Amongst the most distinctive elements of femininity, women’s hair features high in the list. Short or long, brown or blonde, that’s not really the issue: for all women, hair has a particular significance and it revolves around several very different functions.
– Symbol of femininity: For a long time, women didn’t have the right to cut their hair. Cutting it became a humiliation, particularly at the time of the Liberation when women accused of having sexual relations with enemy soldiers were shaved and shorn of their femininity which they were judged to have abused. Boyish cuts only started making an appearance during the interwar years.
– Tool of seduction: Hair is of particular importance when it comes to seduction. In some cultures, particularly amongst Catholics during the Renaissance, hair was only shown to husbands because of its considerable sexual disposition. Many painters have used the image of cascading hair to depict eroticism. Nowadays, hair still has an important seductive dimension. For men, it’s even become a code for communicating: “A woman who tidies her hair while smiling is open to discussion. Girls with short hair, with their neck on show, are often quite sure of themselves or of their physical appearance at least, and are “daring””.
– Social marker: Following established hairstyle norms was, until recently, essential to maintain one’s social prestige. After the French Revolution, extravagant styles were banned because they revealed too much about one’s social order but women continued to have to wear their hair long. From neo-classicism to romanticism, it was only with the First World War and the start of women working in factories, that hair was no longer associated with social rank. (For more information: The history of the hair’s world).
- Indicator of moral and professional qualities: The association of hair and moral qualities goes back to ancient literature: bad or dangerous female characters were described as having a dreadful, dishevelled mop of hair. You therefore had to have clean and disciplined hair not to have a finger pointed at you. In the United States, the majority of women in senior management have their hair blow-dried every morning: no chance, therefore, of arriving at the office with a neglected head of hair which would give their colleagues and clients the impression that they can’t control their image (or their schedule, in order to find the time to look after their appearance).
– Protection: Women feel protected by their hair which acts as a barrier between themselves and other people. Nervous women constantly putting it in place as it reassures and soothes them. It was only after cutting it that Delphine realised this, as she told Psychologies: “I realised that the brown hair that, up until then, had framed my face, actually served as a mask. Cutting it was the opportunity to lower this mask and reveal who I am.”
– Possibility of a complete change: The majority of women change their hair, styling it differently depending on their tastes and mood. Therefore a formal style that’s suitable for work can give way to a wavy look at the weekend, while a tiara or spectacular updo can transform women into Hollywood stars for the evening.
– Reflection of personal evolution: It’s not unusual for a woman to change her hairstyle or hair colour during major changes in her life. The new haircut therefore becomes an indicator of a profound change that the woman wants to signal metaphorically. Actress Emma Watson got a lot of people talking when she chopped off her long locks: “It feels incredible. I’ve wanted to do this for years and years. It’s the most liberating thing ever. »
In all eras, hair has therefore been a way of expressing oneself: seduction, prestige, self-consciousness, rebellion, self-affirmation, etc. If you’re able to decipher it, hair is a language that reveals as much as about a woman as the style of clothes she wears.
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