Keep Your Hair Back!

I was watching one of the new episode of All Saints recently, and one of the ambos, Cate, had her hair tied back with a few tendrils framing her face. She spent the entire episode either tilting her hair to push the hair out of her face, or talking while peering through the hair.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been annoyed by the complete lack of practicality of a female character’s hair. I never understood how Faith from Buffy could see, let alone slay the vampires, given her loose, flowing hair was always at least partly obscuring her face. And Calleigh from CSI Miami? I refuse to believe that anyone who isn’t a professional model has the time or inclination to grow and maintain hair that long and healthy-looking.

I’ve never seen a male character wear clothes that are impractical to his line of work (unless they’re making a deliberate point, like the rich guy who shows up for community service picking up litter in a designer suit), so why are we seeing females with hair obscuring their faces and wearing high heels that would be hell to walk around in all day just to look more alluring? It’s created a standard of presentation that women are meant to look attractive while doing practical work, yet never being impeded by stray hair or chafed feet.

I’d like to see more characters who dress appropriately for their job. How can nurses function with hair hanging over their eyes? What are we supposed to make of crime scene investigators who appear to spend a second job’s worth of time and money looking after their hair? And doctors who wear high heels on long shifts? Female characters need to stop being dressed as eye candy for jobs that aren’t about appearance, unless it’s to tell us this character pays more attention to her beauty than her function.


  1. firebird says

    I was watching the DVD commentary this morning of “Dave” (a late second season episode of Lost) and the actress who plays Libby was discussing her “bangs” blowing in her face with the producer guy who was doing the commentary with her.

    I had never noticed before, but, um, she’s on a tropical island. And conveniently has a hair tie. But hasn’t tied back *all* of her hair – there’s still a couple of chin length tendrils that blow continuously across her face.

    And now I’m mad at myself for not having noticed. I mean, seriously, who would do that? It would be behind my ears or pulled back in the rest of my hair in an instant.

  2. scarlett says

    I personally don’t understand the appeal of those long fringes which are half in your eyes. I don’t care if it’s fashionable, it’s impractical! You don’t see men wearing clothes and hairstyles which impede practicality, do you?

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, in fact, impractical haircuts on men are used to suggest they’re slackers or hippies and don’t take things seriously like society thinks they should.

    To me, it suggests the same thing about women.

  4. scarlett says

    The difference is you never see men with clothes and haircuts which impede function played as if they’re still functioning, efficient, professional workers. All the women I mentioned in the article were at least fnctioning and efficient at their jobs. I would argue that Faith wasn’t terribly professional, but from the begining she was played as a loose cannon and that was what made her a less-than-effective vampire slayer, not the hair in her face. But what annoyed the crap out of this AS episode wasn’t so much the hair in her face, but that I was MEANT TO BELIEVE she was a functioning, professional woman instead of a silly vain womenwho cared more about looking coy and alluring then being able to get the job done.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Right – I get what you’re saying.

    This is the legacy of Charlie’s Angels – sure, they’re solving crimes, but what’s important is how they swing their pretty hair while doing it.

    Actually, this was one of the things that bothered me about Emma Peel after seeing Cathy Gayle first on the Avengers. Cathy was The Real Thing – professional through and through. But when they shipped the show to the Americas, they decided Americans would think she was butch, so they brought in Emma Peel (M. Appeal = Male Appeal) who swung her hair and posed prettily while the camera attempted to make it look like Diana Rigg could do a fight move if her life depended on it.

    Yeah, I know saying that pisses people off. Compared to what came since, Emma Peel was pretty cool. But compared to her predecessor, she’s a perfect example of how producers think they have to downplay a competent woman to appeal to Americans. Which is especially interesting, given that Britain is hardly enlightened about women itself.

  6. sbg says

    I refuse to believe that anyone who isn’t a professional model has the time or inclination to grow and maintain hair that long and healthy-looking.

    Believe it. It’s never been my goal to have long, healthy hair. I do because I’m too lazy to have it any other way. Really, shorter haircuts require more work and maintenance. 😉

  7. says

    Really, shorter haircuts require more work and maintenance.

