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The Beheld
By Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
Examining questions surrounding personal appearance: What does it mean to be seen? What is the relationship between "beauty labor" and cultural visibility? And why do two lipstick shades combined always look better than one?
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Ladyfans: A Fairy Tale of the World Cup

A few quick thoughts on this story, of how Belgian soccer fan Axelle Despiegelaere, who attended the Belgium-Russia World Cup game, is now modeling for L’Oréal after being singled out in photos of the match:

the-beheld_world cup l'oreal fan model

 

You’ll notice her unofficial fan page, created not long after the June 22 match, has more than 230,000 “likes,” which I know can happen in a matter of hours but which is remarkable nonetheless. It’s being spun as a fairy tale of sorts, along the lines of how film star Lana Turner was discovered at a Los Angeles drugstore. But I have to wonder how much this fairy tale is really a benefit to Despiegelaere, versus how much it’s a benefit to L’Oréal. By seizing upon something that has much of the world in a frenzy* for a full month, the company A) gets exposure without having to actually sponsor anything in the World Cup, B) gets to seem particularly savvy, and C) plants itself inside the fantasy of many a pretty young woman of being “discovered” simply by being herself. It gives us a backstory, and should the Belgian’s contract land her in a major campaign, it lets viewers associate a neat story with their product (and if any particular viewer doesn’t know the backstory, no worries; it’s still a beautiful young woman). It’s brilliant.

The story is actually just a commodified extension of the way games are broadcast. Sports games are televised with plenty of crowd shots interspersed, in the hopes of transporting the home viewer into the stadium; the painted faces of hopeful or disappointed fans are a stand-in for ourselves. By plucking a lovely young creature out of those fan shots, that sense of proxy is doubled, except now there’s the commodification of fandom involved. And let’s not forget that it’s commodification of female fandom, and that a solid third of the fan shots used in game broadcasts feature stunningly beautiful female fans (made all the easier by not only the internationalism of the tournament but by its location in Brazil, which exports many a young woman who suits the current tastes of the American modeling market). Turning women into one of the benefits of sports played by men has a long history, whether we’re talking cheerleaders or the publicity given to WAGs. This World Cup has seen the connection cemented with two Kia commercials that show Adriana Lima and other Brazilian beauties seductively telling gaga male American football fans that their football—that is, what Americans know as soccer—is superior. The commercials annoy me for any number of reasons, primarily that I doubt men watch any particular sport on the basis of how pretty its female fans are (and that it ignores how many women across the world love the sport), but it’s not like the agency that created the ads dreamed up “sex sells” all on its own.

But Despiegelaere’s story isn’t being marketed to men; it’s a product and story squarely aimed at women. This fairy tale—normal girl is spotted and becomes internationally famous—is one that fits particularly nicely with the reality-show ethos that we find ourselves surrounded with: Anyone can become famous if you land yourself in the right kind of outlet. Frankly, I’m wondering why we don’t see this narrative exploited more often by beauty lines. Who doesn’t love a local girl made good, even if “local” is Belgium or Brazil? When it’s a tale like this—of someone landing something generally seen as out of the reach of normal people, despite being a normal person herself—everyone becomes local.

 

The Party’s Girls and Party Girls: Negotiating Beauty in the Soviet Union

I’m pleased to welcome back Alana Massey as a guest blogger—and with this inquiry into how Soviet life shapes the reputation of Eastern European women today, you’ll be even more pleased. A graduate of New York University and Yale Divinity School, Alana has seen her work published at The Baffler, Religion Dispatches, Nerve, Jezebel, xoJane, Forbes, and more. You can follow her via her blog, Oh It’s Just Awfuland Twitter.

____________________________

 

 the-beheld_soviet-beauty-contest-alana-massey


The first Soviet beauty pageant.

