With more than 4.9 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or celebrating marriage equality on an island of 48 people with no gay couples. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 4,923,708-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: List of hairstyles
What it’s about: Hair! Long, beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen… you get the idea. If you’re reading this in North Korea, you’ll be surprised to learn that people wear their hair in many different styles, and whenever there’s a bunch of things to be listed, you can bet Wikipedia is there.
Strangest fact: Historical Christian hairstyles, besides being one of Guided By Voices’ best albums, actually has a separate Wikipedia page. Early Christians’ hair can be traced by the iconography they left behind, and although devotees’ hair tended to follow the style of the time, the traditional image of Jesus having long, flowing hair rarely changed. By the Middle Ages, Christians got serious about hair, and priests could be expelled from the church for growing it too long. Eventually monks adopted the tonsure, in which hair is shaved only on the top of the head, while kept short all around.
Biggest controversy: This is less a controversy about hair than a questionable pronouncement by Wikipedia. We linked to this page from the much-maligned fauxhawk, and the list of hairstyles page says the term “frohawk” is synonymous. However, the mohawk page itself (which fauxhawk also links to) describes a frohawk as an African-American hairstyle in which a mohawk is grown out, as an afro would be. Neither talk page makes any discussion of this, so it seems to have passed (Wikipedia-standard) editorial muster.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Princess Leia’s hairstyle has a name and a history! The iconic buns on either side of Carrie Fisher’s head in Star Wars are a Valencian fallera. The style is popular during the Falles celebration commemorating Saint Joseph in Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. The hairstyle has a long history, however, as a variation on the style can be seen on 4th century B.C. statue called the Lady Of Elche. This isn’t on the hairstyles page, but Princess Leia’s Wikipedia page also shows a Hopi girl from 1922 with another variation on the style.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Every fade, mullet, and quiff out there is made to feel inferior, as Wikipedia has designated a “regular haircut” for men. It’s essentially a side-part, but Wikipedia gives the leeway that the back and sides can be “short, semi-short, medium, long, or extra long,” just to make sure all the bases are covered. Every other men’s hairstyle can henceforth be considered irregular. You’re all on notice. It’s worth mentioning that while Ron Swanson once declared, “there are three acceptable haircuts: high and tight, crew cut, and buzz cut” (all variations on the haircuts given out at boot camp), Swanson himself had none of the above, wearing a hairstyle Wikipedia would consider “regular.”
Also noteworthy: The pompadour has a long and fascinating history. It was named for a mistress of Louis XV, Madame De Pompadour (Wikipedia lists her occupation as “chief mistress of Louis XV”), and was popular among women in the 1700s, and then again at the turn of the 20th century up to WWI. In the 1950s, it became a men’s hairstyle, popularized in the U.S. by Elvis Presley and contemporaries like James Dean and Little Richard, and has been associated with rebellion ever since. In fact, the rebel association is strong enough that in the present day, the pompadour is popular among gangsters from the yakuza to Silvio Dante.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: Despite Pavement’s disapproval, big hair has its own Wikipedia page. Unsurprisingly, the first picture on the page is of Dolly Parton. The 1980s are also mentioned prominently. However, big hair can’t truly be considered a hairstyle, as styles as different as the beehive, feathered (or “Farrah hair”), and some ganguro hairstyles can all be considered “big.”
Further down the wormhole: While cornrows have been popular among African Americans for some time, the style originated in sub-Saharan Africa. A vast region that encompasses 800 million people, the southern two-thirds of Africa has the greatest linguistic diversity in the world and contains more distinct ethnic groups than the rest of the world combined. For most of human history, it was also the only part of the world where humans existed: Human predecessors like Homo ergaster and Homo erectus first appeared in Africa millions of years ago, and Homo sapiens have lived there for more than 100,000 years, but humans have only ventured onto other continents in the last 50,000 to 60,000 years. Besides being the birthplace of humanity, sub-Saharan Africa is also home to our closest biological relatives, the chimpanzee. While chimps are among the most intelligent animals, they’re also aggressive and very strong, which doesn’t stop people keeping them as exotic pets. To help The A.V. Club observe Pets Week next week, we’ll take a look at other unusual and ill-advised animal companions.