Hester Prynne


In American Lit during 10th grade we read the timeless, dreaded classic The Scarlett Letter. Perhaps the bane of the anti-lit student’s existence, I quite enjoyed this novel, you know, for its level of meaning and motif of struggling with sexuality, among other things.

My teacher, “Cruel” Juel, was a big fan of symbolism. From her I learned how Hester Prynne’s hair is symbolic of feminine sexuality: long and lush, Hester wears her hair down despite the disapproval of her Puritan neighbors. Maybe I took it the wrong way, but I read Cruel Juel’s interpretation as the longer a woman’s hair, the more sexual she is. Later I thought maybe she meant, the longer her hair, the more expressive of her sexuality she is. Perhaps it should be the longer the hair the more sexualized a woman is. I don’t know. But I’ve head plenty of people make the connection between hair and sexuality. And it was really awkward for me, in that class, having the shortest hair of any girl in the 10th grade (and the whole school, really). Does that mean I’m not a sexual being? I wondered.

A good recent example from pop culture is Katy Perry’s “Part of Me”. In the video she breaks up with her neglectful, apparently deceitful boyfriend, cuts her hair, and joins the Marines. The hair cutting is presented as a crucial element of her cutting ties with the past/a bad relationship/etc.

Someone I used to know once made a “mistake” with her friend– maybe it was a mistake because it didn’t turn out like she thought it would. I didn’t know about it as I hadn’t seen her during a long summer break. When I did see her again, I was stunned to see that she had cut all her hair off! She used to have hair to the middle of her back, at least, and she now had a pixie cut. It looked fantastic on her, too– not just physically, but psychic-ly as well, like something better had been released by losing part of her physical being.

Rather than losing part of her sexuality, she had inadvertently discovered a deeper part of her sexuality. And through her, so did I. She probably didn’t understand the affect it had on me.

Interestingly, it turns out that Cruel Juel was right in my case, that there is a connection between sexuality and hair. I think my hair is symbolic of my sexuality in a way– not because of its length, but because of my autonomy over it, my choice to take on full decision-making for it as I was “coming of age”, and because I don’t let other affect my self-perception of my own image– and thus my sexuality.

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