 

 

Next to the Vanguard Theatre in the West Village, there is an unremarkable-looking salon that appears to be a single room devoted to manicures and pedicures to passersby who have never had a service at Spa Jolie. But ascend the narrow staircase to the second floor and the salon is revealed as a labyrinth of rooms and corridors for every imaginable beauty service performed by a staff primarily composed of Eastern European women. While many workers I’ve encountered in the cosmetic service industry are in a constant state of doublespeak over how pretty I am but how desperately I need a particular beauty treatment, I’m always pleasantly surprised when Spa Jolie staff upsell with no-nonsense pitches like, “Do it. It will make you look better,” or, “It will make your boyfriend very happy.”

A combination of my first name, my bone structure, and my chosen neighborhoods has meant that I’ve been mistaken for Russian since my teens. When I’ve replied to Russian inquiries in English, I’ve received responses ranging from a curse on my parents for not teaching me the language of the Motherland to the shocked declaration, “But…but you’re so beautiful!” And while I half jokingly plan for the latter comment to have a spot in the highlight reel I’ll watch on my deathbed, it is undeniable that features particular to Eastern European women are especially valuable in the post-Soviet era in beauty and fashion.

In a beauty culture that simultaneously celebrates the exotic but still defaults to white superiority, women with Slavic features have become a middle ground on which the industry relies to relay their messages about beauty ideals. By the mid-1990s, as young people from the former Soviet Union emigrated westward, the Crawfords were quickly replaced by Kurkovas on runways, with their razor cheekbones and the permanent pout of downward-slanting lips. But even outside of the fashion and beauty industries where only the tall and worryingly thin have a fighting chance, stereotypes abounded about hyper-feminine, appearance-obsessed Eastern European women. And statistics on per capita spending on cosmetics in Russia support these tropes.

This would be unremarkable were it not for the persistent claims, both internally and externally, that Soviet ideology deemphasized the importance of gender-specific appearance in favor of a model where a person’s value corresponded to their contributions to socialist and communist ideals. While part of the phenomenon can be attributed to the introduction of consumer goods to post-Soviet markets, it’s more than a capitalist inevitability that post-Soviet women—who lived in an era supposedly free of rigid beliefs about gender—came to be seen as the epitome of ultra-femininity.

Dr. Yulia Gradskova, a researcher at the University of Stockholm specializing in Soviet gender history, challenges the myth that Soviet women had neither obligation nor inclination to engage in beauty routines because Soviet ideology was focused on non-gendered qualities. Instead, she posits that the simultaneous demands of Soviet values of culture, good taste, and hygiene that were meant to deemphasize the individual’s gender still reinforced the need for beauty practices whose end result was still a consumer-oriented, western standard of feminine beauty. Gradskova writes:

While peripheral areas struggled to introduce ‘cultured appearance’ to everyday practices, central publications on beauty and appearance focused increasingly on developing aesthetic notions of ‘good taste’. Thus, aesthetic, rather than overtly political, arguments were employed to explain the importance of ‘avoiding luxury’ and ‘loud’ styles as part of a discourse on ‘good taste’.

In other words, look precisely cultured enough to embody our ideal but don’t look too ideal doing it. Subtlety, ladies. Subtlety. Yet in the absence of consumer products that made this standard attainable, daily beauty practices became expensive and often dangerous. Gradskova continues, “Throughout this era women had to cope with an ‘economy of shortage’ and ‘making themselves beautiful’ demanded a complex combination of scarce state resources and various forms of quasi-private entrepreneurship.” Many reported great strain on time and finances to secure clothing that was considered attractive but not so appealing as to draw sexual attention. Expectations of aesthetic appeal were essentially an unfunded mandate to the Soviet woman, meaning that many relied heavily on the black market for fashion and cosmetics to complement their home rituals.

