The Hair in the Garland: Hair Loss and Social Stress Among Women in South India

Lesley Jo Weaver, Karl Krupp, Purnima Madhivanan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Generations of scholars have debated hair’s significance as a symbol of womanhood, fertility, and spiritual morality in South India. For contemporary Indian women, hair is a site of concern, often expressed as an everyday preoccupation with hair loss or “hair fall,” as it is known in the subcontinent. This exploratory study investigated hair fall among Kannada-speaking Hindu women in the South Indian city of Mysuru, Karnataka. It used a series of focus group discussions to explore how women talk about the causes and consequences of hair fall, and how women cope with hair-related distress. Participants articulated clear, shared ideas about why hair falls and how it can be managed. They connected hair fall to broader stressors in their lives both directly and symbolically. Hair fall, therefore, appears to function idiomatically in this context, both as an idiom of distress in its own right, and as a symptom of other idioms and forms of distress. Additional research is needed to establish the importance of hair fall relative to other distress constructs, and to more directly assess its potential value in research and intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-474
Number of pages19
JournalCulture, Medicine and Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Cultural concepts of distress
  • Distress
  • Hair fall
  • Idioms of distress
  • India
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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