair often lose their self-confidence, but when they feel pretty, they respond better to treatment and ultimately heal better, she says.

“Hair dressers make you feel beautiful from the outside so you can walk with the self-esteem, pride,” Olivieri says. “Everybody has that magic. What we can do is build their self-esteem so they can see the beauty within.”

Today and the next two days, we share the power hair has in lives of women in our area, including a cancer survivor, a mother who realized the importance society places on hair when her daughter’s started falling out, and a Moorhead woman whose uncut hair is an expression of her faith.