Extruding Keratin

I have been thinking about getting a 3D printer for awhile and even briefly looked at getting one during the height of the pandemic last year. Then a meme on Facebook made me laugh and got me thinking. It was a graphic of Skeletor saying how your head is simply 3D printing hair. I pointed out that fingers are doing the same thing.

And as most will probably recall from high school, hair and nails are basically both keratin so it’s the same basic thing, just in a slightly different form.

First, I have to say, I find it amazing and wonderful on how conservative nature really is in the form of evolution. It really makes a lot of sense when one things about it. Once a basic structural protein has evolved, it’s probably easier making certain tweaks to it that are good enough for other uses than expecting something completely new to evolve. Hair and nails fill very different functions, but adapting keratin structures for each use works well enough.

Perhaps one can think of evolution as a bit object oriented and keratin is the base object and nail and hair are simply inheriting its features and deriving new classes.

Anyway, as a side effect of all this, humans especially have, pretty much as far back as we can look, modified hair and nails. It’s one way we distinguish ourselves from each other.

Head Hair

In my personal life I’ve both paid a lot of attention to my own hair grooming habits and very little. In ways I’ve experimented with its length and style over the decades. My grandfather apparently had very strict ideas on hair length and was known to give money to bagboys at the supermarket if he spied long hair and would tell them to get a hair cut. I don’t think he’d have approved of most of my hair experiments.

In high school, we had a dress code that wasn’t overly strict, basically it was boys hair could not be longer than “lightly touching the shirt collar.” That was fine for me. Beyond that, I probably didn’t pay much more attention to my hair than that. A few years later I met a fellow graduate (he was probably 6 years behind me) that had a mohawk that he had maintained while attending the same high school. He pointed out that when spiked out, it was no where near his collar and when it wasn’t, it flopped over and was still just lightly touching the collar. I have to applaud him for both following the letter of the rule, and completely flaunting expectations.

Back in the 90s when the original version of MacGyver was popular, mullets came into being. I’ll admit to being a fan of MacGyver for many reasons and it may or may not have influenced my hair style for a bit. Later I grew a bit of a rat-tail. I liked it for a number of reasons. Strangely, I found it sort of helped me as a consultant. I could dress in business casual, and look serious when meeting a client, but then they’d notice I had a bit of the look they expected from a computer geek. I’ll admit too, I didn’t mind the attraction some women found for it.

But, as I got a bit older, and honestly, as the gray started to appear, I decided I had to either grow out all my hair and go with the 60s hippy look (something I probably could have pulled off honestly, and had the family history for) or trim it. And so trim it I did. Since then, until recently I’d go in for the obligatory hair cut, but that was about it. At first I didn’t really care who cut my hair. I’d go to a place, take the first open chair and let them go to work. That stopped after one stylist kept butchering my hair shorter and shorter trying to fix the mistakes she kept making. I got up, paid and walked out.

Then while working in DC I happened to find a stylist I liked and would wait for her to cut my hair. Once back home, it took me a while to find another one I liked. She eventually moved but recommended someone else, who I liked. Then Covid hit.

At first I just let me hair grow, but finally it started to annoy me enough I ended up joining the crowd and buying a set of clippers with attachments. Now, I cut my own hair on a more regular basis than I did before Covid and according to my wife, I’m getting pretty good at it. She still helps me trim the very back but that’s about it.

Beard

In the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college, I went on a road trip with a college friend. He had a full beard. We both shaved the day before we left. Three weeks later we arrived home. It looked like he hadn’t shaved. My dad’s only comment (who was bearded) was “Oh, trying to grow a beard?” It was evident then and for decades later that any beard growth for me would be an exercise in either futility or patience.

But Covid changed that. Sometime last year I decided though to give up shaving. No real reason other than, “Hey it’s Covid, why not?” And since I wasn’t going to be seeing clients, visiting people, etc. I could take my time. Though in some ways too it was very much an experiment, “let’s see what can happen?” This time the beard took. Again I’ve played with lengths. At the longest, it was probably an inch long and very fuzzy. I sort of liked it, but my wife wasn’t and I also felt I wanted something that looked less “mountain man” and a bit more professional. So now I keep it trimmed fairly close and like that even more. That said, I suspect sometime in the next year or two it’ll finally go. It may make reappearances later in my life.

