Hair is more than just a fashion statement. It protects the skin, traps dust around our eyes and ears, and helps us express ourselves through the style we choose to wear. In addition, our hair is made of a hard protein called keratin that can even regrow after being cut or burnt. It covers almost all surfaces of the body and grows all year round, though it grows faster in summer than in winter. Hair can also change shape, color and texture.
Despite its complexity, most of us don’t take the time to understand how our hair works. But when writing about your characters, understanding the nature of their body hair can add a level of depth and realism to your story.
The simplest form of hair is a thin filament that extends out from the surface of the skin. It is composed of a bundle of cells that contain long chains of keratin. These keratin molecules are arranged in a specific way to give the hair its strength and structure. The keratin cells are embedded within an outer layer of a protective, waterproof substance called the cuticle. The cuticle cells are interlocked with one another, forming an extremely tough and resilient structure that protects the inner keratin core from chemical damage.
Inside the hair bulb is a tiny muscle that can cause the strand of hair to stand up or lie down. It’s also connected to a blood supply from small veins at the base of the hair follicle. This follicle supplies the cells of the hair with oxygen and nutrients. As the hair follicle grows, it pushes these nutrient-rich cells out through the scalp to the surface of the skin. Tiny nerves at the bottom of each hair follicle sense movement in the hair and are sensitive to touch, allowing you to feel the slightest breeze as it passes over your head.
Hair grows on the top of the head, the back of the neck, the chest, shoulders and arms. It can grow longer, lighter or darker in color, and it can become curly, straight, wavy or frizzy. It can also be more or less dense depending on the person’s genetic makeup.
It isn’t very common for writers to describe a character’s body hair, but when it does happen, it can help immerse the reader in the world of your story. For example, the way a character moves their hair when they walk can tell you quite a bit about that person.
Unfortunately, our hair can be a source of prejudice and stereotypes. The colour, length and shape of a person’s hair can be associated with their gender, sexuality, worldview and socioeconomic status. While these inferences are based on superficial assumptions, they often have serious consequences. Whether they are intentionally or not, these stereotypes can affect the way people are treated by others. This can have lasting ramifications for the mental and physical health of individuals, especially women.