While many of their beauty concoctions like raw yogurt and strawberry face creams would find a home on Pinterest today, others were considerably more brutal. A friend’s mother who grew up in the 1960s in what is now Ukraine reported burning off leg hairs one at a time with matchsticks in the absence of razors. Another woman with whom I discussed her beauty routine recalled applying oil mixed with ashes as eyeliner using a crudely sharpened wooden stick. Despite the frequently bitter cold, many women recounted eschewing unflatteringly thick tights for bare legs with a line drawn down the length of the leg to give the appearance of stockings—a practice also common in the United States in times of material shortages, though it was considerably less hazardous in Kansas than in Siberia. Gradskova’s subjects used burning hot tongs, corks, and pencils to curl and add volume to their hair.

But the physical danger of such practices was also painfully complemented by the social and political danger of appearing too feminized, and therefore sexualized, for Soviet standards. (Not that this double bind was limited to life behind the Iron Curtain, as we still see today.) In a discussion of Soviet beauty, Anne Marie Skvarek writes about the pitfalls of being overly involved in one’s appearance: “A woman who spent time doing such things was deemed to be selfish, shallow, and therefore not putting the good of the collective above her personal desires.” The demands for ultra-specific beauty and hygiene standards even necessitated the creation of a state-owned and operated cosmetics company, the Tezhe trust. Marketing materials for Tezhe used feminine models in makeup and expensive fashions, but showed them being examples of productive labor. The “third shift” of beauty work reinforced a woman’s model citizenship, but only if it was done just-so. Soviet women sat permanently on an uncertain line between embodying Soviet state ideals and being active agents against those ideals through overtly sexual manifestations of femininity. A color-enhanced cheek was forever a brush stroke away from turning one of the Party’s good girls into a frivolous party girl. One had to always be just attractive enough for state purposes but never for one’s own personal purposes of attracting mates or simply feeling beautiful for its own sake. The option of confronting state messages that dubiously linked things like tastefully made-up faces to good hygiene was undoubtedly out of the question.

Later decades in the Soviet era saw considerable relaxation in both the messages about gender expectations and around the flow of consumer goods during Perestroika, but messages about beauty were still cloaked in socialist-speak until the very end. The first Soviet beauty pageant was held in 1988, and while the women almost all appear in sexy apparel and heavy makeup, the event’s organizers insisted, “Our event is not commercial. It has an important, socially challenging objective—to rescue women from urbanization, abandonment in the society and to raise the women value in the Soviet society.” Rescue by way of spandex leotard was just the last incarnation of the similar Soviet messages from the 1930s that connected culture and hygiene to waist-to-hip ratios.

It was not until the end of the Soviet Union that more overt expressions of femininity for the sake of sexual attractiveness reemerged. When they did, it was not as much a sexual revolution as a sexual revelation about the long-standing but suppressed desire to be sexually appealing. As cosmetics flooded the market, many post-Soviet women began immediately overcompensating for both product scarcity and for repressed sexual expression. Cosmopolitan launched a Russian edition in May of 1994 to extraordinary financial returns for its publisher as post-Soviet women flocked to its pages for beauty and sex tips. To some, Cosmo represents everything wrong with modern feminine ideals in the U.S., but for the post-Soviet woman it served as a manual for physical self-expression that had been aggressively policed by market and policies for the preceding decades. The following year, the magazine reported on a survey of 1700 Russian women that revealed that they valued their partner’s orgasm over all other sexual experiences. Today, Russian women reportedly spend as much as 60% of their frequently modest incomes on beauty. Gender studies scholar Elena Zdravomyslova writes that Russian advertisements and entertainment continue to be guilty of “‘aggressively sexualizing’ the common idea of women’s roles” in a society currently soaked in overt sexism. It is this aggressive sexualization that has made Eastern European beauty both a source of mystery and of appeal to beauty consumers the world over.

During a Brazilian bikini wax at Spa Jolie, I asked my regular esthetician about the DIY nightmares I’d learned about and asked if she had practiced any of them. She laughed and said, “We did all sorts of stupid shit like that.” I joined her in laughter and agreement at how ridiculous it was, somehow missing the irony of identifying such practices as drastic while she slathered hot wax on the most sensitive region of my body primarily for the benefit of a man whose feelings for me were lukewarm. I would later pay a premium for another employee to take a razor blade to the bottom of my feet so that no one in particular could feel the softness of the soles.

