It’s stating the obvious to point out that, in children’s fiction, a character’s hair maps onto personality. But in continuing to use hair-personality shortcuts, are writers perpetuating stereotypes?
Canadian teen actor Sophie Nélisse plays the title role, a young girl in foster care who we know is not terribly well-off emotionally because her hair is so flat. Her attitude stinks, too.
As is usual for matters of appearance, this post applies mainly to girl characters. The hairstyles of boys are far less commonly attached to their personalities, desires and psychological weaknesses.
Some authors, such as Daniel Handler, avoid mentioning how a girl looks in books. We didn’t know what Violet looked like until Netflix adapted A Series Of Unfortunate Events for screen. (We only knew that Violet had long hair because she does something with the bow on it.)
The distinction between ‘inborn’ and ‘styling choices’ of a character is important:
Anyone who has read a book is likely familiar with this phenomenon. Characters’ hair, for example, is often written as a remarkably accurate reflection of their personalities: feisty heroines are endowed with hair as sassy as they are, and these ‘wild manes’ subsequently spend every scene ‘struggling to escape’ from hair ties, messy buns, or other oppressive hairstyles. Granted, a green mohawk may imply a certain individuality of temperament, but self-styling can at least be controlled—this is very different to insinuating that because a person is born with curly hair, they’re automatically incapable of keeping their temper. Worse still is when this descends into racial stereotyping.