Pat Rice here, obsessing over hair:
How many of you hate your hair? Wave your hands! I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who likes their hair. If they have straight, they want curly, and vice versa. Blondes highlight and rinse their hair to be more blond. Brunettes would rather be red or blond, although I’m not certain I’ve ever met anyone who wanted to be a brunette. (And lets not talk about the difficulty of matching cover models to characters. There’s a reason we chop off their heads–or hair!)
And because I don’t have room for a deep psychological analysis of why hair is so important to our self image, I’ll stick with the superficial: human nature doesn’t change much and we’re probably duplicating the vanity of our ancestors.
One has to assume our historical heroes and heroines obsessed as much as we do over their locks. As far back as the Greeks, women were using henna and decorating their hair with expensive ornaments. Roman women used curling irons and favored gold hair powder and often wore wigs—proving again that we’re never satisfied with what we have. Even the men attended public barber shops.
And everyone’s seen those horrible portraits of Renaissance women with their high brows and hair pulled tight enough for migraines—they not only plucked their eyebrows to achieve that look, but they plucked their entire hair line! Owwww. Almost as bad as the sixties when teenage girls ironed their locks and slept on orange juice cans to achieve that “natural” look.
Since characterization—what makes our heroes and heroines tick—is a favorite interest of mine, I’m quite enamored of the psychology of hair. Heck, we’ve even had a play written about it. Remember the song from HAIR? I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty, oily, greasy, fleecy… Quite an ode! Repulsive, maybe, but topical.
But have you ever noticed that we seldom give our characters bad hair? Oh yeah, a few chicklit characters will scream about their hair, but these are modern characters who have hairdressers that can turn the most cantankerous mop into a gleaming, shiny crown for a price. But our Regency heroines didn’t have access to electric curlers and mousse. Wouldn’t they have bemoaned a frizzy hair day? That they were a mousy brown and not a shining blond? What about their mothers, how often do they complain that their hair is getting thin as well as gray?
And our heroes! How many bald ones have you noticed? I love the website describing “mullets” through the ages (beware, it plays the Cowsills). The picture of Napoleon looks like some greasy character dragged out of an alleyway after a bad night on the town. Can’t you imagine that more than a few of our rakish bachelors started finding a comb full of hair when they reached their sophisticated thirties? Wouldn’t many of them be fretting over a receding hairline and a bald spot on the back of their heads?
It’s not just the looks of our characters that concern me. How a person feels about her appearance is extremely important in how she behaves. A heroine with frizzy mousy hair would want to cover it up. In the Regency era, she might buy elaborate hats and bonnets, and prefer daytime outings to elegant evening occasions. Of course, in much of the Georgian era, the wealthy had access to excessive, expensive powdered wigs. That might cover up thinning hair and mousy locks, but the weight of those things must have been crushing. How many went around with aching heads? Not to mention the occasional mouse or flea infestation since the things were never washed. Ugh, shudder. I prefer less wealthy Georgian heroines, probably for that reason.
I’m as guilty of giving my characters gorgeous hair as the next person. Healthy, handsome hair has always been a symbol of beauty and virility. To some extent, the behavior is probably genetic. Why would a cave man grab the hair of a nearly bald or gray woman to haul her home if he could have one with young, healthy hair? The young one would be much more likely to reproduce. Or not fight back if her suitor had lovely hair, too.
The question teasing at the back of my mind is this—What would happen if fashion declared that we must all be bald? Or cover our hair so it can’t be seen? How would we judge people then? By the size of their noses? The color of their skin? The size of their eyes or forehead? The number of wrinkles? No doubt, all of the above, choosing priorities by culture.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all put our characters and intelligence out for display instead of something so superficial as our looks? Maybe we should tattoo our IQs on our foreheads!
Okay, I’m ready, how do you feel about your hair? And what characteristic would you prefer become symbolic of health and virility?