    Nah. Not necessarily. I finally gave up after decades of long hair because I just had no more energy to spend all that time brushing and braiding and pinning it up, or the even more time (and pain) digging out the gawdawful *mats* if I let it go unbrushed for a couple days (Persian cats got nothing on me there) and since it was no longer an issue of conformity the way it was when I was defiantly keeping it long, I got the scissors and hacked it off above the collar.

    Every month or so I trim it (with sewing shears) when it starts getting too shaggy. It all depends on what you’re looking for. I don’t maintain my hair any more than any man does, I don’t do anything to it 99% of the time except run a comb through it when wet, (once in a great while I slick it into a ’30s bob with gel, for going out) and I’ve gotten so many compliments on it ever since that it’s funny.

    The thing is, they only *put* women in action/adventure shows to be eye candy for male viewers, first and foremost. Why *else* would you bother putting women in? – from their POV.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think to have waist length hair that is fully glossy, that would be super high maintenance. I thought that was what Scarlett was referring to, but I could be wrong.

    For me, shoulder length hair is much easier to deal with than short, but when it gets midway down my back, it’s really hard not to have split ends and stuff.

  9. MaggieCat says

    I don’t really care for the blatant dismissal of every woman who doesn’t have her hair severely pulled back or cut short. No, it’s not realistic to have every woman with super long hair or hair that falls in her face, but the phrasing here is just as insulting to women who do, for whatever reason.

    It depends on what’s natural for your hair type. My mother used to have the exact same hair as Calleigh Duquesene, and she says it took absolutely no work, because she has super straight hair. I know other people who’ve said the same thing. I always have a least a few pieces of hair falling in my face because I have naturally curly/thin hair that resists any attempt to be held back unless I have pulled back skin-tight and glue down the pieces that are too short.

    I don’t think insulting women who don’t fit your standards by saying they should be shown as someone who “pays more attention to her beauty than her function” is particularly effective, and it’s kind of undermining your point by implying that women who do pay attention to their hair are only fit to be there for their looks.

  10. scarlett says

    Well one issue I have with Calleigh is that her hair looked SO healthy. I never saw split ends or flyaway bits and yes, while having straight hair tends to make having superlong hair easier to maintain, it takes a hell of a lot of effort to get hair waist-length like Calleigh had in the early seasons while still looking as glossy and split-free as she did.

    Maggie, with the women I referred to in my article, all of them had deliberately worn their hair in a way that would have required little effort to have completely back for the purposes of working without their vision being impeded, but CHOSE to have it hanging loose or with tendrils in front of their faces, which had to have gotten in the way while they were working. Sorry to keep getting back to All Saints, but it’s the episode most recently on my mind – Cate had reasonably long, straight hair and could quite easily have either tied the whole lot up or pinned the tendrils back, but she chose to have them obscuring her vision. There didn’t seem to be any point to it other than have her look coy and alluring.

    I do get that hair can be too corase, curly or short in sections to keep back properly; I’m growing my hair out at the moment and have taken to wearing bandanas because it’s too short for the front to get in a ponytail and too fine for clips. But again, these women all have fairly long, straight hair, so a simple ponytail shouldn’t have been a problem – far less of one than having loose, long hair falling in front of your face or tendrils constantly obscuring your vision.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    Scarlett, I think the thing is: phrases like “I refuse to believe…” turn a reasonable point into a confrontation.

    I totally agree that I’ve seen actresses as scientists or doctors or whatnot prettily push back their pretty tendrils over and over, while prettily framed by the camera, and you can just hear the producers moaning, “Look how soft and pretty those wisps of hair are… awww, isn’t that just lovely?” Which is stupid, and not at all like a realistic representation of a woman who tries to keep her hair back for the job, but has a few unruly strands.

    As for this Calleigh character, is she the one who wears her hair down for autopsies and sweeps it over the corpses she’s supposed to be getting evidence from? Because that to me is a lot more worrying than how her hair looks. And a lot more to the point of shows leaving you wondering if they mean to imply the character is a vain idiot, or if they just expect us to suspend our disbelief in order to enjoy the pretty.

