Our hair is often seen as a reflection of our identity. How we perceive ourselves and how we take on battles can be determined by our hairstyle. However, the dynamics of a woman’s hair and power go a long way back.
In ancient times, long tresses were believed to be a symbol of femininity, beauty, and desire. Hindu widows were expected to cut their hair short or completely shave their heads. This was primarily to establish the fact that they are not someone who can be desired or have sexual desires themselves. This is best depicted in Deepa Mehta’s movie ‘Water’, where Madhumati forces Kalyani(Lisa Ray), a widow into prostitution. As long as she benefits from this business, she allows Lisa Ray to have long, beautiful tresses. When she learns about her budding romance with Narayan (John Abraham), her first step is to chop her hair for having dared to transgress the boundaries.
This method of punishing women by cutting off her hair can also be seen in western culture. Collaboration horizontale or collaboration feminine was the (supposed) sexual intercourse that some French women had with German soldiers after the Battle of France in 1940. The liberation of France in 1944 is eclipsed by the treatment that was meted out to these French women. They were subjected to the humiliation of a public head-shaving. It is said that at least 20,000 women are known to have had their head shaved forcefully.
In the Victorian period, a woman’s hair was seen as a means of expressing her desires and emotions. The Victorian women were supposed to keep their hair tied and could only let it down in their bedrooms. This stemmed from the belief that the power and beauty of her hair should only be reserved for her husband. In ‘Rape of the Lock’ written in Augustan age, Alexander Pope describes Belinda’s locks as chains for enslavement, as snares and traps for men. Thus, her locks project the power that she has over the opposite sex.
Draupadi in Mahabharata refused to tie her hair by which she was dragged by Duhashasana. She vowed that she would not tie her hair till he was killed. Her open hair became a sign of rebellion against the injustice she was subjected to. Therefore, we see that from time to time, women’s hair has acquired new meanings and expressions. She kept on experimenting with her hair until she found a style that brought out her persona and her strength of character. In 1950’s a short bob cut, just below the ears know as “Liberation Hairdo”, became very popular amongst Chinese women. This haircut signified liberation and women taking control of their lives.
Even in modern times, a lot can be deciphered by a woman’s choice of hairstyle. Examples of it can be traced to television characters Alicia Florrick in Good Wife and Olivia Pope in Scandal. In the beginning, Alicia is shown as supporting her unfaithful husband, with flat, swept back hair. However, as soon as she decides to take control of her life, she is shown to have cascading, luscious and coiffed hair. Olivia Pope is shown supporting bangs and curls when she was young and helping Fitzgerald Grant in his elections. But as she begins to find her professional footing, she starts adopting a cleaner cut. Her hair becomes sleeker and longer. This change is suggestive of the maturity and experience that she has acquired with age.
Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that how a woman decides to wear her hair is suggestive of her personality, identity, and disposition.
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