In a later moment of more thoughtful reflection, I considered whether the brutality to which women subject themselves for the sake of beauty is a universal experience in a world governed by the male gaze, and if the fixation of Soviet and post-Soviet women on beauty was simply another variation of women accommodating male desire. Brutal instruments like hot wax and razor blades when used in the presence of cosmetology certificates and scented candles are, after all, still brutal instruments. But because the western beauty ideals that necessitate such instruments have persisted more or less uninterrupted, these regimens serve the fairly one-dimensional purpose of enhancing sexual visibility and viability. But to interrupt that purpose as Soviet norms did gave its reintroduction social and political dimensions that often go overlooked when there are easy jokes about superficial Russian women so readily available.

In the case of post-Soviet women, the commitment to hyper-feminine beauty functions simultaneously as rebellion against the paternalism of the Communist state and as a surrender to the patriarchal insistence on almost caricatured femininity. Her exaggerated beauty is both a move to reestablish her sexual self while also working to limit her to her actual sexual agency. Just as the Soviet woman’s beauty sat at the intersection of party ideals and sex appeal, the post-Soviet woman’s beauty represents liberation from one set of ideals only to become beholden to another set. Western fetishization of her beauty—my own included—sees a smoldering, almost aggressive expression of feminine sexuality. The reality is a much more complex web of historical and contemporary social expectations of what purpose a woman serves and how she ought to look serving it. And serving it for everyone but herself.

Sorry, Ladies: No World Hair Cup for Women

One of the questions we’ve frequently fielded here at World Hair Cup headquarters is that of women: Will there be a World Hair Cup for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015? It would make sense, in some ways. Internationally speaking, women’s soccer still lags behind men’s in popularity and professional participation, but in the United States, that wasn’t true until fairly recently—until the dramatic surge of World Cup interest, I’m guessing that the names Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Brandi Chastain, and Mia Hamm would’ve rang more bells in your average American household than Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Mikkel Diskerud, and maybe even Clint Dempsey. And the iconic image of American soccer probably still remains a triumphant, shirtless Chastain kneeling in the throes of victory after winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup in a penalty shootout. Plus, given that the U.S. women’s team is internationally ranked far higher than the men’s team, it’s not unreasonable to think that at least in the States, popular interest in women’s soccer will mushroom now that men’s soccer has given it a nice nudge.

 

But will there be a women’s World Hair Cup? No. Why? Because the hair of women’s soccer is boringIt’s perfectly lovely; certainly female footballers don’t have bad hair. But a ballot for a women’s World Hair Cup would be little more than row after row of ponytails, with some braids and dreadlocks popping up, but nothing truly remarkable. Compare the actual “Group of Hair Death” ballot with a prospective ballot featuring those countries’ female national players:

 

 the-beheld_women's soccer hair

 

 

 

Why would this be, when, generally speaking, women are given far more leeway than men to visually ornament themselves? Why doesn’t Hope Solo have her jersey number shaved into the back of her head? Why doesn’t Abby Wambach ever fashion her ‘do into a spiky gelled mohawk? Why do so few—if any—African female footballers utilize hair bleach to set themselves apart like their male counterparts? Women’s appearance is more policed than men’s, but when it comes to hair, the range of acceptability is far broader for women than it is for men. Nobody thinks it’s unusual if a brunette lady goes blonde for a while. If it’s a dude, though—well, questions might well be asked about his sexuality. (In fact, questioning mainstream convention is exactly why some men dye their hair, as in the punk community.) Same with hair length: While long hair is still considered the default for women, a woman with short hair doesn’t get ridiculed for it, while a man with waist-length hair may as well change his name to Legolas. Logically, then, we should be seeing more remarkable hair among female soccer players, not less.