  12. scarlett says

    Haven’t watched CSI Miami for a while, but when I did, Calleigh had pale blond, waist-length hair that she never tied up. I don’t remember her swinging it over corpses, but given that it was long and loose, I’m sure that happened at times. I could imagine so many crime scenes being corruptd because there were long, pale blond hairs all over the place.

    I realise it usually isn’t the producers intention to portray the women I speak of as vain idiots, just to portray them as soft and feminine, but if I saw a woman in such a job doing her hair that way for work in RL (assuming, of course, that it would have taken little extra effort to get it completely out of her face), I’d think she was a vain idiot.

    It occoured to me yesterday at work that I hadn’t clarified what I meant about maintaining long hair. I completely agree that it’s often much easier to keep long hair up than short hair – mine’s shortish and shaggy, and the half at the front isn’t long enough to go into a ponytain – I was referring more to the effort of washing, drying, combing etc. When I had longer hair I couldn’t keep it loose for long because it would catch on something or get knotted.

  13. MaggieCat says

    I think the thing is: phrases like “I refuse to believe…” turn a reasonable point into a confrontation.

    I think BetaCandy’s right about this, it’s the first part that bothered me. Nobody can deal in absolutes and sweeping declarations without hitting a significant amount of women with collateral damage. The fact is that millions of people make choices you may deem impractical for a variety of reasons, and you can never know everything about someone else’s circumstances. It’s what makes us human.

    I realise it usually isn’t the producers intention to portray the women I speak of as vain idiots, just to portray them as soft and feminine, but if I saw a woman in such a job doing her hair that way for work in RL (assuming, of course, that it would have taken little extra effort to get it completely out of her face), I’d think she was a vain idiot.

    I have a friend who only gives up her high heels for flats when she’s running because she’s 5’2″ in a family of giants and there’s always been a family joke that she was switched at birth and on some level that bothered her. I do the same thing at 5’7″ in an extremely short family because I’m contrary like that. The friend who spends well over an hour doing just her makeup and hair before she goes to work does so because she wants to and it’s her time to spend, and that doesn’t mean that she’s shallow or going to obsess about her appearance once she’s on her employer’s time. I don’t pull the front part of my hair back even though it’s currently long enough to because I have to tie it so tightly that it gives me a headache, and I had extremely long hair a couple of years ago because I didn’t cut any length off for over two years after my father died.

    You can think people like us are “vain idiots” all you like, but you’re dismissing an awful lot of people for reasons you know nothing about.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m afraid a good point is getting lost here, thanks to the use of absolutes and statements that end up criticizing a huge general group of women. That specific point is: with female actors, looks come first all too often. It often undermines the believability of the actress’ performance, and it often reinforces – in a subtle, visual way – the idea that women are more concerned about their looks than anything else, when in fact it’s TV producers who are more concerned about a woman’s looks than anything else about her.

    It often ends up indicting women when it should be indicting the people behind the camera – most often men.

    The problem is not whether “any” woman would ever wear a certain hair style or high heels in a particular circumstance, but rather that in real life there’s always a reason why she does it, but on film that choice, like probably all her other choices, is unexamined. She’s there to be drooled at, not understood.

    If for example a male wears an expensive suit to go shovel shit, we know we’re being invited to wonder about him and his motive for doing that. Not so with the female character. She adopts impractical looks for her lifestyle because it suits her creators. And so she can never be as real to us as her male counterpart; we can feel neither sympathy nor antagonism toward her because what should be a clue to her mind is really just a clue to TPTB’s minds.

  15. scarlett says

    What Beta said. I have a brand of frankness which works a lot better in RL than online :8

    To take it back to the three examples I was using – actually just to concentrate on Cate and Faith – in both cases the women had styled their hair in ways which I highly doubt a woman doing the jobs the do would. (Not that I know any vampire slayers. I just assume that they wouldn’t want their hair falling in front of their faces while slaying.) I doubt an ambo would style her hair for work so she was constantly having to peer through it or tilt her hair back, and I doubt the producers thought of that (or at least not before thinking ‘how can be make Cate look coy and alluring?).

    I know there are plenty of people who wear high heels in jobs where they’re on their feet all day and choose to spent an hour styling their hair and that’s their perogative. But it seems to be the status quo on television for women to be presented like this for the sake of attractiveness.

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