Feminism: The Power of Normalization

[Content Note: Body Image, Self-Acceptance]

Ana's Note: This was written prior to my back surgery (thus, the references to my 'upcoming' surgical stay), but is only now being posted. Apologies in advance for any confusion.

I nearly cried in the middle of the Disney store today.

I'd had some time to waste, as I was cooling my heels between appointments, and decided to make my yearly visit to the local mall. After exhausting the opportunities available in the Zany Headband store (I am determined to be eccentric during my post-surgery hospital stay and it's the only way I can really "change clothes" and feel fresh and new in the mornings) and in the Used Games That Are More Expensive Than New On Amazon So How Is The Used Game Market Killing The Industry Again store, that left the Disney store and I've had Disney on my mind lately so in I went.

And, right there, right at the front, was Merida.


Pixar's first female protagonist. The first "Disney Princess" (Merida may or may not be added to the Disney Princess pantheon, but she's a Princess and she's sold in the Disney store, so I'm counting her) with unambiguously curly hair.

And not just curly hair -- frizzy hair!


It's hard to describe just how much that means to me. In a recent post on Narnia, we discussed "Good Hair" and "Bad Hair" and how people of color face daily discrimination for not conforming to the white-centric American "Standard of Beauty". I didn't want to make that post a "racism hurts white people too!" post, because that was Not The Point, but now that we're on the subject of why Merida's very existence brings tears to my eyes, it's worth pointing out that she's a white girl with Very Bad Hair indeed.

Merida doesn't have smooth, silken ringlets. She doesn't have curls that tumble gently down her back. She doesn't look like she's stepped out of a Pantene ProV commercial. She has curly hair that juts high up on her head and is surrounded by an impenetrable layer of frizz. She has the kind of curly hair you can lose a pencil in. She has my hair, the hair that got me bullied and teased to tears for the better part of the first two decades of my life, the hair that I fight with daily in an attempt to tame it into something presentable. And she looks BEAUTIFUL.

Merida is the first Disney princess with frizzy hair. A decade ago, Snow White was the usual go-to for "ambiguously curly". More recently, curly girls have looked to Tiana ("The Princess and The Frog") for inspiration. Indeed, those hopes were pinned on Tiana even before the movie was released; Bonnie Rochman wrote in anticipation of the film:

Recently, my 4-year-old came downstairs clutching in her hands her severed blond ringlets. Why did she cut off her corkscrew curls? "Because no princesses have curly hair," she said.

I was astonished, though I probably shouldn't have been. She'd been complaining for a while that no Disney princesses have curly hair like hers. We even went so far as to seek out a ringletted royal online, where we discovered we aren't the only family that has detected anticurl prejudice. A thread on Yahoo! Answers asks, "How come no Disney Princess has curly hair?" YouTube led us to Princess Giselle, as portrayed by Amy Adams in Disney's half-animated Enchanted, but my daughter roundly dismissed Adams' gorgeously coiled tresses because the princess she plays has barely a hint of curl whenever she inhabits her cartoon self. My daughter's takeaway: in the fantasy realm that is Disney's raison d'être, straight hair is the stuff of dreams.

But now Disney is setting the record, um, straight, with its release of The Princess and the Frog. The protagonist, Tiana, is Disney's first black princess — and she's got curly hair. Although Tiana's skin color is generating far more buzz than her hairstyle, it would be a mistake to overlook the significance of her coif. There are plenty of black women who spend tons of time, energy and money straightening their hair — including the U.S.'s much imitated First Lady. Disney easily could have bestowed smooth tresses on Tiana, yet it didn't.


But Tiana's curly hair was largely hidden away through the film -- when she's not a hairless frog, her hair is usually pulled back in lovely up-dos that hide all but a few strategically-escaped ringlets that never seem to swell or puff up in the heat, no matter how humid New Orleans nights may be.

