Oh, What Pretty Hair She Has!

Venue: The Hairpin

            It may just be me, but does anyone else notice how often Bella touches her hair in Twilight? Or the countless “Get the Katniss Braid!” articles circulating the Internet? I must confess, however, that I’ve checked out an article to try and master this signature braid. While I understand having an attachment to one’s hair, what’s all the commotion about?

Hair plays a major part in giving women a sense of identity. Talk to the hoards of young teenage girls who have watched The Hunger Games or read Twilight, and many of them will tell you that Katniss’ single braid helps characterize her as a ruthless hunter while the scent of Bella’s locks is what makes her so attractive to Edward Cullens. Interestingly enough, moments of high sexual tension in both stories correlate with moments of hair touching, suggesting that hair is also associated with a woman’s “sexual power” (“Ways of Seeing” 55). This came as a surprise to me, because I’d expect men to place more emphasis on a woman’s chest or her natural curves ala Miles’ admiration of Alaska’s body in Looking for Alaska. The strong reactions both Katniss and Bella elicit from the opposite gender simply because of their hair suggests that a woman’s hair may define identity and sex appeal more so than her exclusively female traits. Think about the outrage that ensued after Emma Watson shed her golden waves for a dramatic pixie-cut! This association of a woman’s hair with a sense of identity and with a particular way in which society views her harkens towards the notion of women as, John Berger puts it, “an object of vision” (“Ways of Seeing” 47).

While both girls’ self-consciousness towards their own hair epitomizes Berger’s claim that the way a woman evaluates “the success of her life” revolves around how men view her, Edward’s infatuation with the scent of Bella’s hair reverses this power structure (“Ways of Seeing” 46). Edward declares to Bella that “the scent [of her hair] would stun” him (Meyers 272). While this statement wins an award for being one of the cheesiest lines of the novel, it is important in our discussion for Edward attributes Bella with the ability to “stun” him, a vampire with superhuman power, with her hair. Despite the notion that his continual gaze on Bella makes her his “object”, her ability to “stun” him with her hair actually makes him an “object” she performs an action upon. Perhaps this power to “stun” is what those Garnier Fructis shampoo commercials capitalize on…Although both the book and the movie depict Edward and Bella’s relationship as one where he constantly watches her, Bella utilizes her hair as the only shield behind which she can hide from Edward’s eyes (Meyer 227-8). When Edwards sweeps her hair away from her face, Bella notes that he does so “somehow still hesitantly” (Meyer 228). Could it be that something about touching Bella’s hair diminishes the aura of confidence of the typically suave Edward Cullens? His treatment of her hair aligns him with teenage boys facing hormonal imbalances rather than the hundred year old man he actually is. Go figure. The power that Bella draws from her hair thus contends with feelings of annoyance towards her constant fainting. Seriously though, she faints a lot.

Note: Major ending spoiler alert in the following paragraph. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Katniss’ character does not have much trouble in being viewed as a strong and proactive woman, so her “trademark braid” proves empowering by depicting her femininity and “sexual power”, as Berger would say (Collins 145). The story initially introduces Katniss as a hunter, an unorthodox occupation that exemplifies her character’s overall rebellion against society’s expectations for women. Thus, her hair, when put into its trademark braid, symbolizes a union of femininity and strength. When Katniss has her hair done nicely, however, she feels alien to herself (Collins 86). Her attachment towards putting up her “braid” suggests a sense of self-identity and power she associates with it (Collins 378). Thus, Katniss’ feelings often tend to be dictated by the way her hair is fashioned. She feels strong and comfortable when Cinna created her “trademark braid” before releasing her into the Hunger Games but “like a [young] girl” when her hair is “loose, held back by a simple hairband” (Collins 145-6)(Collins 355). While this correlation between Katniss’ confidence and her hair appears to attribute an independent sense of agency to her hair, Katniss manages the way her hair looks throughout most of the story, so don’t fret about Katniss being unable to control her own hair. Seems silly now, doesn’t it? In my opinion, the moment that truly epitomizes the sexual tension between Katniss and Peeta Mellark in this text is when he “tucks a loose strand of her behind [her] ear” after basically confessing his long-term romantic feelings towards her (Collins 382). Again, he may not have grazed her breast, but this relatively simple action of Peeta touching Katniss’ hair, I’m ashamed to say, made me feel as giddy as a schoolgirl. His confession that he “remembers everything about [Katniss]” also draws back to Berger’s belief that women are always watched. Like Bella, Katniss elicits an unexpected control over Peeta despite being watched by him. Furthermore, note that Katniss hears Haymitch’s approval in her head and is literally rewarded with food from sponsors for seeming to reciprocate Peeta’s feelings. While we can debate how genuine her actions reciprocating Peeta’s feelings are, the fact that Katniss embraces their “romance” to gain popularity with the audience illustrates how a woman can manipulate her femininity to exhibit greater agency over her own life.

In conclusion, I would say that a woman’s hair, can be one of her most powerful assets. Think about that the next time you want to get someone’s attention. A hair flip will go a long way.

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