Hair in Art and Literature

Hair has been a theme in literature for as long as human history. Perhaps not a major theme though. But most of us would remember the Grimm Brother’s (the fairy tales by Brothers Grimm) Rapunzel and Hans Christian Andersen’s the Little Mermaid.


Hair as Spiritual Symbolism

Most religious texts have many references to hair too. Some internationally acknowledged authors have written about hair as part of their stories and characters. For instance, J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of the elves and dwarves includes wonderful words about their hair.

Old Turkish and Ottoman literature often talked about women’s hair – the “darling”s hair a lot too, and with great detail. When it comes to international literature (canon works mostly written in English, and books that have reached an international popularity) below are a few of the works that come to mind when talking about hair:

  • Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald: A short story by the writer of famous The Great Gatsby, about women and hair.
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry: The touching story about a woman selling her hair to buy her husband a watch chain.
  • Ophelia by Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s well known character Ophelia had very long hair.
  • The Lady Godiva legend where the English noblewoman rode her horse covered in her hair. She had that long hair!
  • The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley: The main character Aerin has long hair.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: It is all about red hair and witchcraft. Not.
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: The character Jo sells her hair.
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: Many characters in this classic have to change hair styles.
  • The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind: hair works as a symbol of status.

Victorian literature paid much attention to hair as well. Red hair seems to be a recurring aspect in literature even though it is quite rare in real life (%4 of the whole population?!)

Egyptian, Greek, and Indian mythologies, all have stories that describe the hair of their characters sometimes gods and goddesses. Samson was believed to obtain his strength from his hair.

It is not only literature where hair is important. Hair is a subject in songs, films, statues, and others forms of artworks.

Hair in Popular Culture

Hair is one of the first artworks that comes to mind when one hears the word “hair”. Both the 1967 Broadway musical and the 1979 film treat hair as a symbol of freedom, or the lack of it. Long hair represents the hippie and pacifist culture, non-conformism, and being against the Vietnam War.

Grease is originally a 1971 musical that was made into film seven years later. Who can forget John Travolta’s or Olivia Newton John’s hair styles?

Do you have any favorite hair styles of fictional characters? Are there any poems that you like that talk about hair? There are various hairstyles in movies epic or bad hairdos, iconic ones like Marilyn Monroe’s or Sean Connery’s (in James Bond movies). What about music? Lady Gaga’s, Michael Jackson’s, Madonna’s hairstyles?

When you go to the hairdresser’s, do you show them your favorite stars’ pictures to describe the looks that you want? If you do not have much hair, and plan to undergo hair restoration surgery, you might want to check out which stars has had hair transplantation, and choose the looks that you like.

Hair colors and styles can be perceived differently in different cultures, and might be used as symbols. Hair is a main factor in defining our physical appearance, and art makes use of hair both as a physical tool (some art pieces, even ancient ones are made of actual human hair) and as a symbolic aspect – for demonstrating stereotypes and status.

Are there any other literature works written in different languages, and the character’s hair is important in the story? Do you know of any?


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