And that's okay. Tiana didn't need to break every Disney record at once. In fact, a major problem with tokenism is the idea that once it's been done once, we can stop. We've got one black Disney princess, so why would we need another one? We've got one Native American Disney princess, so let's stop there. And now we've got one frizzy haired Disney princess, so do we really need more?

YES.

Yes, Disney, please give us more. Give us a hundred varieties of women, in all different shapes and sizes. Give us curly protagonists, fat protagonists, POC protagonists of every possible shade and hue, protagonists with disabilities that aren't magicked away in the final moments of the film. Give us princesses who are girly and princesses who are tomboys and princesses who are a little of both. Protagonists who study hard and change the world and protagonists who have fun with lipsticks and nylons and making friends. You're really trying to fill out the pantheon and I love that you are -- just don't call it a day once you have a set of each type. Variety is the best, maybe the only, way to avoid stereotypes and unfortunate implications and tokenism.

I was moved near to weeping in the Disney store because there Merida was, in all her glory. Back straight, bow poised, cape flaring, eyes confident, and curly hair ablaze. Never in my lifetime did I imagine we'd have a frizzy-haired princess; never did I think the masterminds in Hollywood would realize that confidence and character are what I find beautiful, and not so much golden tresses and a very specific waist-to-hip ratio. But what really moved me was there, next to the Merida doll, was a "Merida wig" for little girls to play dress-up in and wear on Halloween.


I'm not unaware that the Disney dress-up line carries the potential for harming girls' self-image. I'm not unaware that the very concept of the Disney princesses -- of which there has yet to be an unapologetically fat or considered-by-America-standards-of-beauty-to-be "ugly" member -- can hurt girls' self-esteem and body image. I'm not trying to wipe all that away here in my CURLY GIRL OMG squee.

But if we must have Disney princesses and if we must have dress-up and if we must have Halloween costumes and if we must have All These Things…

…it makes a deep part of my soul happy that now curly hair, frizzy hair, hair like mine is considered to be something worth emulating as something Beautiful, Valuable, and Desirable.

I am privileged enough to not face daily racism; the color of my skin marks me in my society as acceptable. I am fortunate enough to no longer face daily bullying; the texture of my hair has been remarked on less since I left school to join a professional environment. I am wealthy enough to afford the plethora of specialized hair care products necessary to bring my stubborn, obstinate, terribly frizzy hair into some semblance of soft curls. I have learned not to roll my eyes when well-meaning people with board-straight hair exclaim how EASY my hair must be, "just style and go!" I have realized that beauty standards are designed so that no one can win: the Curly Girls must buy straighteners, the Straight Girls must buy hot rollers, and ideally we will all buy ALL THE THINGS -- straighteners and then curlers and then straighteners -- because otherwise the world would stop spinning and WE CAN'T HAVE THAT, NOW CAN WE, LADIES?

So this isn't a post about how hard it is to be me, because it's (relatively speaking) not.

It's a post about how much easier it is now that Merida exists.

I haven't seen "Brave". I hope it will rock; I'm terribly afraid it may not. We'll see. But even if the movie is dreadful, it has accomplished at least one valuable thing: it's provided one more Disney princess as a point of normalization for thousands of little girls. We need more points, so many more points, of every size, color, facial structure, and body shape. Because each one of these data points, when added to the overall picture, can serve to reinforce the absolutely necessary message that it's Okay To Be You.

And today -- for at least a few hours after leaving the Disney store -- I really felt like it was okay to have my hair. And that felt exhilarating.

Note: Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has another take on the Merida wig based on the appropriation of red-hair rather than the normalization of curly-hair. I think her post -- which I hadn't seen until after mine went up -- is thoughtful and valid and raises serious concerns about marginalization and appropriation. I leave my original post here to demonstrate the intersectional issues that arise when one person's perceived normalization can be another person's genuine appropriation, and because I in no way wish to validate any appropriative messages contained in Brave.

57 comments:

Silverbow said...

I haven't seen Brave yet either -- but it's Pixar. They develop their films independently of Disney, even though they're a subsidiary. Brave has a good chance of rocking. :)

Great post, and I love that doll!

chris the cynic said...

