Thursday, September 29, 2011

Young Authors And Your Hair

I brought this up with Ciara Knight who runs an amazing blog, and yes, I am an odd duck that thinks of these things. Oh and I may have been influenced from having just watched Tangled as well (and the subliminal messages pushed by Disney).

Basically, I just want to know what's up? Why is long hair draping the heads of all of your books? Why do all of your female protagonists have long hair? 

Exhibit A--Please turn your eyes to the anecdotal evidence I have gathered to support my hypothesis:

Now, I just want to dismiss the idea that I'm making a blanket generalization.  I know that the percentage of young adult books that feature girls with long hair is not 100%.  Ciara Knight has already told me in a comment that her protagonist has short hair.  But the percentage is high.  I'm going to say maybe 95%.

So what's up with hair?  Why?  One of my best friends is Meg.  I asked her if I could post a picture of her and she agreed for this post that it would be okay.  So here she is at left.

Notice how short her hair is.  I think that Meg is a beautiful woman. So I guess my question is this.  What kind of message are all of you young adult authors out there peddling in your book? Is it that young ladies need to have long hair? If so...why?

Is it beauty?  Does having short hair make you less attractive to men?  I for one have plenty of guy friends and they never point out a girl's hair as the thing they are attracted to. It's always the "rack" or "butt" or body type.  So, am I just not getting something here?

Amanda Hocking goes really far with hair.  Her book Switched has pages devoted to hair care products, she refers to her character's hair all the time, calls it an unmanageable frizz and a tangled mess and whatnot.  She even says that her hair makes her ugly.  Like WTF?! Really?

And then there's the young adult movie Tangled by Walt Disney.  Rapunzel loses all of her magical power and becomes normal when her hair is cut.  It also goes from sunny gold to dark brown. However, I still find the new Rapunzel attractive for a cartoon.  But having her hair cut also freed her from the evil witch that dominated her life.  So is this a message? If you cut your hair you lose your power but you also set yourself free.

So discuss please.  Let me know your opinions on hair. I'm interested and want to know.  And please tell me if you are writing a young adult novel with a protagonist that has short hair. I would like to know why you made that choice seeing as the market is awash with long-haired ladies.


  1. Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that hair is shorthand for sexuality. Long hair = more sexual, short hair = less sexual.

    Why did you think so many women cut their hair shorter when they get older?

    (Cause it's easier to take care of, says the one who just hit 40 and is starting to keep it shoulder length)

  2. My WIP is a sci-fi with a female protagonist, and she has very short hair.

  3. I agree with L. There's the idea that long hair is sexy. As a person with long hair, it's not so sexy when it gets in everything. It's like it has a mind of its own. A toddler's mind. Truly, though, long or short hair. It doesn't matter to me. It's the personality of the character that matters.

  4. That's one of those publisher trends I get behind. I like women with long hair. I think it's simple jealousy because I'm balding.

  5. I agree with you that the majority of heroines in teen novels have long hair. I also have noticed that the majority of titles have to be one word. LOL, I guess I'm going against the norm on everything. My heroine has short hair and I have three word titles. I guess we'll see if it is the kiss of death or if going against the trend works for me.

  6. Guess I never really thought about it. It's not the first thing I look at, but I do think long hair on a woman is sexy. My wife has long hair. And the female character in my next book has long hair. Oh well.

  7. My mc has shoulder length hair for no other reason than that's how I saw her in my head. Her trashy friend has long hair, which the mc is jealous of. I think it's complete coincidence that I have shoulder length hair and have always wanted long hair :-)

  8. For some reason my comment didn't go through - or I can't see it or something. Anyway, I'll try again...

    I'm about to get my hair cut today. Not a lot...but some. It's down to my hips. Way too freaking long! Hair is pretty. So are dresses. This is why there are so many covers with long-haired girls in flowing gowns. Notice most of those covers you posted have the pretty dress thing going on, too.

  9. My faith tells me to cover my hair. I don't, my mom told me that if my hair is attractive, people will just have to deal with that fact and learn to behave as educated human beings. It is possible that hair makes a girl look attractive. The fact remains that physical features are not the only factors to make some one determine what they are like as a person.

  10. The protagonist in my novel has long hair - but he's a dude.

    And this is off topic, but I've noticed a lot of YA covers lately with young ladies defying gravity in interesting ways. You put some of them up in this post.