 

But we don’t, and here’s why: If you’re a male athlete, you’ve excelled at a crucial aspect of conventional masculinity. You’re stronger than other men, faster than other men, more coordinated than other men—you’re not the sissy who kept fumbling with the ball when playing catch with your dad. Nobody is going to question your masculinity. And if you’re a professional athlete, people will assume you’ve also nailed the “breadwinner” part of the masculine equation (even if that’s not the case). So you can do things like dye your hair between games, or have hair that trails down your back, or sport a fancifully bleached stripe, or hold back your flowing curls with a headband, and you are still quantifiably a dude.

 

Enter the ladies. Sports aren’t exactly considered unfeminine, at least in the States, in large part thanks to the skyrocketing sports participation of women and girls after passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. (Participation still isn’t equal, it’s worth noting.) But if you say the word athlete, most people will conjure up an image of a man. More to the point, there’s still a certain way to be a female athlete—namely, to adhere to codes of conventional femininity. I mean, there’s a reason I know who Anna Kournikova is, despite me not following tennis and her not having won major singles titles. Even if a female athlete manages to become a public figure without exploiting her sexuality—which many of them do—she still has to play by the rules. She has to be tasteful: She makes public appearances with light makeup that implies the healthy, wholesome, freshly scrubbed life she supposedly lives. She has neat hair, not so overly styled as to imply vanity but not so understyled as to appear sloppy. She’s extra good to make up for being competitive, because we all know women aren’t supposed to compete; if they do, they certainly don’t run and sweat and fight and bleed for it. Yet that’s what you do on the pitch—there’s no way around it—and so to compensate, a female soccer player has to demonstrate exactly how much of a “good girl” she is. Even if she hasn’t been acting like one.

 

There’s a twist here: sexual orientation. Sportswomen still have to fight the stereotype that they’re lesbians. That’s changing, both for straight athletes and gay ones (as evidenced by out athletes like Brittney Griner and Abby Wambach). But the longtime association of queerdom and sporty ladies means that many straight female athletes report the need to signal their heterosexuality—and what’s one of the easiest ways to do that? Look as conventionally ladylike as possible. Which means: Have longish, pretty, glistening hair. Which means: No World Hair Cup for women.

 

A note of irony: I’ve argued that by dint of being an athlete, sportsmen’s masculinity is protected, so they can do nutty stuff to their hair and it’s just, Oh, you boys. But so far, this hasn’t translated into a protected space of sexual orientation. I mean, it’s 2014 and there’s exactly one out player in the NFL, one in the NBA, one in the MLS, and none in the MLB. Many leagues have been taking administrative strides in support of gay athletes, and the shifting cultural landscape means we’ll probably be seeing more out players soon. But gay male players are subject to a stigma their female counterparts aren’t—Griner and Wambach both made news simply by being gay, but neither of them made the splash of Michael Sam’s drafting.

 

I’ve written a lot about the narrow spaces women are allowed to inhabit when it comes to their appearance: Be pretty but not threateningly so, care how you look but don’t be high-maintenance, etc. The World Cup—and, of course, the World Hair Cup (vote now! Tomorrow’s the last day to vote in the Round of 16!)—are a handy reminder that the highwire isn’t just for women. With the remarkable hair of the men’s World Cup players, one of the narrow spaces men live in is adeptly maneuvered, with everything from fluffy Afros to beard-mohawk combos to creative razor lines. It’s a construction of masculinity that has given these men a particular permission to sport the styles they do. But permission is something that can be withdrawn at whim. A right is not.

Hello, Round of 16; Farewell, Hair We’ve Left Behind

After weeks of grueling follicular play, the Group Stage of the World Hair Cup has ended. Now, what you’ve been waiting for: the results.

the-beheld_world hair cup group stage results

(Click for full size.)

To address the most burning issue: You can vote in the Round of 16 here. But first, a bit of ceremony. Congratulations are in order to all teams that advanced—after we bid a fond farewell to a few MVPs who were left behind:

 

the-beheld_world hair cup ochoa

Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico. Position: Goalkeeper.
Hair: Remarkable.