Apart from the color and length, her hair looks like mine when I've been neglecting it for a while. Which, on the one hand, that's probably the most impressive my hair ever looks. On the other hand given that it only seems to get that way via sustained neglect, it's always accompanied by a degree of tangledness that is downright painful to remove.

Anyway, nice hair.

CleverNamePending said...

I remember when I was younger my hair was just a big frizzy poof (it was trying to be curly, but my Mother didn't know how that worked so I was SOL on hair for many years). In middle school it had it's own nickname, Mrs. Bush (the implications were lost on us as kids, I swear) and even through high school was a source of teasing and self esteem issues for me. When I was in high school EVERYONE had perfectly straight, shiny hair. The other girls, their Mothers and sisters, models, actresses, and yes, even cartoon characters! What cursed genetics did I alone seem to inherit?! When I hit college I discovered how to actually take care of my freaking hair so now it actually looks like people hair and not a troll doll that forgot how to defy gravity. That changed my relationship with it a lot. I wonder if I had grown up with Merida if my younger self could have been saved a lot of angst and torment, both for her hair and for wanting to be the sword wielding knight during make believe.

Silverbow said...

I feel like I should be plugging The Long Hair Community now...

http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/index.php

It's a huge site with lots of info and it doesn't habitually push commercial hair products. It's dedicated to sensible, and often inexpensive, methods to tame and grow all types of hair. Even ultra-curly.

(Ana, if this is inappropriate then feel free to delete this post. I don't want to hijack the thread.)

Maartje said...

How you take care of my mom's (thin, straight) hair: Shampoo twice, brush as long as you want to, conditioner not needed and if you use it, "only on the bottom inch."

How my hair looks when I do that: Exploded.
Nicknames I get while running around with exploded hair: Frizzball, fuzzball, Q-tip, and other very inventive things.

How you take care of MY (thick, not even that curly but kind of sensitive and prone to frizziness) hair: No shampoo ever, scrub and wash with conditioner always, rake with fingers to detangle and then don't touch again unless needed.

How old I was when I finally figured that out: 23. :(

Susan Beckhardt said...

Turn her hair dark brown and Merida's hair is exactly mine--IF it's just been washed and combed! In any kind of humidity my hair loses the discrete curls entirely and turns into a mass of solid frizz. The thing is, I like my hair long, but I nearly always keep it in a very tight braid--not because I'm ashamed of curly hair, but because I hate feeling my hair hanging on my neck and ears.

I never paid much attention to the Disney Princesses as a child, because I was always much more interested in their animal companions and funny sidekicks.

Bificommander said...

When I saw the trailers for 'Brave' my first reaction was "Huh, this suspiciously normal." I've gotten used to Pixar movies starring toys, cars, fish, or blocky robots unable to speak. A rebelous young princess sounded rather bland. I must say I had not considered any progressive message from her hair. It seemed fitting for an Irish redhead. Then again, my attitude towards my own hair is "Wash it twice a week, go to the barber once I really can't stand it hanging before my eyes anymore and ask for the shortest cut above 'bald' so I don't have to go again for a while." Beyond that, I don't spend any time or effort on it.

Makabit said...

It's funny, because hair like that is fairly common among Jews, and I do not have it, and I have always envied it. It's authentic, and beautiful, and feminine, and it's supposed to be wild, unlike my wavy stuff that just always looks like it needs be brushed! (Women who actually have it report different experiences, naturally.)

Makabit said...

And SO looking forward to "Brave".

Marie Brennan said...

I have realized that beauty standards are designed so that no one can win: the Curly Girls must buy straighteners, the Straight Girls must buy hot rollers, and ideally we will all buy ALL THE THINGS

Exactly. When I was a kid, I really, really wished I had curly hair. Or even hair that could be made to curl: my mother would go after me with a curling iron (usually just to roll the ends under), and half an hour later it would have fallen straight again. Sometimes we did the thing where you make lots of tiny braids while your hair is wet, and then when it's dry you comb it out and hey presto, home "perm" . . . what can I say, it was the '80s.

