International Authors' Day... and Hair



Happy International Authors' Day! In celebration of this amazing holiday, I'm reposting one of my favorite posts and offering a giveaway. My hugest thanks to the B00k R3vi3ws Blog for hosting this hop. 

Also, at the end of this blog post is a sexy, sexy Giveaway. Wanna win a digital copy of Hunted, Hunted Past, or Hunted Dreams? Enter below for a chance. Thanks, my friends, and good luck!

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Our crowning glory is all tied all up in knots with issues of power, privilege, history, and tradition. You think I exaggerate? Ask a Pentecostal woman why she doesn’t cut her hair, an Orthodox Jewish man why he wears his peyot, a Black woman about the politics of straightening, a woman media star how long she’s sported hair extensions. You think it’s a coincidence that 18% of Americans have blond hair and 2% of the world’s population sports blond hair and yet you can't shake a rice cake in Hollywood without touching a towhead?*

"My feisty redhead does feminism right."
Even books, an arguably more cerebral popular cultural medium, aren't immune. Novels may not contribute directly to visual culture, but they do verbally represent and reproduce it. I mean, for not even being visual media, most books get all (representationally) dressed up in a host of visual tropes. In my genre, paranormal romance, for example, ever notice how many sheroes’ tresses tumble down their back like May Day ribbons? How come no, or very few, characters have receding hairlines, limp and lifeless locks, cowlicks that leave their hair in perpetual disarray? For that matter, where are the cornrows, the fauxhawks, the feminine brush cuts, the masculine ponytails, the springy natural hair? Why are historical romances exploding like cover models out of their bodices with thin, feisty, redheaded sheroes who sorta-but-not-really defy oppressive gender conventions?



See what I mean? Politics. Hair is all wrapped up in ‘em.

I get it: romances aren’t about accuracy; they’re about fantasy. Escapism. No straight woman, the story goes, wants to imagine herself falling in love with some 40-something middle manager with a receding hairline and a paunch, right? And what feminine reader wants to identify with a stick-thin woman whose brown ‘fro punches through literary conventions and reminds us of our own sources of marginalization? We’re here to forget and enjoy, right?

Yeah, but… I like baldness. I dig dreadlocks. I call gray hair “tinsel” and celebrate its festiveness. I think Jew ‘fros are hot. And I can’t be the only person who has a special fondness for un-mane-like brown and black hair and who is sick to her bones of sheroes’ blonde locks that flow like tatters of yellow silk in… blah, blah, blah.

Imagine this hottie with a blond cutie on her arm.
I would argue it’s not all a matter of taste, though. I mean, shouldn’t writers be mindful about the visual and representational culture to which we contribute? Perhaps readers are expecting the usual, European-featured, feminine-but-spunky-and-independent blonde shero™ and the alphalicious,-violent-but-tamable earl, brigand, or CEO with raven black hair and flashing indigo eyes™? Does that mean we’re obligated to package it up and present it to them with a shiny purple bow? Wouldn’t it be fun- -- and maybe, sorta, kinda socially responsible -- to occasionally defy, or perhaps even toy with, some of those tired and exclusive expectations?  Imagine a shero with kickass dreadlocks and a hero with dark blond, wavy hair. Kinda cool, right? Or what about a redheaded hero? A shero with a short, punky ‘do and some face jewelry? A shiny-pated hero? (Speaking of which, did you know testosterone causes baldness and baldness is correlated with lower rates of prostate cancer? You want your hero to remain healthy and virile, right?) These images might not meet expectations, but they sure as heck might help change them.

I like a little bit of reality mixed into my fantasy. Goodness knows I’m not going to start centering my plots around folding laundry and cleaning up cat vomit, so perhaps it’s best to start with the characterizations of the people who inhabit my literary worlds. I like thinking I may be encouraging my readers – and myself – to expand our mental palette and challenge our hierarchies of beauty.

Be the change I wish to see, Gandhi?** Howzabout I represent it and give my readers a brief opportunity to join me in inhabiting it?

* Sorry, but I couldn’t find stats on how many actors are blond, naturally or not. 
** This is actually not a direct quote of Gandhi's, but why contradict the bumper stickers? 

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Comments

  1. Thank You for joining in the celebrations for IAD

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    1. Thanks to you for hosting this amazing celebration!

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  2. I actually don't take too much notice of a character's hair. I will in future though.

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    1. Ha! I'm kind of a hair fiend. I actually considered writing my dissertation on the politics of hair but decided to go with analyses of size-based discrimination instead. :)

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  3. what an awesome post!!! I don't really notice the "hair" too much but I have noticed how so many characters are Caucasian or if they're not, they have over exaggerated "ethnicness". Don't even get me started on the BDB series... thanks for sharing!

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    1. I admit I haven't read the BDB Series. It sounds intriguing, though, or at least you mentioning it in this context does. :)

      I make a lot of my characters non-White and of varying ability and body sizes, and I try not to make that their primary identifying characteristics. After all, it's not the main characteristic of White, thin, able-bodied folks, is it? :)

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  4. Your naughty blog ate my first post! Grrr!

    What I SAID is that I sometimes detest Seth Rogen, and that hair is cool. :-))

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    1. I agree with everything you said, LJ. :)

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  5. Love this post, Elle! And thanks to you, I'm going to start calling my grey hair tinsel. That sounds a lot better. :)

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Shelly. It's what I call my grays hairs! :)

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    Thank you for the great giveaway!!

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