 

Guillermo Ochoa, your unbelievable saves against Brazil were echoed only by the glory of your hair. Disciplined by the headband, stunningly spontaneous in its tumble of curls, your hair, bobbing in the aftermath of dive after dive, was a lesson in splendor. Your World Cup journey continues; ’tis a pity your World Hair Cup voyage must stop here.

 

the-beheld_world hair cup honda

 Keisuke Honda, Japan. Position: Forward.
Hair: Remarkable.

Keisuke Honda, as with your laser-like accuracy in the 16th minute against Côte d’Ivoire, your spiky blond head raised FIHA’s expectations. Alas, as in soccer, hair: Your team’s skills aren’t yet to your level. Regretfully, we must bid you adieu.

 the-beheld_world hair cup palacio

Rodrigo Palacio, Argentina. Position: Forward.
Hair: Remarkable Extraordinary.

Rodrigo Palacio, a singular hair talent, you are the Lionel Messi of the Argentine hair team. Nature gave you hair that might not look like that of a hair champion—an unremarkable color, a texture lacking verve—and a similarly gifted player would be forgiven for looking at his hair and calling it quits, opting for a basic crewcut. Not you, Palacio. You have the imagination, the vision, and the strength of character to pave your route to an unmistakable hair win. And just as with Messi, your team will never equal your exquisite aptitude. True, the rattail is one-hit wonder, but has a more remarkable hairstyle been seen on the pitch in 2014? You played for Argentina with vigor, might, and majesty. From the FIHA headquarters, we cry for you.

 

The true loss here, though—and I am not just saying this because I am American—is the hair talents of Kyle Beckerman. Yes, it’s the dreads. Yes, it’s the mass of the dreads. But even within the standards of high-mass dreadss, Beckerman remains a remarkable player.

In game play he’s fluid:

the-beheld_world hair cup beckerman 2

 

He enables excellent hair assists:

the-beheld_world hair cup beckmerman assist

 

He’s unafraid in the face of fierce competition:

the-beheld_world hair cup beckerman meireles

And for ceremonial purposes he does all right too:

 the-beheld_world hair cup beckerman cleaned up

Kyle Beckerman: You, sir, are the Ghana of your hair group. Thrust into the Group of Death, you played with the passion and ingenuity you’re known for, and were you in another group, we may well have seen the United States advance on your merits alone. But in the Group of Death—Meireles’s mohawk with matching beard, Gyan’s bleached jersey number at the temple, Pepe’s glistening curls—even your magnificent mane wasn’t enough to save us. Your team is unworthy of your skills. For chrissakes, the third-most-remarkable hair on your team belongs to Michael Bradley.

the-beheld_world hair cup michael bradley

Michael Bradley, USA. Position: Midfielder. Hair: None.

Kyle Beckerman, on behalf of all of us here at the Fédération Internationale de Hair Association: We salute you. We salute your hair.

Yet: The game must go on. Congratulations to those who made the Round of 16: Brazil, Cameroon, Netherlands, Child, Côte d’Ivoire, Greece, Italy, Uruguay, France, Ecuador, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Portugal, Ghana, Algeria, and Belgium. Who from the Group of 16 will advance to the quarterfinals? Vote here!

bracket-whole-72dpi

(Confused by how the bracket system works? Click on the above image for a full-size visual.)

 

(Confused by why The Beheld is temporarily dominated by soccer hair? More on that soon.)

World Hair Cup 2014 Updates

You’ve cast your group stage vote in the World Hair Cup, right? If not, do so immediately—the world needs to know which hair will dominate. I’ve also set up a special URL just for the occasion, so if you tell people about it—or, dare I suggest, set up a betting bracket for your office?—you can just direct them to WorldHairCup.com.