What is my hair actually like? Let's just say I would have RULED back in the heyday of hippiedom. (Or the medieval period, though I shudder to imagine haircare in the days before shampoo, conditioner, and regular bathing.)

The point is to make sure you're never satisfied with what you have. In the general hair lottery, I've won a pretty fabulous hand . . . but there was a long period of time where marketing convinced me I hadn't.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Huh - when I was in high school (California, 20 years ago), this kind of curly hair was all the rage, particularly for blondes. And it was almost never natural. Girls went to a lot of trouble and expense to get their hair permed like this.

depizan said...

I have fiercely straight hair as well. After a childhood of being able to impersonate Cousin It, it occurred to me (around 11 or so) to just have the whole mess chopped very short. (Much to the horror of the stylist.) It has remained very short ever since, because having a hair care regimen of wash, towel dry, comb suits me perfectly.

Still, I can't help...not envying exactly, but... from a distance it seems neat to have hair you can do various different things with. Which is silly, because I never would if I had long hair of any variety (because it wouldn't stay long for long). I suppose that's part of the push to not be satisfied with what one has. Or just that I find long hair (in all it's many varieties from fiercely straight to pencil eating) really attractive.

CleverNamePending said...

I'm in almost the exact same boat, except I was about 22, 21 when I figured it out if that makes you feel any better.

redcrow said...

>>>Yes, Disney, please give us more. Give us a hundred varieties of women, in all different shapes and sizes. Give us curly protagonists, fat protagonists, POC protagonists of every possible shade and hue, protagonists with disabilities that aren't magicked away in the final moments of the film. Give us princesses who are girly and princesses who are tomboys and princesses who are a little of both. Protagonists who study hard and change the world and protagonists who have fun with lipsticks and nylons and making friends. You're really trying to fill out the pantheon and I love that you are -- just don't call it a day once you have a set of each type. Variety is the best, maybe the only, way to avoid stereotypes and unfortunate implications and tokenism.

Yesyesyesyesyes. All of it.

Makabit said...

Huh - when I was in high school (California, 20 years ago), this kind of curly hair was all the rage, particularly for blondes. And it was almost never natural. Girls went to a lot of trouble and expense to get their hair permed like this.

I remember the spiral perm. Oh Lord, I remember it.

Ursula L said...

I feel like I should be plugging The Long Hair Community now...

http://forums.longhaircommunity.com /blockquote>

Waving hi!

I was active at LHC for several years, although not so much now. These days, I'm probably best known their because people still link to an article I posted their called "Ursula's Standard Newbie Advice."

My daily hair routine is even less than the short-hair standard of wash, towel dry, comb, etc.

In the morning, I can twist my hair into a bun and fasten it with a stick in about ten seconds. Combing optional, and I can pull my hair down to comb at any time in the day when I have the time, rather than having to get it done first thing in the morning. I wash my hair once or twice a week, at most, generally at night and letting it air dry while I'm sleeping. Usually just with cheap (VO5 or Suave) conditioner.

If you like long hair but are afraid it is too much work, I promise it doesn't have to be, if you know what you're doing. On the other hand, having short hair looks like "too much work" from my perspective, because I wouldn't know what I was doing if I had short hair, and from what I've seen it requires much more attention both on a daily basis and in terms of maintenance (regular cuts, and you can't do it yourself.)

Silverbow said...

Oh yes, I know you quite well from the site! You even had a hairfork design named after you by Baerreis! I have a couple of those forks -- they're quite elegant and hold like a rock, although my hair isn't nearly as long as yours. :)

Patrick Knipe said...

I've not even heard of Brave before today, but now I really wanna see it.

but it's Pixar.

You know, for years I was convinced that the Next Pixar Movie would be the one to finally end their winning streak of successful-to-awesome movies.

"This movie about a clown fish looks kind of silly..."

