Hair is very important- the way we wear it is a form of self expression, a canvas for artistic exploration, and shorthand for who we are or want to be. This significance carries over even more in fiction and especially visual arts like webcomics, cartoons, and movies.
How a character wears their hair can often give insight to where they are mentally, emotionally, and even socially.
A character with hair that is always neat usually implies control and being ‘put together’ in the sense that they are grounded enough emotionally and mentally to groom themselves.
A character that used to be wearing a neat hairstyle but shows up with unruly hair implies that they are losing their grip on that control, one way or the other.
Of course that doesn't hold for situations where unruly hair is a norm, like waking up with bed hair of having gone through situations where grooming is impossible. This is strictly for when grooming is possible, but simply not done: The more disheveled the hair, the more the descent of the character into whatever emotional or mental break they are going through.
But that isn't the only way hair can symbolize a character's development. As in the main image for this article that I've picked from ATLA, where we see Zuko's shift in hairstyles, none of them imply a descent into madness or any kind of psychological unraveling. But the difference in the character is just as stark:
The first hairstyle is extremely austere, ceremonial, and even ‘mutilated’- Zuko is bald with only a ponytail, implying how restricted he is in his expression and how all his personality is channeled through a narrow avenue.
The second one is one of rebirth, in conjunction with the previous one, since his hair is growing back in. But even if seen stand-alone, it is a normal short cut without much restriction of the hair (it's not a crew cut).
The third one is lush, the hair loose and framing his face without obstructing him. It's during the sequence of episodes where he discovers himself and makes his own decisions. His style reflects the exploration of this newfound freedom.
Lastly, when he takes up the throne and responsibility, the hair is styled into a neat, slightly ceremonial, but practical style that doesn't prevent it from still growing. Which is the state in which this character is portrayed to be: taking on responsibility, but still able to grow as a person.
I chose ATLA to illustrate my point but there's a lot more media out there where this is done. Take Frozen, for example, and Elsa's ‘letting it go’ by releasing her hair from the tight updo of her queenly style. It's still in a braid, but it's free and lush and frames her face.
in which hairstyle is she more restrained and compliant with norms?
And then, of course, there's the unrealistic hairdos of drama with the bangs or fringes that go on forever (looking at you anime) where hair is basically even more stylized to serve this function. A character with bangs that obscure his/her eyes will have a dramatic moment or ‘get serious’ when the hair is pulled back, revealing their eyes.
when does he mean business? When he gets his hair out of his face.
Have you used hair and hairstyles to convey your characters' emotional state, personality, or whether things are unraveling/developing/escalating in any way?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 13, 2021
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