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Franciscan Friday: It’s All About the Hair


As No-Shave November got underway yesterday, Domestic Volunteer Anna Robinson reflected on the connection between Franciscans and the statement of hair, or lack there of.

Photo of monks with tonsures taken by Flickr user waldopics

November 1st began a month of many well known U.S. holidays: All Saint’s Day, Thanksgiving, plus all the awareness campaigns that invade our newsfeeds and inboxes.  Included in this list of November related events is one inspired by hair. Yes, hair.

The idea of No-Shave November is claimed to have started as early as the time of Plato – refraining from shaving as a sign of man-hood. Others claim it to be a tactic of survival – growing facial hair to warm the face during the colder months. Today it has turned into a pop-culture ritual that is left to the interpretation of the individual – “I’m lazy,” “I want to give it a go,” and “I’m doing it for a cause.” Women are even encouraged to participate, even if it just means wearing a fake mustache for a Facebook photo.

Either way, the practice forces participants to make a statement: “I don’t care!” “I’m raising money for cancer!”  This wouldn’t be the first time hair has been used to make a public testimony. In fact, St. Francis is kind of famous for it.

No one can ignore the acclaimed friar haircut when looking at a depiction of St. Francis – the bald spot on top of the head encircled by a furry crown of brown locks. It’s called a “tonsure.” In the time of St. Francis it was used as a mark of ordination done right before the ceremony. Some also believe it to resemble a halo.

The term “tonsure” actually covers several versions of the style pictured on St. Francis’ head, including a half-moon look and one involving no hair at all. But all styles had the same purpose: to publicly state their devotion to humbly serve God, and it’s still practiced today.

Reflecting on the research I was reading about the tonsure, I couldn’t help but wonder what statement I was making with my hair.  Hairstyles have always been a way of expressing one’s self, exclaiming a statement of who we are. We even give them names: the Bieber side-swipe, the rocker mohawk, the country mullet, the 1940’s flapper bob, etc.

I personally have made a conscious choice to not give in to the temptation of dying my hair. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about highlights of a radical color just for the sake of it.  However, each time I’ve been faced with that dilemma, I’ve talked myself out of it, believing that my statement is to be content with the natural condition God grant me at birth.  After all, God wouldn’t have given me this look if I couldn’t pull it off, right?

While I may joke around, and I realize I am also not the best person to comment on No-Shave November, I do sincerely ask all those going razor-less this month, “What statement are you making?”

Anna Robinson recently joined our FMS staff and the communications team as a full-time volunteer. She graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2011 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Music Composition.  This is her second year participating in a volunteer program.

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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