"A superhero movie? I guess it could be good, but..."

"A rat that cooks? Nah, Pixar, you're over your heads this time..."

I finally gave up when I saw WALL-E.

Silverbow said...

Yes, exactly. I've been following Pixar like a rabid fan-girl ever since I saw one of their short films at an arthouse cinema. They don't always hit it out of the park... but they come pretty close.

Patrick Knipe said...

Absolutely. At the least I'd say they seem to hit it out of the park more than they don't; I am consistently -impressed- by how well the Toy Story series does.

jill heather said...

Her hair is lovely, and it's -- sure, let's call it "ethnic curly" (which is what I have had since puberty), but if my hair were "frizzy" the way her hair is "frizzy", I would be ecstatic. Her hair isn't frizzy because her curls stick together. They stick together in smaller tresses, but frizzy is pretty much single hairs sticking up out of the rest of the curls, and there is little to none of that.

(My hair looks awesome -- after a hairdresser does it, and sometimes after some weird alchemy combining water hardness, amount of conditioner, humidity, and type of braids my hair dried in that I cannot predict. Otherwise my hair is a pile of frizz.)

Moonlit_Night said...

I always wanted wild red Irish curls! Instead I got boring brown slightly wavy. Slightly wavy means it misbehaves by hanging somewhat funny, and bangs MUST be blown dry (but it doesn't last a full day) and the rest wants to air-dry, and it all needs to be cut just so and washed every day and a half.

It's not bad hair...it's just not quite what I wanted, you know? Even if I can't have wild red curls, how about 2 shades lighter so the henna dyes it redder, and lasting 2 full days on a wash?

Will Wildman said...

I've been following this discussion with fascination but nothing to add. On the plus side, I've been indecisive about what kind of hair to give the protagonist of my current novel, and as soon as this thread put 'epic frizzy mane' in my head, suddenly I knew it could be no other way.

---

Her hair isn't frizzy because her curls stick together. They stick together in smaller tresses, but frizzy is pretty much single hairs sticking up out of the rest of the curls, and there is little to none of that.

I noticed that the wig in particular is all about the curly but very low on the frizzy (hopefully that changes once it's out of the box). But going by the picture above, Merida's got a fair amount of 'blur' in the movie, which I think is maybe a technologically-limited attempt to make it look frizzier? If I could impose, I'd appreciate a visual example of what you're talking about, since it seems to me that there's rather a lot of her hair that is not falling into neat curls.

Ursula L said...

Will, you might find the visual hairtyping article at LHC useful. http://forums.longhaircommunity.com/vbjournal.php?do=article&articleid=227

You can see some frizz in some of the pictures of type 2 and 3 hair, in that it is, as you mentioned in the animation, somewhat blurry beyond the area where you see defined "hair." But it is quite hard to get frizz to show up in online images, the resolution isn't high enough. And people generally post pictures of their hair when it looks best, unless it is for a specific reason such as letting it dry untouched to figure out your hair type accurately.

Ana Mardoll said...

I think Merida's hair looks very frizz-tastic, particular in the official movie poster, but maybe it's just me. Certainly, that's what mine looks like on "no product" days.

jill heather said...

This, more or less, is what my hair looks like when frizzy. My hair looks like Merida's more on good days than bad. I love her hair, don't get me wrong, and I agree that it wasn't stylish for a long time, but it's so far from frizzy I cannot imagine being unhappy with hair that looked like that on an average day. Each to their own, and I don't know many people who really love their hair as is. (Like many people with curly hair, I would if I had a personal hairdresser.)

I sound fightier than I feel here. But if you google images of frizz, you will see what I imagine frizzy hair like, and it's nothing gorgeous like Merida's is.

Silver Adept said...

The only thing I might worry about with this portrayal its whether or not the frizzy hair its also a visual substitute for her bring an untamed wild woman. Admittedly, in the society that she's part of, they could use an untamed feminist. I will want to see how it ends, and if her hair tames if/when she settles down with a love interest or into her society.

