In the opening scene of ABC’s new drama Nashville, Connie Britton takes down her hair. Well, it’s not totally Connie Britton. It’s Rayna James, Britton’s new country singer character, freeing her hair from its pins, getting ready to go on stage. But you’ve got to think the directors knew what they were doing. “Come to Nashville,” the opening scene seems to beckon, “the home of Connie Britton’s Hair.”
What is it about Connie Britton’s Hair? Lots of women have beautiful hair. Not every woman’s beautiful hair has its own tumblr. Connie Britton’s Hair inspires a particular kind of devotion, a strange intensity of cathexis, and it does so, it seems, primarily for and between other women. Connie Britton’s Hair inspires envy, but not animosity. And we’re interested in why Connie Britton’s Hair brings out everyone’s best self.
So, the obvious answer first: we love Connie Britton’s Hair because it was, for a glorious while, Tami Taylor’s Hair, and Tami Taylor is pretty important. There’s no way Connie Britton’s Hair would have the aura it does without Tami Taylor. But it seems fair to say that Tami Taylor couldn’t have done what she did without Connie Britton’s Hair. In a show deftly attentive to Hair Grammar, Tami needed CBH to do a lot of talking. Eric Taylor’s hair raged and worried, Julie Taylor’s flowed with the gloriously naïve wisdom of youth, and Tim Riggins’s whispered sweet manly nothings. What did Tami Taylor’s say? What did it tell us about the woman whose head it adorned? And why are we still listening to it, now that the show is over?
We’d argue that Connie Britton’s Hair is important because it has wisdom about a subject the world is not often wise about: women and aging. That is why the cultural work of The Hair transcends the airtime of a single show and takes on a strange synecdochal force as its own social player. Like Tami Taylor, Connie Britton’s Hair is about the problem of having it all. Or rather, Connie Britton’s Hair takes the apparently weighty problem of “having it all” and exposes it for what it is: a perverse attempt to cast an entire phase of life as a “problem” somehow needing a “solution,” when instead it might just be an experience to be savored. Or maybe not savored. But still.
Ever-reductive evolutionary biologists tell us that long hair signals a woman’s fertility and sexual availability to men, that it’s correlated with youth. Such compulsively heterosexual science isn’t only about keeping the caveladies in the cave, however, because the same set of values—long hair=availability/desirability to men– conversely enables the Gender Studies 101 feminist argument that a woman cutting her hair short is an act of rebellion: think flappers and Britney Spears. It’s sadly easy to put women’s hair in this too-simple equation, where a woman’s beauty isn’t about her own pleasure in herself, and her freedom is always defined by cutting something off.
But Connie Britton’s Hair is not from the world of Venus and Mars, and it really could care less about what it is doing to the men who may come across it. The Hair asks us to think about a heavy ponytail at forty. Let’s not dismiss this as a joke, or as the same question as Botox or artificially plumped lips. If Botox is always about youth obsession, Connie Britton’s Hair is not always–or even ever–an attempt to look like Lyla Garrity or Hayden Panietierre. It might actually be about the specific pleasure of forty-ness.
Another way to look at the question might be this: is long hair girlish? The evidence of cheerleading suggests yes. But physiologically, lush hair is very womanly, too. When a woman gets pregnant, her body stops shedding hair. The hair keeps growing but stops falling out, and one result of this is a lot more hair on her head. This feels good. It feels really good! A little bit languorous and meditative, a lot of pulling hair off one’s nape. While we’re willing to accept that this pleasure is likely very socially constructed– given the world’s insistent attention to the barometers of women’s youth– we’re also not willing to relinquish this pleasure altogether. This pleasure is about having more of one’s body to experience, more points of contact between the self and the world, about one’s body undertaking some labor and growing and refusing, for a moment, to experience its impending obsolescence as loss.
As two thirty-something Sarahs, nearing the end of one epoch of womanhood, we’re both packing for the coming adventure with long heads of hair. For both of us, right now, long hair signals an attempt to inhabit the body fully. It’s not about an aspiration towards youth. It’s about an attempt to recognize a long-lasting, self-renewing pleasure.
And Connie Britton? The young, commercially-successful ingénue her character Rayna is posed against in Nashville has a big ole head of hair, too, and she uses it in the way the biologists would predict: to attract men. But we Sarahs are hoping she learns something from Connie about how to manage her natural resources.
Sarah Mesle: A little judgy.