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April 23, 2007

Hairstyles from Around the World

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Members of a semi-nomadic tribe in Namibia.

THE LOOK: A concoction of butter and ocher, a type of iron ore, is used to coat the hair. Next, hair is divided into several plaits: "A girl wears four braided plaits, with two braids hanging over her face," says art historian Peri Klemm, Ph.D. "At puberty, female relatives replace these with smaller braids that completely cover her eyes." On her wedding day, a woman pulls her braids back with a headdress.

THE MEANING: The glossy sheen of the butter-and-ocher paste sends "look at me" signals to suitors-dry hair is a turnoff to Himba men, says David Crandall, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Utah's Brigham Young University.

WHERE THEY STAND: Women are seen as the weaker sex-literally: "Females are thought to have only one lung. How else to explain that men can outrun them?" asks Crandall wryly.

BEAUTY QUIRK: Hair anyplace but the head is considered offensive.

Gei means arts in Japanese; sha means person. Put them together, and you have a professional hostess who entertains guests using various traditional arts, including tea ceremonies and ikebana (flower arranging).

THE LOOK: All adult geisha today wear wigs, generally in the traditional bun or shimada style. The maiko, or apprentice geisha, wear their hair in a style called momoware-the most familiar image to Westerners-which resembles a split peach. "There are six variations of momoware," says Liza Dalby, Ph.D., an anthropologist who was an adviser on the film Memoirs of a Geisha.

THE MEANING: "The hair of a geisha balances the line of the trailing kimono and should be considered a form of wearable art," says Dalby. "It's like a sculpture-something to look at, but not to touch." It may be art, but it's also a science: Geisha go to great pains to follow the template to the last detail.

WHERE THEY STAND: Geisha, contrary to common Western portrayal, are not prostitutes. Increasingly in Japan, due to tourist interest, geisha are considered keepers of traditional Japanese customs.

BEAUTY QUIRK: "Maiko use wooden stands underneath their heads for sleeping," to keep their elaborate hairdos intact, says Dalby.

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