Caretaker of Cats said...

In the theatrical trailer I saw before the Avengers, it did appear that how controlled her hair was had to do with the 'acting like a lady' plot, since her mother was trying to get her to hide it under a wimple. The same scene involved getting her into a dress with some sort of corset, so there was a parallel between controlling her hair and controlling her body shape/range of movement.

Brad said...

>>Yes, Disney, please give us more. Give us a hundred varieties of women, in all different shapes and sizes. <<

Over a hundred women?

Each the star of her own movie?

...You mind if we space them out a little? Say over four or five years?

I'm not trying to be flippant (much). Just want to point out that there are only so many opportunities for a new role model in any year and it may take awhile for many (most?) of them to be filled.

JVB said...

Long time lurker, and not in the spirit of body acceptance so much, but more like how princesses affect how we see ourselves....

Just once I'd like a princess who doesn't sing. Seriously. I'm mildly tone-deaf and a terrible singer. And when I was a little girl I thought no one would ever fall in love with me because I couldn't sing. Because that was how the princesses got their men, you see. Despite growing out of that idea and coming to terms with my (lack of) singing ability, I'd still love a princess who had a terrible singing voice like me.

Ana Mardoll said...

And one thing that tends to drop me from a story is when a character is explicitly given long hair, but doesn't seem to know how to manage long hair. If the character has had long hair for a significant amount of time, or if they are in a culture where long hair is common, then they will know how to manage their hair in ways that are both practical and attractive.

Er... I would be a bit careful about the absoluteness of that statement. I had long hair for a long time -- as in, a decade -- and had no clue how to manage it except loose.

I used to think there was something wrong with me because hair sticks just DO NOT WORK on me. (Oh, I mean, they stick in my hair, but the rest of the hair just falls out or whirls in a cloud around them.) I have never been able to fashion a "no tools" bun that stayed for more than 30 seconds. And I have never been able to braid my own hair. I have most definitely used hairpins, but it used to take dozens to do the job I wanted done and then I'd have to spend an hour tediously finding them all and picking them out afterwards.

Shorter is definitely easier for me, and I say that having had at least a decade of experience on either side. I absolutely don't want to erase your experience, but since we're currently talking at Will who is thinking about writing a frizzy character, I wanted to raise a caution that not all the tips you bring up work for long curly hair and that a "no tools" hair bun throws me out of a story as much as the lack thereof throws you*. It really seems to just depend on the curls, the texture, the oiliness, and the person. :)

* Or, actually, it makes me think there's something "wrong" with my hair because I normalize the external and otherify myself, but point remains.

Ana Mardoll said...

Also,

When your hair is long enough to flop around your face, but not long enough for a ponytail.

Ah, but this is a good stage for me because it means only TWO hairpins to place-and-find-later and the length is still short enough (being pre-ponytail length) that frizz-puff is kept to a minimum. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

If North America releases ~600 movies per year, 100 female protagonists staring in their own movies in one year would be 1/6 of the pile. I'm guessing the actual numbers aren't anywhere near that high, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

By the by, did I say anything in the post to indicate that I wanted this dream realized in a single year? You may not be trying to be flippant (much), but you're mansplaining to a woman about how many role-models she gets to have in her lifetime and that's not something I find particularly pleasant to wake up to.

jill heather said...

And on the other side, hair sticks are my favourite things ever for hair, they hold it fine (well, except the frizz, which is too short, but everything else stays in place until I start fidgeting with them), I can braid my hair and have it stay without an elastic for a few hours, and all I need for a bun is something to grab the hair -- a scrunchie, a clip, etc -- at this length I can do an unattractive no tool bun, but when it is longer it looks less absurd. I still wear it down a lot, because as a general rule I don't do things where long hair is an inconvenience. (Right now my hair is around where my bra is, when it's dry. It never gets shorter than shoulder length, as I have learned that is a recipe for sadness.)

I do, however, go out without elastics or tools all the time. Even women who use these things can be forgetful.

