Usually in the fall the subway walls are plastered with posters of new television shows, returning shows and the new movies coming out. Today I’m walking through the subway and I see this poster for the upcoming movie Catching Fire in the subway:
I was instantly annoyed.
I love The Hunger Games trilogy. I’m a huge fan and I just reread the books a few weeks ago in preparation for this movie. I also really loved the first movie – I think that Jennifer Lawrence did a great job with Katniss’s character.
Why I am I annoyed? In the book, Suzanne Collins (the author) doesn’t spend a lot of time on Katniss’s appearance. We learn that Katniss is olive-skinned and has dark hair and eyes, but that’s about it. Katniss doesn’t really dwell on her own appearance very much, which is interesting given that one of the central themes of the book is how she’s constantly being remade to look good on television. But despite Katniss’s not focusing much on her appearance, she does take the time to mention – repeatedly – how she puts her hair up before she goes into any kind of action, typically in some kind of braid.
This is a pet peeve of mine. My husband is consistently amused at how upset it makes me, even as he agrees with me. Whenever I’m watching an action show or movie at home and a female character who is about to go into battle and KNOWS she’s about to go into battle runs in, hair a-flowing, I just get UPSET.
I’m a woman. Currently I have short hair and as I am black with kinky locks, my hair doesn’t flow in the wind – something I’m happy about, as I never have to tie it up now. However, I used to have chemically relaxed hair that fell straight down my back. If I was so much as going to the gym or to run around with the kids outside, I would put my hair up into a ponytail or a bun with one of the many, many ponytail holders I always had on hand. I only cut my hair about 3 months again and cleaning around the house turns up scores of stretchy ponytail elastics scattered all over the house. Most women I know with long hair have the same thing going on. When I go running in the park, every single woman I see with hair past their shoulders has it caught up in a ponytail or a messy but secure bun. Most also have a headband or sweatband to hold back the wispy locks that fly free. Watch any athletic competition involving women and most of them have their hair in buns or ponytails. Go on, do a Google search. Most women I know with longer hair usually have several pony elastics on hand.
Why? Because free-flowing hair is annoying when you are moving in any significant way. First of all, it’s distracting – it flies into your face and your mouth, gets in your eyes, and you have to move it out of the way. Second of all, it can be weaponized! At best, it gets caught in the moving machinery you are swinging through or the branches of the tropical jungle you’re climbing the trees of. At worst, your enemy grabs your hair and pulls it, causing you pain, or uses it to wrench your neck open for a stabbing.
Loose hair is the worst, but ponytails are kind of bad, too. I’m of the mind that any serious fighter would keep their hair short first and foremost, or in a bun if that were not possible or desirable. Braids are fine too. Ponytails would be a quick, in the moment solution. But no fighter woman in her right mind would just leave her hair flying free for no reason.
And Katniss, when she goes into an action scene, always braids her hair back. In fact, Collins sometimes takes a moment to explicitly say that. And her hair is usually intricately done for her shots in the Capitol; I don’t ever remember them saying that she wears her hair free, but if she does it would only be then. Yet here she is, in a battle suit with her arrows strapped over her back, and her hair flowing behind her.
I will say that this is the second Catching Fire poster. The first one has Katniss standing on a mountain, and her hair is braided in that one, which makes sense. This is the third one:
Who shoots a deadly weapon with their hair whipping around their face?
After I saw this, I started thinking about it more, reflecting, mostly…
One of my favorite new shows is Agents of SHIELD. It’s based on the Marvel universe; it’s a show about the ordinary agents who do “superhero support” and protect the world from supernatural elements. There are two female action heroines in the show:
The one in the purple shirt is Skye. There’s a lot wrong with her, but she’s new to the force and to fighting in general. Still, she seems to be capable of putting her hair in a ponytail for training but not for actual battles. And yes, they are sometimes surprised, but usually they know some shit is about to pop off.
The one in the all black body suit is more egregious. Her name is Melinda May. Her nickname is “The Calvalry.” She’s the pilot but also a weapons expert and a notable badass. She also always wears her hair down. Not once has she braided it or put it in a goddamn ponytail. In fact, in one episode an enemy combatant actually DOES grab her hair and use it to bang her face against the dash of her plane and incapacitate her. The next episodes? Hair still flowing. Dude. Learn something.
This, in turn, reminds me of Colombiana.
These are the two posters for the movie, which came out in 2011. It’s about a young woman named Cataleya (played by Zoe Saldana) who kills for a living. The thing that bothers me about the posters is that Cataleya actually never wears her hair down. In fact, she kind of makes a big deal about putting it in a bun before each fight. The one time she does wear it in a ponytail, an enemy combatant grabs it and pulls it to cause her pain and also incapacitates her with it. The only other time she wore her hair down or in a ponytail other than that, and in the scenes of her mundane life was in the final fight, and she wasn’t planning on doing much contact fighting with anyone. (It involved explosives.)
I actually dug up quite a few movie posters when looking around for this article, and most of the ones I could think of for women who are action stars in the movie or television series depict the woman or women with long, free, flowing hair that would be utterly annoying in a fight. This was regardless of whether the woman actually wore her hair down in the movie (most impractical, but many movies do depict women wearing their hair down like this in fights). Elektra, Underworld, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena the Warrior Princess, Kill Bill, Salt, The Walking Dead (I mean, you can barely see the female characters, but all of them do have their hair down), Charlie’s Angels (both the 1970s one and the early 2000s one), Mr. & Mrs. Smith, even the soccer movie Bend it Like Beckham (for Parminder Nagra’s character Jess, who never wears her hair down for a soccer game in the film but wears it either out or a very loose ponytail in the poster).
Do I have a point? Kind of. Mostly I’m just irrationally angry about this small thing, but I think it kind of makes comment on gender roles and the role of beauty and appearance. Women must look beautiful at all costs, and part of that beauty is long, flowing hair, preferably blowing impractically in the wind. And even warrior women who fight must be pretty, with makeup and perfect skin and waxed eyebrows. Do I think Melinda May would actually get her eyebrows waxed? Fuck no. She’s too busy cleaning her arsenal. I know the reality is that Ming-Na Wen does, and that movie posters of movies about women must showcase those women looking gorgeous because that’s what sells. And it’s not that movie posters that primarily feature men aren’t also unrealistic, but they are unrealistic in a different way. I mean, I look at the poster for The Expendables 2 and although the men all look like they had a party with steroids, they also look dirty and ready to fucking fight. Except Maggie (Yu Yen). When she DOES appear in a poster…she has her fucking hair down!
The one exception, of course, is this:
I almost forgot. When I was looking for the posters for Catching Fire, I found this:
For the link-phobic, Cover Girl has got some kind of deal with The Hunger Games to release makeup themed after the movie. Uhhhh….? Okay, I guess I can kind of see the connection – the Capitol makes up all of the combatants for the games before they go in, ridiculous styles in the Capitol, etc. Except that if you click, you’ll see that they created 12 different make up looks for each of the 12 districts, themed after the industry that the district is known for.
1. None of these looks, perhaps with the exception of District 9, looks like they have anything to do with the district theme at all. For District 12, mining, they chose a look that has yellow eyeshadow in the corner of the model’s eyes and pink lips. District 11, agriculture, has a model with red eyebrows and cheeks. District 6 has a bold blueish lip…I mean, what do any of these looks (with the exception of the wheat-like eyebrows on District 9) have to do with their industries?
2. Are they forgetting that these books are about 24 children who are sent to their deaths in a horrific battle? What about that inspires makeup?