I was melting last week, and not because someone threw a bucket of water on my witchy self. It was unseasonably warm, which would have been fine and dandy if I could’ve spent all day sunning myself in the park, but I had to actually go places and do things.
The heat convinced me that I really need to get a hair cut. There’s far too much hair on my head, even if it’s mostly been living in a bun up away from my neck lately.
Since I’m coming around to the idea of letting a certain friend of mine hack my mane off (again), and given the increase of hairy search terms leading people to Pop Culture Playpen, I got to thinking about the hair cuts of pop culture.
Now I’m not talking about dye jobs or kooky wigs, just about situations that involve people having quantifiably less hair. Sometimes a cut gone wrong can be played for laughs, but the decision to alter one’s appearance in such a noticeable fashion is also often depicted as emotionally resonant.
Here are ten of my favourites from TV, film, books and pop music:
Quinn went through a lot of high school drama- an unplanned pregnancy, losing Finn to Rachel, no longer being the head cheerleader- and an attendant crisis of identity. A change of image seemed to make sense, as a way to put the past behind her while forming a new version of herself. So she cut her hair off, and the bob looked cute!
Glee is definitely a show that consciously equates appearance with identity- when Santana explored her feelings for Brittany she was suddenly wearing dungarees, Kurt’s adamant that he should be allowed to display his fabulousness via his clothes, and the handwarmers craze caught on because Brittany’s confidence and popularity allows her to be trendsetter. And Quinn’s season three slacker period was characterised by her pink hair, an ironic Ryan Seacrest tattoo and , gasp!, a nicotine habit.
Keri Russell (who played the titular character) was known for her iconic long, curly hair. So when Felicity decided to cut it after a rough break up off, and do something purely for and about herself, it caused outrage. There were claims that the change led to a decline in ratings, and a WB executive was quoted as saying “nobody is cutting their hair again on our network“. All this h00-ha detracted from the actual impact on the story, and how funny various characters’ responses to her new style were.
All things considered, it’s probably the most interesting twist in a J.J. Abrams show ever– it actually made sense in context, and her hair didn’t even magically reappear by the next episode.
Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Buffy’s season six snip- later fixed by an actual hairdresser- seemed like an attempt to modify, or indeed obliterate, her identity. This was a dark season (major character death, abandonment at the altar, magic addiction etc) in general, and Buffy was explicitly battling depression. She’d been dragged out of heaven by her friends and forced to deal with mundane real world problems, like parenting her younger sister and somehow bringing in enough money to support them both, around her slaying duties. Spike calling her “Goldilocks” while interrupting a social worker’s interview to ask for his lighter while Buffy was describing Willow’s spell ingredients as “magic weed” was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. She simply didn’t want to be that girl any more.
Buffy started a job in fast food in the next episode, and was warned that the grease gets everywhere (even plugging up your ears), so having less hair to ruin already probably seemed fairly fortuitous.
Marshall (How I Met Your Mother)
Marshall and Lily’s wedding was characterised by a set of disasters- as TV nuptials often are. Marshall got so freaked out at the awful highlights he was given that he panicked and shaved off a giant portion of his hair. Just when you thought an awful hair style couldn’t get worse, it went ahead and did. But this close shave wasn’t just slapstick humour, it emphasised the fact that the series of unfortunate events ultimately didn’t matter. The pair had a small ceremony outside, with their three best friends, and got to have the “perfect” wedding despite everything.
Since Marshall gained a fedora (so he could hide his secret shaven shame) the episode also seems to be hat propaganda, of which I heartily approve. I firmly believe that there’s no hair disaster so bad that it can’t be covered up with a hat- as long as you’re never forced to remove it. Especially if it’s superglued to your head.
Lister (Red Dwarf)
When Rimmer and Lister swapped bodies, in the inventively titled ‘Bodyswap’ episode, Rimmer was supposed to be getting Lister’s body into shape. Instead he became incredibly indulgent, giving into the temptations of food, drink and smoke. Even if Lister was quite annoyed at this behaviour, it seems fairly understandable given that Rimmer hadn’t had physical form for several million years. However, chopping Lister’s hair off was just mean.
It was entirely in character, however, and should serve to make us all wary of agreeing to swap bodies with anally retentive holograms.
Phoebe screwing up Monica’s hair because she confused Demi and Dudley Moore is straight-up hilarious.
Ok there’s not a lot of depth to it, it basically just reiterates that Phoebe’s kooky and Monica’s uptight, but as far as I’m concerned it’s still the quintessential hair cutting scene. Which I guess adds credence to the theory that everything in life can be instantly related to an episode of Friends.
There’s a nice strand of sort-of feminism in Disney’s retelling of Rapunzel, in that the heroine is empowered by letting go of unrealistic beauty expectations. Although her long hair is beautiful and magical, and quite handy in a fight or for restraining home invaders, it’s somewhat impractical and bothersome. She seems much happier when she’s both sporting a pixie cut, and getting to be in charge of her own destiny.
However, there does also seem to be a disturbing anti-blonde thread running through which I’m not exactly sure how to parse.
Ricky (Fight Club)
The loss of hair in Fight Club, through a process of institutionalisation, is tied to the loss of individual identity. As members of Fight Club join Project Mayhem they become soldiers, with uniform appearance. The removal of identifying markers leads to cohesion and the sublimation of individual concerns.
Although here this is prompted by a voluntary decision, the same technique is used in other stories to demonstrate the power that external forces exert over a person- such as Evey’s head being shaved during her imprisonment in V for Vendetta, or the rape victims in season three of Veronica Mars who have their hair removed as a painful symbol of what happened.
Alanna (Alanna: The First Adventure)
In the first book of the Song of the Lioness quartet Alanna had her hair cut short so she could impersonate her practically identical twin brother, Thom. She’d always wanted to be a knight, but social conventions would have forced her to go off to learn how to be a lady, while he was trained as a knight at court- despite his desire to learn magic instead. So she worked out a plan for them to basically switch places.
While keeping her hair short didn’t alleviate the problems of trying to pass as a male- she still had to deal with growing breasts, her first period and growing emotional complications- her determination to become a knight, and her practical attitude, were clear from the moment she put the plan in motion by dressing in boy’s clothes, getting her hair cut short and attempting to dupe the twin’s manservant.
Caroline (‘Caroline No’)
This Brian Wilson song (from Pet Sounds) is emotionally loaded and melancholy, and ostensibly about a change in hair length. But lyrics like “where did your long hair go? where is the girl I used to know?” perfectly encapsulate the feeling of somebody that you used to know being irrevocably changed.
Got favourite hair cuts of your own? Tell us about them in the comments!