When I created the original draft of this post, I wrote it while keeping in mind that people think things are creepy without really understanding why. Miss Rose noticed this while we were discussing revisions for my portfolio and encouraged me to pursue this aspect of hair jewelry. One major point that stuck with me was that hair attached to someone’s head is not considered creepy, but someone wearing a wig or completely unattached hair is creepy. As I did more research, I realized that our minds try to make sense of the world through objects like hair jewelry. We think hair jewelry is creepy because our minds are subconsciously associating it with death and disease. This is a defense mechanism that emerged out of millions of years of natural selection. The reason we think hair jewelry is creepy goes beyond the jewelry itself. It spans back to when humans were just learning what was good and bad for them. I revised my blog post based on all of this new research.
Why Hair Jewelry is Creepy
Our minds shape the way we see the world without us even realizing it. One way our minds shape our perception is through objects. People have always been using objects to remember their deceased loved ones. In the Victorian Age, people would give locks of their hair to loved ones as tokens of their identity. Now we have pictures and videos to remember dead relatives, so hair lockets aren’t as necessary as they used to be. Why did people feel the need to do this? People desire to defy death through objects, and carrying around lockets of hair was one way of reminding them that that person was still with them in a way. The Victorian age marked the height of hairwork jewelry. As steam engines gave people the ability to travel long distances, people needed tokens to remember traveling loved ones. Combine this with an obsession with the macabre, and you will find some truly interesting hairwork pieces. One of the most interesting pieces is the Hamlin family heirloom.
Over time, members of the Hamlin family offered locks of their hair to woven into the wreath to represent family unity. Deep inside the wreath are index cards with each family member’s name on it. Back in the 1800’s when this wreath was first created, this kind of custom would have been considered perfectly normal.
So why do we consider it creepy today? I researched for a while, but I could not find any good answers until I finally came across a blog called Victorian Gothic. It said, “Hairwork jewelry was valued for the authenticity it communicated. It was unique, handwoven, and composed of material that held special meaning for the wearer. It was a commercial good, but one which resisted the shallowness and uniformity of the market…for a time. In the end, the level of individual attention involved could not survive the requirements of department store capitalism, which demanded an inventory of cheap, ready made goods.”
In 1908 Sears began telling customers that bought hairchains, “We do not do this braiding ourselves. We sent it out; therefore we cannot guarantee same hair being used that is sent to us; you must assume all risk.” So customers began to panic. They read reports and articles about poor, young girls being forced to sell their hair and hair being picked off corpses with the rotting follicles still attached. So as you can imagine, hairwork jewelry demand plummeted after that.
So that is why hairwork jewelry is considered creepy by today’s standards. I thought it was sort of strange before today, without even realizing why. Why do we consider certain things creepy without even realizing why? As I researched this question, I discovered that on the surface, we may think of objects like hair jewelry as being creepy, but our subconscious minds are really using that creepiness factor as a defense mechanism. This defense mechanism has evolved over centuries of natural selection and a constant refinement of the gene pool.
What are our subconscious minds protecting us from? We don’t like hair jewelry because it is dead. Even though hair on the scalp is technically dead, it is still attached to something living. Dead things are associated with disease, decay, and of course death. Our subconscious survival instincts kick in and tell us that these things could turn us into dead things too. Even though we don’t understand why we don’t like these things, our subconscious minds are conspiring to protect us from death.
Our minds determine our relationship with objects whether we are conscious of it or not. One of the main principles of evolution is survival of the fittest. In the early days of hunting and gathering, the people that survived were the ones who avoided the risk of danger. In a time when danger lurked in every shadow, under the every bush, and behind every tree, the people who survived were the ones who lived to be safe than sorry.
The people who preferred to be safe than sorry exhibited Type I errors. A Type I error is the rejection of a true hypothesis. For example, if a person heard a twig snap nearby, they would run away instead of trying to investigate it. Our ancestors were the people who ran from danger because they survived long enough to produce. They passed their survival Type I genes onto their offspring, and they eventually made their way to us. The genes we didn’t inherit died off with the people who made Type II mistakes.
A Type II mistake is the failure to reject a false hypothesis. In survival terms, the people who made Type II decisions would investigate the forest when they heard a twig snap. These people did not survive long enough to pass down the genes that inspired them to make Type II decisions to their children. Type II kind of people were not frightened by things associated with death, like disease, insects and vermin.
When hair jewelry was popular, people did not fear it because it was always associated with a living person. However, when the scandal about hair being used from corpses broke out, people quickly turned against the jewelry because it was associated with death. Consciously, they may have thought that wearing hair jewelry that was from a corpse was disgusting. Subconsciously, their minds thought that this hair jewelry made from corpses was associated with death and disease, and that if they wore it, they would die too. People still find hair jewelry creepy or disgusting today, but they may not realize why. The reason people won’t wear hair jewelry today is the same reason people won’t eat “swine” but they will eat “pork”; one word is associated with disease and death, and the other is a delicious food (to some people). Our subconscious minds categorize the world based on what it considers dangerous and benign. Some objects we consider dangerous and others benign, and that affects how we see the world. Hair jewelry is just one example of that.