We take hair for granted, but what is it (a skin covering in many mammals, growing out of the second of three layers of skin, the dermis; contains keratin, a fibrous protein also found in hooves, horns and feathers)? What does it do (gives protection, warmth, camouflage; helps attract a mate; communicates emotions, for example, anger or threat when animals such as cats and lions raise their fur)? How many hairs roughly are there on a human head, and how do they grow (varies, can be a million; grow 5-10mm a month; fall out every three years or so, replaced by new ones)? Any other uses (wigs, important in earlier times, still in use; horsehair used to stuff furniture; animal coverings, such as wool, for clothing)?
Why do people try to make themselves better looking (to attract a mate; impress others; improve their status at work, or in society; please themselves)? What do they do (use cosmetics; colour, style or enhance their hair; wear smart clothes)? Think of celebrity people you regard as good looking or beautiful, and compare your choices with others. Do you agree or disagree? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or does it have universal features, such as symmetry, proportion, clean lines? What about plants and animals: is there more agreement about them than about people? Is beauty just a phyical matter, or can people be beautiful because they are dignified, serene, kind-hearted, good fun, have an attractive personality?
When does concern over personal appearance become vanity (if overdone, competitive; people who constantly look in mirrors, preen themselves, boast about their appearance)? Do you think you are vain? Do your friends think you are vain? Is vanity bad, amusing, annoying? Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, along with anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth. Where does it rank?
Writingdrawing Write about someone you regard as beautiful, thinking about personal qualities as well as physical features. Draw a face, in light pencil, which is perfectly symmetrical; alter one side slightly, or change proportions. When does beautiful become ugly?
Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University TALKING POINTS
Is the natural look better than artificial aids to beauty, such as cosmetics and hairdos?
For We are what we are and should not try to deceive ourselves or others. Some beauty treatments, such as the over-use of cosmetics, can have a negative effect over time. Nature looks best in its unaltered state. Some people's attempts to improve their appearance are comical, or pathetic.
Against What is wrong with harmless decoration? Many societies adorn themselves on special occasions. Having your hair done is not vanity, just an attempt to take care with your appearance. Looking good is vital for physical and mental health, finding a partner or friends, and fitting in.