I suspect a lot of this is about finer hair vs coarser hair -- my friends with finer hair cannot do these things that I can, whether they have straight, wavy or curly hair. (On the other hand, their hair requires less work to look good.)

I also think that -- as a huge generalisation -- teenage girls with long, curly hair have no clue how to manage it. Sure, if you have a 35 year old who has had long hair her entire life, then you have to explain (not maybe in so many words) how come she has it if she cannot manage it, but when you're going through puberty, among other things, your hair changes a lot, so you need to figure it out again and again. And you need to do the same if you move to places with different weather and water -- I have often thought I should move somewhere with very soft water so my hair would look good. My sister, who has thin and fine hair (I have thick and coarse hair: the strands are coarse, and also I have lots of them), almost cries in frustration when the water is too soft because her hair looks limp. So it's not that it's particularly hard to figure out a reason that an adult who has had long hair her entire life would have trouble knowing what to do with it at all.

Brin Bellway said...

Ursula L: And one thing that tends to drop me from a story is when a character is explicitly given long hair, but doesn't seem to know how to manage long hair.
[...]
A pair of hairsticks, at their most basic plain wood sticks, 4"-6" long, sanded and finished smooth, is all you need to put your hair up in a bun in less than 30 seconds, and fasten it securely so it stays up for hours.
[...]
(and one braid can be done very quickly, if you're in practice)
[...]
A contemporary female character would have these sorts of items in her purse.
[...]
Amy puts her hair up and takes it down, quite easily and naturally, as the situation demands. I was delighted when I saw this - finally a character with long hair who knows how to manage long hair!


My hair's slightly longer than waist length. I have never put my hair in a bun myself (only on special occasions when Mom did my hair). I have never had my hair in a bun held together with sticks at all. I do not have hair-braiding programmed into my list of habitual actions. I have a big ponytail scrunchie in my bag. If that's not held back enough, I stuff the ponytail down the back of my shirt.

*continues reading*

Ana: Er... I would be a bit careful about the absoluteness of that statement.
[...]
I absolutely don't want to erase your experience, but since we're currently talking at Will who is thinking about writing a frizzy character, I wanted to raise a caution that not all the tips you bring up work for long curly hair and that a "no tools" hair bun throws me out of a story as much as the lack thereof throws you*.


Ah. I see I'm not the only one. (My hair isn't even particularly curly.)

graylor said...

I've had hair down to my hips for years after putting my foot down and refusing to get it cut short anymore when I was six. Somehow it was a neat, sleek little cap then. Now, left to its own devices, it dries in Shirley Temple-esque sausage curls. It brushes out to waves, but it doesn't stay that way long if there is any humidity.

With all those years of hair-care under my belt, I should be able to braid it, hmm? Lol, no. One side is always too loose and falls everywhere and I hate fussing with my hair, so I've never practiced enough to do it properly. I do admire the skills of people who can french braid their own hair, though.

In fiction, I think it was in a Darkover novel where it was mentioned that aristocratic women had silver (or silver-colored? silver is awfully heavy) bannana clips for their long hair.

*

Not to utterly derail (box my ears and send me to the 101 post if you wish), but I have thoughts about being female in this culture.

I was raised in the southeast US, land of the southern belle. The idea that feminity is performance made perfect sense to me after seeing gaggles of church ladies out and about. If you're a proper woman around here you fixate on your perceived flaws and diet (or perform rites of public self-shaming if you don't).

I... don't. Never have. Partly it's because genetics run strongly in my family--I am my maternal aunt's physical clone, right down to the bad knee. With age my waist will thicken, my hair will turn gun-metal gray without chemical assistance, and I might have to have knee-replacement surgery. Also, menopause is going to suck.

On the other hand, I have wondered if my seeming imperviousness to these memes comes from being asexual (or gray-A/100% introverted, I dunno). A lot of these things seem to be framed as 'no one will ever desire you if you x/don't y'. I don't want to be desired sexually and it skeeves me out when I am. I didn't take the list of feminine commandments as a guideline of things to drive guys away because there are rewards for conformity and sex wasn't on my radar either way so the preferences of these 'guys' didn't really enter the equation.