So given that 2014 marks the inaugural World Hair Cup, it’s understandable that the Fédération Internationale de Hair Association (FIHA) ran into some unexpected issues during group stage. (Hey, it took FIFA a couple of tries to figure out they should hold qualifying rounds to thin out the competition, so forgive us.) Two things FIHA did not consider when compiling the ballots for group stage:

1) Between-game hair changes. Case study: Neymar’s hair is definitively remarkable, but he really upped the ante between the June 13 Brazil-Croatia match and the June 17 Brazil-Mexico match with his dye job:

 

neymar brazil croatia

Brazil-Croatia, June 13

 

neymar brazil mexico

Brazil-Mexico, June 17 

 

 

Neymar was the most-discussed example of the between-match switcheroo, but he wasn’t alone: Honduran defender Brayan Beckeles went sunny-side-up between taking on France and the match with Ecuador:

 

beckeles honduras france

Honduras-France, June 15

 

beckeles honduras ecuador

Honduras-Ecuador, June 20

The question for voters in The World Hair Cup then becomes this: Is a between-games hair change remarkable enough to up a team’s Hair Power Index (HPI)? After all, Neymar took the time between matches to frost his hair but then couldn’t be bothered to score against Mexico, so clearly he thinks it’s remarkable. To answer the question, we turn to the WHC bylaws: “Only the hairstyles sported during game play of the FIFA World Cup 2014 may be considered. Players’ hair history may not be considered for the 2014 WHC.” Thus, both the “before” hair and the “after” hair may be considered in hair remarkability—yet the change in and of itself does not factor into hair remarkability. Think of it as a zen koan.

 

It’s worth noting that in both the case studies given above, the dye job was inversely correlated with superior game play—Brazil, widely considered the favorite to win the whole shebang, drew with Mexico, while Honduras lost to Ecuador 2-1. We at FIHA are experts on hair remarkability, not soccer mechanics. But still, we’re just sayin’.

 

2) The bench. Now, the rules of The World Hair Cup clearly state that all team members on the official roster may be considered when determining a team’s HPI. But it’s near-impossible to truly tell how remarkable a player’s hair really is until they’ve gotten some time in play. For example, when not in motion, David Silva of Spain has fairly unremarkable hair, unless by “remarkability” you mean “resemblance to a Beatles wig”:

 

david silvaUnremarkable.

 

But put the midfielder on the pitch and his hair becomes remarkable:

 

silva spain netherlands

Remarkable.

 
So then what do we do about players on the bench? To demonstrate how crucial this question is, let’s turn to Argentina. When putting together the voting ballot for the WHC Group Stage, FIHA considered Argentina’s hair to be merely average in remarkability.

 

argentinaArgentina, in game play vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina June 15:Average hair remarkability.

But six days later, in the 76th minute of the match against Iran, coach Alejandro Sabella brought on one of the most truly remarkable players in the 2014 World Hair Cup: Rodrigo Palacio.

 

palacio

Rodrigo Palacio: Extraordinary hair remarkability.

 

Yes, that’s a rattail, and yes, rattails are highly fucking remarkable. (Remember, the WHC is based on hair remarkability, not good hair.) Yet the FIHA board member responsible for putting together the ballots was unaware of Palacio’s remarkable hair until well after the ballots had been distributed (get your group stage ballot here). Argentina’s HPI suffers as a result, and Argentina may well lose out to teams that may ultimately be less deserving. But that’s the game, people. Even the beautiful game can get ugly.

 

The end fallout: Voters may consider the hair on the bench, and bench hair is factored into a team’s HPI, but remarkable hair that never gets on the pitch may not be the deciding factor of any vote. Let’s use forward Jozy Altidore as a metaphor: The U.S. A. is seen as a threat in large part because of him, but his injury kept him from being a factor in the Portugal game. (This also brings up the question of what to do about hair injuries, which FIHA will consider on a case-by-case basis.)

Reminder: Group Stage voting is open until Thursday, June 26, at which point the top two teams from each group will progress to the Hair Group of 16. Cast your ballot now!