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The Fatal Hairdo

An Urban Legend

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The Fatal Hairdo
Paul Gilligan / Getty Images

Also known as "The Spider in the Hairdo" and "The Deadly Hairdo"

Example #1
As told by Jennifer Morrison:

A very stylish teenage girl grew tired of spending hours carefully "ratting" (teasing) and spraying her hair to attain an extreme beehive do. She washed her hair in sugar-water, allowing it to harden in the style she wanted. At night, she carefully wrapped a towel around it and slept on a special half-pillow designed not to disturb the hair.

One morning she failed to come down for breakfast. Her mother went to her room only to find her dead in bed. When the towel was removed from her head, it was discovered that she had been gnawed to death by rats (or bugs — I've heard both versions).



Example #2
As told by Jen Rasi:

My mother grew up in Ostersund, Sweden. When she was in her early teens, when beehive hairdos were popular, she was told about a girl in her school who wrapped her hair around bread dough to achieve maximum height to her beehive.

After about three weeks of her winning hairdo she began to suffer severe headaches. She was finally taken to an emergency room, almost unconscious, where it was discovered that the dough, and consequently her scalp (really believable, that!), was totally infested with maggots.



Example #3
As told by Joel Harvey:

There's this guy who you might have seen walking around town with two huge dreadlocks, one on each side of his head. One day he decides to get them cut off. So he's off to the hair dresser, and of course they can't get the clippers through his hair, so out come the biggest pair of scissors you've ever seen.

They start to hack into one of the dreads and get about halfway through when he starts screaming and runs out of the shop. His girlfriend finds him dead in their flat the next day.

The coroner found that a nest of red-backed spiders had moved into his hair and started biting him when the scissors cut the nest to bits.



Example 4
Forwarded email text contributed by Brenda F., May 14, 1999:

Please take caution. Pass this along to your friends and family. Must Read!

Something terrible happened to a 10 yr. old girl who had braids. The little girl had been wearing her braids in a ponytail for the longest and apparently the braids were old, at least 2 to 3 months old, and the mother never took them down to wash them or let them air out or anything.

Anyway, the girl had been complaining about having a headache for approximately two weeks to her mother who just brushed it off, assuming that she had hit her head against the wall or something. Well one morning the child again complained to her mother about having a headache while getting ready for school. Again the mother brushed her off. When the child got to school, she told her teacher that her head was hurting. The teacher assumed that the braids were too tight in the child's hair and attempted to let the ponytail down. When she removed the hair piece and let the braids loose, there was a spider in the childs hair.

The spider had laid eggs in the childs hair and the spiders were eating her scalp. The child was rushed to the hospital were she later died.

This happened in Monroe, La. It was all over the news and in the papers for about a week or two. Please, parents, don't leave braids, or any kind of hair extensions in childrens or your own hair no more than 2-3 weeks.



Analysis: The most familiar variants of this creepy-crawly legend date from the early 1960s when "beehive" hairdos were popular, but believe it or not there's at least one version dating back as far as the thirteenth century. In her 1976 paper, "Three Medieval Tales and their Modern American Analogues" (reprinted in J.H. Brunvand's Readings in American Folklore, W.W. Norton: 1979), Shirley Marchalonis shares this ecclesiastical rendition:

There is a sermon story of a certain lady of Eynesham, in Oxfordshire, "who took so long over the adornment of her hair that she used to arrive at church barely before the end of Mass." One day "the devil descended upon her head in the form of a spider, gripping with its legs," until she well-nigh died of fright. Nothing would remove the offending insect, neither prayer, nor exorcism, nor holy water, until the local abbot displayed the holy sacrament before it.

Marchalonis continues: "The high school girl with the nest of spiders in her hair offends contemporary standards of behavior just as the proud medieval ladies offended contemporary belief. In both cases the story acts as warning and example." It's the very definition of a cautionary tale.

I should add that the email variant quoted above, which is about a 10-year-old girl with unwashed braids, touches on another popular theme in contemporary folklore just now: parental neglect.

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