Body Language 17 Playing With the Hair

Some people fiddle with their hair while listening. Some even twirl their hair while speaking. The habit is highly individualized and can have many meanings. I will start with the most common connotation and then branch out to other meanings that have been ascribed to the gesture. There is some cultural bias in the tendency to manipulate the hair. Of course, you will not see it among women who live in cultures where the head is covered.

While the gesture is more commonly observed in women, it can also be practiced by men. For example, I knew one manager who would immediately start to twirl his curly hair in a particular place the moment a conversation took on a tone of visiting or chatting. He did not do it in technical or serious conversation, but the minute things became informal, his finger would start working that spot on his head. The implication was that it was his way to signal a relaxed state where he could let down his guard a bit.

One thing to observe when a person is fussing with his or her hair is what type of conversation is occurring or what the situation is. If the person typically does this in only one kind of conversation, like my male friend above, it is a habitual comfortable gesture that may not have a lot of meaning. However, if a person rarely does this, then all of a sudden starts combing her hair with her fingers, something of significance is going on. Look for other accompanying BL signals to find out what is happening.

The more common hair twirling I have seen is among women with long hair. They will pull it aside and sometimes grab a small lock of hair to wrap around a finger. I know one woman who did this nearly constantly when in a classroom setting. She would pull the hair and get a small bunch so she could examine the ends of the hair, seemingly inspecting it for splitting. I never asked her about the habit, and, since she did it so frequently, I did not ascribe any special meaning when she did it.

The most common reason for playing with the hair is that it is a self-soothing or calming activity. It can be interpreted as somewhat mysterious and give opportunities for other accompanying gestures like tossing one’s head to make the hair go where it is wanted. The gesture can also be a kind of flirting gesture in some circumstances. The best advice is to look for accompanying other body language signals.

The use of tossing hair can also mean a form of rejection as identified in the famous “September Song” by Maxwell Anderson as sung by Walter Huston:

“When I was a young man courting the girls

I played a waiting game

If a maid refused me with tossing curls

I’d let the old earth take a couple whirls…”

People will use flipping of the hair as a way to signal a transition or anxiety. It is like the person wants you to know to move on to another topic. The implication is that the person is putting the hair back in its normal pattern and ready to start over. Some women use this gesture quite a lot, like more than once a minute. It is a habit. For example, Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame used to fling her long blond hair several times a minute while singing, especially during the upbeat songs.

Men and women with very long bangs will often flip the hair out of their eyes or brush it aside so they can see clearly. In some cases, the gesture is so frequent that the person might be better off cutting the offending hair an inch or so.

I have seen women in a classroom setting put a lock of their hair under their nose, presumably to get a whiff of the fragrance in her shampoo. I sometimes thought the gesture was a way to concentrate on the lecture, but I was never sure about that.

Some women and men also like to pull their hair back into a pony tail configuration, even if they don’t have a desire to actually make a pony tail at the moment. This gesture puts the hair in an organized fashion and away from the face. It also gives the area usually covered up by hair some chance to get in fresh cooler air.

With men, the most common gesture with the hair is to use the fingers to comb back the hair on the opposite side of the head from the part to keep the longer hair out of their eyes. When a man is nervous, he will make this gesture much more often.

The gestures with our hair are much more common than we realize. Start keeping track of what other people are doing with their hair and see if you can gain some insight into what is going on with them. It is a kind of game you can play without the other person being aware of your observations.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

6 Responses to Body Language 17 Playing With the Hair

  1. […] on the Ear13. Wringing Hands14. Hand Gestures15. Pinching Bridge Of Nose16. Looking Over Glasses17. Playing With Hair18. Head In Hands19. The Eyes20. Language of the Eyes21. The Mouth22. The Forehead23. Micro […]

  2. Amy says:

    I looked up hair twirling today as I was sitting at a restaurant when an older woman, really skinny, with hair longer than what her age should warrant, began wrapping her hair around her finger and twirling it.

    As a woman, I HATE seeing this — as I am also an empath. I can “sense” the intention behind it. 9/10 the woman who does this is “masturbating” in public. You mention self-soothing, I say masturbating.

