Snoopy vs. The Red BaronToday's Tune:
Bouncing a little bit off of the photographs of myself I chose to post with that entry, I thought I'd talk a little bit about the symbolism of a woman's hair today.
I'm not sure how aware men are of the incredible amount of weight and symbolism that goes on with women's hair -- in fact, I'm not sure many WOMEN realize it, either -- but it's something deeply engrained in our culture and society. There are certain stigmas attached to a woman's hair color, style, length, and more. It's not uncommon for a woman to change her hair style/color after going through a major life change. This is no meaningless decision. Consciously or unconsciously, there are a lot of feelings and identity issues wrapped in our locks.
We've all heard blond jokes. Golden-haired people (particularly golden-haired women) are dumb, har har har. This has a lot to do with the symbolism behind golden hair being linked with youth and beauty, which are considered foils to experience and intelligence in Western culture. Brunettes are considered more mature, elegant, and sophisticated because dark hair is linked with those traits. On the flipside, it can also imply a person is boring or plain. Redheads are considered spitfires or sexually promiscuous because the color red is intimately tied to the symbolism of sexuality, passion, and anger.
Are any of those implications accurate? No. They're really not. A woman's personality is not reflected by whatever side of the genetic coin their hair happened to fall on. I'm an intelligent blond, SO SUCK IT. Okay, maturity might still be an issue. STILL SUCK IT. My point in bringing this symbolism up is to illustrate the physical cues we often subconsciously apply not only to people we come across in real life, but our literary characters, as well. There's a reason the mean cheerleader is often a blond. The brainy nerd-girl: a brunette. The girl who always likes to pick fights and that every boy falls in love with: a redhead.
And where do these Westernized symbols of personality-linked-with-hair-color leave many women of color? Nowhere. They are roundly ignored. Or worse, "minority" hair is used to represent something altogether more stereotypical and sinister. How often do we read about dark minority hair being kinky, greasy, lank, unmanageable, unkempt? This is its own bag of offensive BS.
Men share some of these style snap-judgements to an extent. There are some cultural connotations, such as the Jewish tradition of not cutting hair during a mourning period. But overall, there is a LOT more stigma placed on women's hair than on men's hair. Our very femaleness itself is often tied in knots of our hair.
I raise all these points so that we can look at the way we're portraying our female characters with a critical eye. It's not an inherently bad thing to use a character's hair to help define her personality - after all, as I've been saying, a woman's hair is often culturally and socially tied to her. That said, be mindful of whether you're using a certain hair style or color to "cheat" at developing a real personality. Is your character dumb because she's blond, or dumb because she isn't interested in learning? Is she girlish because her hair's long, or girlish because that's how she chooses to portray herself?
Try to avoid using the symbolism of a girl's hair to imply something about her sexual promiscuity, intelligence, or maturity. Be mindful of your own biases. While our hair is often intimately tied to our feelings of worth, beauty, or attitude, it is not solely representative of who we are. We are not our hair. Using physicality to represent personality is incredibly overdone, anyway. People look how they look and act how they act.
Do you find yourself caught in judging a woman's personality based on how she wears her hair? If you're a woman, do you feel a connection to your hair? Have you ever experienced someone making judgements about you based on your hair?
I have. HELLO, BLOND JOKES.