I started this post talking about a meme and evolution, but it’s grown. Funny that. And it’s down done growing.

Nails

One last bit though. I also mentioned nails. I suppose one could say over the past few months I’ve done some experimenting with those. At least the ones on my left hand. I’ve often had a slightly longer pinky nail, useful if only for a deep satisfying scratch or the like. But this time I’ve let all of them grow and well it’s been interesting. The pinky, because it had a head start is visibly longer. The others, from the backside, just now peaking over the pads of my fingers.

And, I’ve learned a lot:

  • For example, within the past few days, removing contacts has become a bit trickier given the way I’ve done it. I have to be very careful to make sure only the pads of my fingers are there, and I don’t scrape the cornea with my nails. (I thought I had a few days ago. That’s a hard thought to fall asleep to. Trust me.
  • Scratching myself definitely gives different feelings between the right (trimmed) and left hands.
  • Typing is a tad different.
  • Putting on an oven mitt was a surprising difference, at least with the extra-long pinky nail. Hard to describe, but I can’t pull it on quite as far and as a result gripping stuff is a bit different.
  • I find in general, with my left hand I have to be a bit more dainty in my usage, both to protect the nails and in some cases to protect what I’m handling (see contacts above).

As I was musing on what to write this week, that thought above really ran through my head; in two ways. The first being how the longer nails, even at this fairly short length, has impacted hand movements. But also on the adjective. At first I was going to say something like feminine, but realized that wasn’t accurate. I think it’s mostly because at this point in society, while we may associate long nails with being a feminine quality, there’s nothing inherently feminine about them. Men and women, cis or trans can obviously grow them. They are much like hair in this aspect. For years, as my grandfather seemed to believe, men had short hair and women had long (his wife, my grandmother had gorgeous red hair that cascaded down her back). But again this is simply a cultural norm, not an inherent characteristic. We look back at Samson with long hair and it was considered a sign of virility. And in 20th century America, women wearing short hair has also become acceptable. So obviously hair length itself doesn’t have a feminine or masculine inherent characteristic.

Conclusion

We assign to many things characteristics that are not an inherent part of them. Fortunately, in my mind society is getting better about this, though there are still far too many people that insist that their definitions are an inherent truth.

As for me, my head hair, I’ll probably keep cutting myself when it gets long enough to annoy me, the beard will stay until it doesn’t and the nails, we’ll see. Who knows, maybe I’ll paint them once before I trim them, or maybe I’ll simply cut to trimming them. It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’ve enjoyed it, but also not something I’m necessarily huge on keeping. But that’s ok. It’s my body and I’ll do what I want.

But I think if it weren’t for Covid, I might not have experimented like I did above. Both age, and the time of being away from people, has given me a little more confidence to explore, both my own expectations of my body and presentation and just in general. It’s one of the few good things to come out of Covid for me.

2 thoughts on “Extruding Keratin

  1. Random items inspired by your post:

    – I too once grew my hair for business purposes… Long hair, sweater vest, chinos = a bookseller right out of central casting.

    – On the boat once (underway, where regs were a bit looser) a bunch of us had “mirror mohawks”. That is, we shaved a stripe down the middle and let the rest grow. That lasted about a month before the XO (who was normally VERY tolerant and loose with such things) forbade them. Never did find out why he did that, why that *one* style bothered him.

    (The average age on my crew was 22 – and 90% of the crew had advanced technical training of some sort or another. So we were young, very intelligent, and BORED.)

    – Speaking of underway, we could and did grow beards and were allowed to keep them so long as we could pull a seal on the emergency breathing masks. (And yes, they checked. About once or twice a week the COB would stand at the head of the chow line with a mask in hand, testing those with beards that looked iffy.) My beard grows very slowly and patchy… I won the “ugliest end-of-patrol-beard” award all four of my patrols.

    – I basically didn’t shave for over a year during lockdown… I didn’t trim my beard and mustache ever except to keep the ‘stache out of my food. And I discovered that the space between ‘stache and beard actually filled in. For the first time in my life I have what I’ve wanted basically forever – an actual full circle beard. (https://www.toptrendsguide.com/circle-beard/)

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