    The women who do this tend to be neurotic, narcissistic, pleasure-seeking, insecure and hyper-sexed. Even if they aren’t promiscuous, they desperately crave sexual attention regardless fo where it comes from.

    Have you ever seen a confident, mentally balanced, mature woman sit there twirling her hair. Doesn’t happen. It’s distracting, diminishes one’s credibility, and isn’t flirtatious in so much as it is stupid, and reducing the perpetrator to the level of a level of an animal in heat who can’t control herself.

    Trust me — people who do this know this habit is distracting. They know it can elicit erotic attention from men. They know it is filthy and unhygenic, but they do it anyway, like picking a nose or jacking off in public.

    Some women think it makes them look cute and alluring — but it actually makes them look stupid, vapid, and desperate for sex.

    These gross women will aimlessly twirl their hair, inspect it, smell it, nibble on it, and twirl and twirl and twirl, smooth it out, twirl it again, twist it around pencils — all in front of people of sound mind.

    Girls at college used to do it a lot. Actually a specific type — the type that came in to class, smelling of parfume, usually low cut blouses, and often touching themselves as if desperately trying to turn themselves on. They touched their hair, stroked their skin, puckered up their lips, rubbed up on people, and dumb as a box of rocks. They were the type all the guys went for if they were just looking for a quickie as this type communicated desperation — if only desperate for attention.

    The hair twirling drove me nuts as it was so distracting. Sometimes while playing with their hair, theyd’ flip it on someone’s face or on someone else’s desk — twirl twirl twirl flip flip nibble smell…all weird, gross, nervous habits communicating desperation for attention — it’s typically done sensuously and often this type would get aroused over touching themselves and witnessing the reactions of horny men.

    A few times, in my immature youth, I mimicked a few of these idiot girls in class, to put a mirror to them over their stupid hair twirling antics.

    I hair twirled — and lo and behold my professor couldn’t take his eyes off me. I saw him transfixed and turned on. Boys moved over to sit right behind me or to stare at me. This was all about sex. Don’t tell me these girls don’t know what they are doing — they do.

    I once twirled my hair at the library as an experiment. it had the effect — not only of ‘self soothing’ but masturbation. Notice the circulation motion of masturbation for a woman and the circulation motion of the hair twirl. Notice smelling, the nibbling, it’s all sexual.

    I just did this, for all of 30 seconds — and soon found myself surrounded by male students, all strategically positioned around me, getting excited over the pheremones my hair twirling was sending out. Some just leered, fascinated.

    This is why they do it.

    No woman who is any woman of quality, character, of substance is a sexual manipulator or behaves at the level of an animal. No decent woman wants male attention by virtue of having a random guy get turned on by too-tight yoga pants, deep cleavage, or public masturbation and sexual signaling.

    I can tell you, I never had problems attracting men — but men to me were friends first — and if they passed muster, a boyfriend, then committed partner — or they were colleagues, mentors, etc. The interactions were based upon respect, friendship, shared values/interests.

    Women who do this are on par with men who indiscriminately chase women or masturbate in public. One is a sexual manipulator, using sex as power/manipulation over men for attention/narcissism/control — the other chases anything/anyone in a skirt.

    I should think a decent man would find such displays as disgusting and disconcerting as an immodestly dressed or overly flirtatious, desperate women — all of whom have mental health issues.

    Sometimes people hair twirl to self sooth or as a nervous habit — 99 percent of the time it communicates mental illness or neurosis. If you see a woman doing this, sensuality comes to her before character, integrity, morals, virtue, or personality. 9/10 she will be a dumb, narcissistic harlot — or just plain sexual attention seeker and tease.

    Don’t waste your time.

    Women — stop twirling your hair! You look ridiculous!

  3. felicitatum says:

    The above person really has some issues, and needs therapy. Making things up.

  4. Barbara Shelton says:

    This is so annoying, and such a big turn off. Professionals should be trained to obtain, or fix a hair style that will prevent the attention being on your hair. My last experience, I had the urge to get up and walk out. It was such a turn off. Please stop fumbling/playing through your hair every other word.

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