  11. Matthew, that seems to be an odd trend with the defying gravity thing. Kind of like the chopping heads off thing awhile ago. Dresses and long hair seem to be lasting longer. Combine them all and you've got a definite winner, maybe?

  12. You raise an interesting question.

    Since I barely look at a cover before open a book to judge the work by it's text, I would never have noticed.

  13. I think one of the reasons long hair is popular on book covers is because it can be draped in artistically interesting ways. I went from long hair to shoulder-length hair when I was pregnant, and sometimes I still miss being able to play with it or wear it differently.

    I don't write YA, but most of my female characters have long hair. Joanna in Lyon's Legacy has long hair as a way to emphasize her femininity and her differences from her famous male ancestor. My current WIP will feature four young women, three with long hair and one with short. They live in a quasi-Victorian society, so long hair is considered the norm for women.

  14. Thanks for your comments everyone. This topic is fascinating me this Thursday while I drink my free coffee from 7-Eleven (If you don't know, you can get a free coffee today so go-go-go).

    I never realized until I made this post how much perceived power hair seems to have. To me...some dude that just works a government job, hair always seemed to be hair.

    Like I said in my post, my friend Meg just shaves her head, and I think nothing of it. She did tell me she has gotten flack from one man who told her that she should grow her hair out. On the flipside of that, she has been approached by women at her daughter's school who have told her, "I wish I had the courage to do what you do." And this gave her pause because she feels it took no courage at all to shave her head. She just did it to stay cool for the summer.

    @Munir: Good for you. I don't think anyone should be afraid to show their hair. The very idea of hiding it due to religion seems very strange to me. However, I'm also atheist so all religions seem a bit strange to me but whatever.

    @Michelle: I had no idea there was a severed head trend. I missed that one, and it seems like a strange trend to have.

  15. After having my hair reach my waist for many years I hacked it off when I reached high school. Long hair endlessly throws you into situations. People want to play with it, the hair gets stuck on things, the sheer weight. It's a way to help the reader get to know the character. And to me shoulder length hair isn't long...that's short, anything above the chin is super short.

    That said I'm growing my hair out back to mid-shoulder because my hair is gorgeous and I want pretty hair in my graduation pictures.

  16. I think long hair gives you something to play with in a character and it's not just about beauty. Long hair can be pulled out of the way and some short hair styles have be styled everyday. Personally I think it's easier to manage long hair and I want my characters to be comfortable and I have never felt comfort in short hair style, but that's just me :)

  17. My YA main character has shoulder length hair that is long enough to place in a ponytail. She's usually more focused on practical issues vs. style and wears a ponytail often. My book cover MC has longer hair than I pictured, but I didn't complain since I'm very happy with the cover. I'd say that longer hair symbolizes youth and sexuality. I would happily write a heroine with short hair if it fit her attitude and personality. I think that's the key. Women gravitate to styles they think represent who they are. So, don't look at my hair and try to figure out what I'm saying with it. :)

  18. Don't even get me started on my hair obsession!

    I guess I need to go back to my novel and fix my MC's hair. It's been cut short for a specific reason, but if that's what I need to get the book published (if I ever finish it), I might just have to change a few things.

    Then again, it's not YA, so maybe I can get away with it.

  19. I've had short hair for years and I don't think there's anything wrong with it. Women with short hair are just as beautiful as women with long hair, though there seems to be a male preference for long hair. The thing is, someone women just look better with short hair. I want to see more beautiful women with short hair, especially on book covers.

  20. first, thx for including my friend, kiersten white's book, in your display!

    as for hair length on ladies: depends on the woman, AND the head shape of those who choose to go bald, viz the sexy woman from india in that star trek flick [i suck at many names]... and yes, the shorter the hair, the less time spent on getting it 'in shape', hence older ladies tend to opt for shorter...

    as for sex appeal in ladies, a LOT more than hair length is involved

    i my case: if it happenin' tween the ears, it ain't happenin' tween the sheets!

  21. I must say that I have hair that's about as long as those on the covers. I just like my hair long because I think it suits my face.

    I guess the long hair thing adds to the drama on the cover. It has a bit more of a "presence" because it can wave in the wind or hide faces etc. So yeah, I think it's an aesthetics thing w.r.t. covers.


  22. you are right my friend. what's with the long hair. as for me, as long as you keep your hair/head neat and nice. that's attractive for me. I have been from skin head to uo to the length of my waistline. and everybody adores it. hahaha... modesty aside...

    nice points on this post tho...