I just wonder how much of the beauty mythos hinges on using women's sexual drives against them.

Mxxx said...

Interesting...

Not long ago, my wife and I were visiting a friend, a white single mother with a mixed-race child. They live in a very white area and her son is self-conscious about his appearance; shortly before we arrived, he had apparently been declaring that he wished his hair was straight. When we arrived, she pointed out that I had ultra-curly hair just like his, and his face just lit up. He likes and respects me and was delighted with the comparison; I was very, very flattered by his reaction.

I've always worn my hair long, and it's been considerably longer than my wife's since long before we were a couple; hers basically stops growing at shoulder length, no matter how long it's left. Apparently this upset her as a child, because she wanted hair like Judi Trott's in "Robin of Sherwood" - pretty much a slightly neater version of Merida's. Different cultural reference points, same effect.

Fluffy_goddess said...

I have thick, wavy hair -- that is, it doesn't shape into discrete curls unless someone spends an hour with a curling iron on it, I require conditioner every time I wash my hair (amount varying by water hardness), and it doesn't straighten well. I also tend towards oily, greasy hair if I don't wash it daily. As an experiment, I tried sticking it up with hairsticks while I read this post -- it takes at least three to hold it solidly (remember: those are sold in sets of two), the bun isn't where I wanted it to be (which I knew would happen if there was no elastic), and the parts lying along my scalp are bumpy and look very messy.

In other words, I have exactly the type of hair people *think* should be able to go up with minimal styling, and it never will. I need at least a comb, and preferably a brush, before I get Effortlessly Up And Attractive. That said, my frizz factor is middle-of-the-road -- I get about a %250 increase in the diameter of a ponytail once it's been in a while, but my hair *will* brush out into a lovely shiny auburn mass that lasts thirty seconds.

(I used to get told that the reason my hair didn't stay lovely and pretty when I left it down was that I fidgeted too much, and this mussed it up. And then I found out that the girls with hair that looked lovely and freshly-brushed all day achieved this through masses of hairpray and mousse, which looks awful in my hair because my hair is too thick to take mousse/hairspray all the way through -- you get the effect of a thin layer of smooth hair over all the straggly bits. I'm still bitter.)

That said, I love Merina's hair in these shots. It's gorgeous; I just wish they'd gone with either a more natural auburn or a more natural copper -- red hair like hers is a beautiful thing, but as a standard, it means the rest of us get called Orange as a nickname. Possibly that's just my screen though.

Will Wildman said...

This, and the comments from others that have followed, are enormously educational. My thanks to you all.

Jeff Lipton said...

And one thing that tends to drop me from a story is when a character is explicitly given long hair, but doesn't seem to know how to manage long hair. If the character has had long hair for a significant amount of time, or if they are in a culture where long hair is common, then they will know how to manage their hair in ways that are both practical and attractive.

Have you seen "Tangled" (the Repunzel flick)? Talk about someone who knows how to handle their long hair!!! Yes, it ends with Twu Wuv, but it's quite clear who the hero of the story is, and it ain't the boy. If I had a daughter, I'd definitely take her to this flick.

Toby Bartels said...

>when she settles down with a love interest

OK, this is a spoiler, so I'll rot13 it, but it's awesome, so I've got to tell you all:

Fur qbrfa'g.

Ana Mardoll said...

Tpby, that is indeed awesome, but I ROT13'd the quote you were responding to, because it wasn't difficult to guess the "spoiler" once the quote was read. Thank you, though, for the ROT13ing in the first place. :)

Toby Bartels said...

I spent the last week at Disney World, and Mérida was promoted there like an official Disney Princess. In particular, her dress and accessories were on sale at a Disney Princess store in one of the parks, and the tag at the back of her dress said "Disney Princesses".

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