I went out yesterday for the first time in ten days. It’s not that I’m anti-social, anxious or have an aversion to people, it’s just that I no longer feel the need to go out unless it’s for essentials. Almost everything that makes me happy is now centred in my home so why venture away? Anyway, I needed a haircut and much as I’ve embraced the hermit lifestyle I’ve not abandoned my need to maintain appearances. This begs the question how much having fashionable hair is to make myself feel good or to impress other people? There are negative connotations to women who ‘let themselves go’. It’s seen as the brink of personal Armageddon to stop checking yourself continuously in the mirror, stop conforming to social expectations, stop trying to look younger but just be natural and unadorned. Women who fail to invest energy in self grooming also fail to exist as social and sexual beings. They descend into the swamp of undesirables, drunken bag ladies sleeping in doorways, dirty fat women wearing shell suits who smoke themselves to death, emaciated junkies selling themselves on street corners. These are the negative stereotypes we associate with a neglected appearance. ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ and ‘your body is a temple’ are deeply ingrained concepts in our psyche. Our mothers taught us the value of a clean and proper body. We are judged and labelled by how we look.
Traditional hermits were men with wild hair and flowing beards living in remote caves. Their unkempt hair was seen as a mark of their wisdom and status as spiritual beings as they dedicated their lives to prayer or nature. No one minded if they stank a bit. But it’s different for women. The modern female hermit is more likely to pursue a solitary life in an anonymous city apartment with the luxury of central heating and broadband or in a country cottage with a vegetable garden and a cat for company. She still has to engage with the world to some degree; to shop for groceries, to earn a living, to repair the leaking roof or get medicine. How alone can we actually be in the modern world? Did Greta Garbo still get her hair done after she became a recluse? Did she stop looking in the mirror?
I did not enjoy having my hair cut. In the old days I would have left the salon floating on air and feeling great. Now I just think, that was a waste of two hours and fifty quid. I feel tired afterwards. No, it was not my hair-do that made my trip worthwhile, it was the little things that I never noticed before that feel precious because I spend so much time alone. Small interactions with other people are now more meaningful. I love watching people. Their everyday gestures can seem beautiful. Just the way someone smiles and hands me my change in a shop or the way the hairdresser bends to a small child and gently asks “what’s your name sweetie?” The way a woman carefully buttons up her coat before going out into the rain or the school boy enthusiastically chatting about his day while he has his hair cut or the stylist’s rainbow hair reflected in the salon’s mirrors as she flits like a bird of paradise. They all feel like special moments when I can appreciate the humanity and vulnerability of others. It’s the little things that matter. We all have a light inside us and we are all privileged to be alive on this amazing planet.
Read Rhian Sasseen’s excellent article on the history of the female hermit at