  23. Long, straight hair is the beauty ideal. I don't see any "normal" girls with hooked noses or one weird eye on those covers either. Or girls who shop in the plus-size department. So, I file the hair observation under "Yeah, obviously."

    About long hair: as someone who's worn her pesky, curly hair short most of her life, I can say most guys never gave me a second look when my hair was short. I'm not getting inundated with marriage proposals now that it's long, but I definitely get the occasional look. If my hair were not ethnically-curly and dark, I dare say I might get a few more looks.

  24. I have an MC with short hair, and an MC with long hair. I picked what fit their personality. I have been looking around lately at teenage girls, and you know what? Most of them have long hair. Not all, mind you. But, that age group tends to keep their hair long. This has been my observation, and maybe that is what is being reflected in books.

  25. So here's my own nerdy historical observation: Women's hair has always been weighed down with symbolism. In medieval and Renaissance times, virgins/unmarried women could wear their hair long and uncovered, but once they were married they had to cover it and/or wear it up. Watch Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett -- the long, loose hair during her coronation was deliberate and symbolic of her sexual state; but when she chose to "marry" England by the end of the movie, she has her hair cut short and worn up.

    Then there's the revolution of bobbed hair for women in the 1920s, popular not only because of fashion but because short hair symbolized rebellion and liberation. The opposite can be found among women in fundamentalist religious polygamist sects: long hair usually repressed unstylishly in long braids or pinned up in the unflattering ways.

    Hair can have power in the eyes of the beholder. Me? Currently I have shortish hair simply because my previous long style looked crappy on me

  26. You kinda have to wonder if we're saying that long hair is better. Certainly, some sort of standard has been set subliminally and many of us (myself included) are too blind to notice.

    This also makes me think that we are so much like sheep in the way we market and in the way we buy. Food for thought.

  27. I have long hair, and my fiance gets annoyed whenever I mention cutting it. I agree with previous commenters who said that long hair is typically thought of as sexier. My two female MCs are very different people. One of them has long hair, and one of them has short hair. I think hair is just another way to express personality, and should be as varied as characters' personalitites, so it makes me laugh when all these characters look and dress and act in similar ways.

  28. This reminds me a little of the two female characters in Naruto, who had long hair because they both HEARD that this one guy they both adore likes girls with long hair (interesting enough, both characters showed their growth by hacking it off later).

    I absolutely love the way Tangled was executed. Eugene's response when he comes to: "Did I ever tell you I have a thing for brunettes?" Classic. Hair length didn't matter to him. It doesn't really matter to me, either.

    I have various hair lengths for my characters, male and female. The majority of girls I knew growing up had long hair. I don't know why. But now you got me thinking.

  29. Haha I remember when I first watched "Tangled," I just had to say aloud, "So, the great tragedy of the story is the moment when her hair turns the color of my hair."

    But, then again, I do have long hair. Brown hair. But long hair.

    I think it's just a matter of taste. There isn't a necessity to have long hair, or pressure. Also, there is nothing wrong with having long hair. I just like it on me. But I don't think that means short hair is somehow . . . less. Emma Watson, for example. She is rocking the pixie cut right now, and more power to her!

  30. Funny thing: I didn't notice the hair length as much as the one-word titles. Notice how many of those there are?

    Paranormalcy (that's okay, it's a cool new word)

    Personally, I'd pick up "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" just because of the cool title.

    Oh, right, we were talking about hair. I think it's because long hair is the current trend. When I was a teen, everyone was into punk. Jem was my idol, and she had pink hair.

    Check out these covers from 1980s Sweet Valley High books. Most of the girls have shoulder length hair or shorter, and they all have the poofy bangs :D

  31. Interesting point.. I think that part of the reason why long hair is so popular is because that is what is popular in fashion. In the 80's, it felt like short hair was really in, for example Molly Ringwald in the 80's. Now, it's the long hair..

  32. Personally, I like short hair, and long hair, and in-between hair. But I too have noticed the predominance of cover models with long hair lately!

  33. I've got almost nothing to add here. Well, except that I notice for a lot of women, their hair seems to get shorter as they age. Maybe long hair is sign of vitality or something. Not for everyone, but for a lot.

