January 23, 2013

Hair To The Chief

Recently, I went to get my hair trimmed. I usually go about every three to four months, and it was time. I have also noticed more gray hairs speckled throughout my long, very dark—nearly black—brown hair. Now, I am excited about gray, so that is not where I am going, but I was curious about gray hairs. So I asked my stylist about them. She told me that every hair is predetermined at each individual’s birth to turn gray at a certain point.

What is that point, you ask?

Well, simply when the pigment melanin runs out. Each hair has a certain amount of melanin, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is the pigment that gives hair, skin, and even the iris of our eyes their colors. For hair, once the pigment runs out, then our hair begins to turn gray. This happens gradually at first with a gray strand here and there until many of our follicles begin to turn.

That is the natural progression of graying hair. For those who have not had a great illness or overwhelming and extreme stress, they will gray naturally as predetermined at birth. However, some people begin to gray earlier and faster. For some, this is due to a hard illness such as cancer. Because of the stress on the body that cancer and its treatments cause, the body responds in different ways. One such way is through premature graying.

The other way that people gray quicker and earlier is not from health stress but from mental stress. Some professions contribute to this kind of serious and intense stress. One such profession just happens to be arguably the most important one in the nation: the office of President of the United States of America.

CNN released a video and article on January 22, 2013, that showed the progression of graying hair for President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, and President Barrack Obama beginning at week one of each of their presidencies and ending at week 198. Each President showed significant graying just four years in. By the end of President Clinton’s and President Bush’s full eight years, they were both completely grayed. One can only speculate that President Obama will likely follow suit.

I do not think it will surprise many Americans that our last two Presidents ended their terms in office not just salt and peppered but completely white—snowy white in President Clinton’s case and a more traditional gray in President Bush’s. Already President Obama’s rich dark hair shows signs of speckled graying. Perhaps in four more years he, too, will be completely white or gray headed.

CNN explained that each time we shed our hair follicles we must grow hair back, which means that we use up more of the pigment. Stress causes us to shed more frequently thus we grow hair more often and use more pigment. So extreme stress obviously causes premature graying.

The pressure of responsibility that our Presidents face is not a trifle matter to anyone in that role. They have the responsibility to protect the country, pass laws to benefit American citizens, and deal with outdated policies and procedures. Not only that, but they must consider when to send out the military to protect the U.S. or help its allies. Presidents must concern themselves with those in direct danger (i.e. war) and those in less publicized danger (i.e. poverty) and everything in between.

Yeah, I’d say that obviously would lead to extreme stress, more hair shedding, and more pigment use. I think I’m graying by just thinking about the notion. No wonder the President’s melanin prematurely give up.

Image Credit: Christopher Halloran and 360b /

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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