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On Trichotillomania and Its Hairy History

On Trichotillomania and Its Hairy History The act of hair pulling has been observed for centuries and was accepted as meaningful and even encouraged at certain points in history in societies spanning the ancient Egyptians, early Greeks, and the Jains in India1; however, the term trichotillomania is now specifically reserved for the aberrant act of hair pulling or, more specifically, the compulsive urge to pull one’s hair in situations of stress and anxiety. It is a disease that is mysterious in nature and fascinating in its historical baggage. The earliest reported case of trichotillomania in the medical literature belongs to the father of medicine, Hippocrates, himself. In Epidemics III, Hippocrates describes the wife of Delearces, who at the height of her grief and depression, “groped about, scratching and plucking out hair.”1 This phenomenon must have made quite an impression on Hippocrates, such that he included hair pulling as a part of his routine assessment of patients.1 It was not until the late 18th century that the French dermatologist Hallopeau Francois Henri (1842-1919) coined the term trichotillomania.1 What makes the history of trichotillomania so rich is its place in many different branches of the humanities—cultural, artistic, literary, as well as medical. Literary references to hair pulling can be found in the words of the prophet Ezra appalled at Israel’s unfaithfulness (“And when I heard this thing, I…plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard…”); the Greek king Agamemnon grieving on the Trojan plains (“…but whensoever to the ships he glanced and to the host of the Achaians, then rent he many a lock clean forth from his head…”); and the tragic Romeo in defense of his infatuation with Juliet (“Wert thou as young as I…Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair.”).1,2 Trichotillomania is also alluded to in artworks portraying estranged subjects suffering from mental illness. For instance, Artus Quellinus de Oude’s sculpture The Woman From the Mad House (circa 1650) is of a woman pulling her hair out in a fit of madness1; the life-sized sandstone statue used to stand in the garden of the Dolhuys, a municipal mental institution in Spain. For all the grim and gloomy places that trichotillomania seems to occupy in history, it is curious to note that we may be paying homage to this act of hair pulling in our everyday life when we tug at our hair in frustration. But don’t delve into it too long—you could pull your hair out. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Whan B. Kim, BSc, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, 1280 Main St W, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8, Canada (whan.kim@medportal.ca). Correction: An error in the byline was corrected online December 4, 2014. References 1. Stein DJ, Christenson GA, Hollander E. Trichotillomania. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1999. 2. França K, Chacon A, Ledon J, Savas J, Nouri K. Pyschodermatology: a trip through history. An Bras Dermatol. 2013;88(5):842-843.PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png JAMA Dermatology American Medical Association

On Trichotillomania and Its Hairy History

JAMA Dermatology , Volume 150 (11) – Nov 1, 2014

On Trichotillomania and Its Hairy History

Abstract

The act of hair pulling has been observed for centuries and was accepted as meaningful and even encouraged at certain points in history in societies spanning the ancient Egyptians, early Greeks, and the Jains in India1; however, the term trichotillomania is now specifically reserved for the aberrant act of hair pulling or, more specifically, the compulsive urge to pull one’s hair in situations of stress and anxiety. It is a disease that is mysterious in nature and fascinating in its...
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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
2168-6068
eISSN
2168-6084
DOI
10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.2284
pmid
25389789
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The act of hair pulling has been observed for centuries and was accepted as meaningful and even encouraged at certain points in history in societies spanning the ancient Egyptians, early Greeks, and the Jains in India1; however, the term trichotillomania is now specifically reserved for the aberrant act of hair pulling or, more specifically, the compulsive urge to pull one’s hair in situations of stress and anxiety. It is a disease that is mysterious in nature and fascinating in its historical baggage. The earliest reported case of trichotillomania in the medical literature belongs to the father of medicine, Hippocrates, himself. In Epidemics III, Hippocrates describes the wife of Delearces, who at the height of her grief and depression, “groped about, scratching and plucking out hair.”1 This phenomenon must have made quite an impression on Hippocrates, such that he included hair pulling as a part of his routine assessment of patients.1 It was not until the late 18th century that the French dermatologist Hallopeau Francois Henri (1842-1919) coined the term trichotillomania.1 What makes the history of trichotillomania so rich is its place in many different branches of the humanities—cultural, artistic, literary, as well as medical. Literary references to hair pulling can be found in the words of the prophet Ezra appalled at Israel’s unfaithfulness (“And when I heard this thing, I…plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard…”); the Greek king Agamemnon grieving on the Trojan plains (“…but whensoever to the ships he glanced and to the host of the Achaians, then rent he many a lock clean forth from his head…”); and the tragic Romeo in defense of his infatuation with Juliet (“Wert thou as young as I…Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair.”).1,2 Trichotillomania is also alluded to in artworks portraying estranged subjects suffering from mental illness. For instance, Artus Quellinus de Oude’s sculpture The Woman From the Mad House (circa 1650) is of a woman pulling her hair out in a fit of madness1; the life-sized sandstone statue used to stand in the garden of the Dolhuys, a municipal mental institution in Spain. For all the grim and gloomy places that trichotillomania seems to occupy in history, it is curious to note that we may be paying homage to this act of hair pulling in our everyday life when we tug at our hair in frustration. But don’t delve into it too long—you could pull your hair out. Back to top Article Information Corresponding Author: Whan B. Kim, BSc, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, 1280 Main St W, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8, Canada (whan.kim@medportal.ca). Correction: An error in the byline was corrected online December 4, 2014. References 1. Stein DJ, Christenson GA, Hollander E. Trichotillomania. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press; 1999. 2. França K, Chacon A, Ledon J, Savas J, Nouri K. Pyschodermatology: a trip through history. An Bras Dermatol. 2013;88(5):842-843.PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

Journal

JAMA DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Nov 1, 2014

References