  34. All I have to add to this is that I would bet that the women in the novels that have long hair are probably portrayed as sexy and beautiful while the women with short hair are probably sassy and maybe smart- not necessarily a great beauty. Long hair as noted by Helena is historically meaningful and has far more significance and symbolism than writers want to admit or know. *rolls eyes* It's so easy to say, "It looks pretty". Whatev...

  35. Most teen girls have long hair. It's rare to walk around a high school and see a girl with short hair. I think most of your examples are YA. Yes, I think it is supposed to be sexy to have long hair. All the romance novels do it.

    And regardless of genre, nobody wants their novel to go by the way of Felicity.

  36. Ahem, hairy topic.

    I'm staying clear of this one:)


    Join me at the Rule of Three Writers' Blogfest!

  37. I think short hair can look really sexy, and I went on record once as saying that Bald Britney actually looked pretty hot.

  38. I think short hair can look really sexy, and I went on record once as saying that Bald Britney actually looked pretty hot.

  39. I've heard a lot of guys say that they hate when girls cut/wear their hair short. Personally, I think short hair looks awesome on some women (depending on their face structure.) I wear my hair long because I actually think it's easier to take care of that way. I have a protag with shoulder length hair, but it's just the way I always pictured her. There's no strong meaning behind it.

  40. I just finished creating the cover of my novel. It's all about hair in my pic.

    I've always liked long flowing locks on me. When I go out I wear my hair down and it flows... longly. lol

    When I was a teenager I had long hair. I had a skater phase and shaved half my head! So I guess you could say I went both ways. Haha.

    The main character in my novel goes through transformations with her hair. It's not about hair products and hairstyles though. It's about character development.

    If you really want to know why most women writers are obsessed with hair, read Julie Cohen's novel "Girl From Mars". Julie also blogs about character arcs, and she explains brilliantly why her main character's dying of her hair was important to her emotional development.

  41. I think it's a little odd to question the hair length of the female protagonist. I believe it's most likely because the author of the book had a picture in mind of their heroine, and in that picture she had long hair. That's probably as simple as it needs to be.
    Personally, I prefer long hair. You may very well go bald one day as you get old, and so you may as well use what you got whilst you've still got it. That's all I've got to say about it.

  42. I do have a character with short hair (as in, shorter than chin-length) because it fits what she does/is; for the slum like setting she's in it would be too impractical for her to have longer hair.

  43. I wonder how it is that hairstyle is associated with different personalities. As authors, when you say a hairstyle fit a character's personality, wha do you mean? Is it like Danette mentions that the beautiful, sexy ones have long hair and the sassy or smart ones have short hair?
    Does long hair indicate that a woman is choosing her hairstyle to attract men? Is it that women with intelligence, a rebellious spirit, or the ability to think for themselves who go with short hair? I don't know...
    I shaved mine because I want it to be easy, cheap, quick, and I didn't particularly want to try to cater to other people's preferences in the process. I just buzz my hair with clippers, and for the next month it's quick wash-n-wear. I don't use any product in my hair other than a very little shampoo, I don't pay someone else for a haircut, I don't use a hairbrush, I no longer need a hairdryer... And, to top it all off, it's cool, lightweight, and it never gets in the way at all. I'm not sure I'll be able to talk myself into growing it out again any time soon.
    In a way, I think I have to be somewhat rebellious to have such a drastically short hairstyle simply because there is a social judgement that happens in response to it. I had to be ready for that feedback (both positive and negative) before being ready to shave my head. People challenge my hairstyle, people associate it with skinheads, people have all sorts of judgements about women with 1/4-1/2" hair. I feel fortunate that I look okay with my hair missing.
    I have friends who've had their hair short, loved it, and grew it back out because of a perceived notion that they can't be successful in their career or relationship unless their hair is suitably long. Similarly, many men keep their hair short because they feel they can't be successful in their career or relationship unless their hair is suitably short.
    I'd love to see more short-haired women represented in novels. :)
    Do you feel that your hairstyle is an attempt to find or keep a partner? Do you feel your hairstyle is impacted or affected by your job/career? How much time and energy do you put into upkeep and maintenance?

  44. Whoa, this never dawned on me until your post. So insightful! And it makes me think of that Whip My Hair song.

    I think publishers believe that girls with long hair seem more girly and feminine and will appeal to their core readers more. They are afraid of the Felicity syndrome: female protag cuts her hair and viewers flee. Let's be honest. When we were teenagers, how many of us were obsessed with our hair?