Goddesses & Monsters: Corporeal Bodies, the Grotesque & Monstrous Skin

‘Hair without a head’ by Janice Miller offers insight into how hair is thought to be beautiful and important when on the body but disgusting when taken off the body and as a separate entity. It is seen to be living when on the body though hair is actually dead matter. The article talks about how hair is defined and appreciated in different cultures and what different types of people feel their hair represents. Hair can be a signifier of glamour but also of grotesque horror. Within this study group, we discussed hair as playing a role in the monstrous and how this is proven in modern examples. On of the body, hair is controlled, familiar and homely: it is part of us. Off the body, it transforms itself into something at the same time alien, unfamiliar and unhomely. Off the body, hair doesn’t belong. Our ownership of hair is severed as soon as the hair is, and it is then instantly transformed into something unwanted, an annoyance, even disgusting. Hair exists in liminal space and fits into both life and death. The deceased often live on through hair in the form of ‘relics’ and it is common that baby hair is kept after a hair cut as a memory; a sort of nostalgic view into the time it was captured for use after the moment has long passed. Hair as a relic can provide comfort and memory. However, when is hair as a relic creepy and disturbing? An example of this would be in the film ‘Charlie’s Angels’, when ‘creepy thin man’ rips out a part of Natalie’s (Cameron Diaz) hair during a fight scene. This becomes distressing firstly due to the nature of the relic being attained, and the way in which the character treats the relic. As he holds it in his fist and rubs it on his face, their is a atmosphere of insanity and also sexual desire, resulting in inevitable fear and disturbance in the audience.

In 2007, Britney Spears shaved her head, sparking the global media to brand her as mentally unhinged, damaged and as having lost her mind. How curious to assume that a woman who took away the thing that so many people lusted after, meant that she must be insane. It is as if the public assumed that Britney must be crazy to take away the blonde hair that had been her trademark for so many years, the hair that was so desired by men and women alike. Women are expected to be grateful for the attention given to them by others based on their appearance, as if they lack everything but an attractive exterior. Many would argue that Britney’s shaving of her head was a cry for help, an act out of the ordinary which would spark attention and make people see her for the human being that she is, and not just the attractive singer that was moulded into the ultimate superstar from just sixteen. There are many theories about what led Spears to shave her hair. Some say it was because her hair was often used to test her for drugs, which she apparently had been taking and did not want to be tested for. Another speaks of how Britney’s whole life was a strict schedule since her rise to fame in the 90s. Everything was controlled from what she are to who she dated to where she could go on weekends. Shaving her head meant that there was one thing else of her that was controlled, and it meant she regained ownership over a part of herself that she gave up to glamour and fame a long time ago.

We discussed changing trends in hair, particularly with regards to pubic hair and the different expectations for men and women. I found this lecture incredibly insightful into the ways in which something so normal to us can be seen as both glamorous and monstrous. It is interesting to examine things which we assume to be a natural reaction and to explore how this  is not in fact normal and is taught, learnt, and fabricated by society.

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