Animals in the Hair – Finding Female Strength in Unconventional Places
This past week in comics there was an interesting coincidence and anomaly. On two separate comic book covers there was the image of a woman whose hair came alive and took the form of animal. On the cover of Inhuman #9, Medusa’s hair comes alive and forms snakes, and on the cover of Wolf Moon, an unidentified character’s hair comes alive and forms a wolf. In both cases it is the female character alone on the cover that is the focus of the artwork. While in both pictures, the association is an obvious one – snakes for Medusa, and a wolf for a werewolf – there is more to be read into this than what first meets the eye.
As a visual representation and as an artistic motif, the use of animal associations is nothing new. Through the association with animals, humans have for millennia defined themselves as a species other than what we are. This is a common theme in literature, art, and even shows up in colloquial language (“sly as a fox” “eating like a pig”). Through the association with a certain animal, a human derives some of their traits, while equally animals can derive the traits of humans in the same process. Lions aren’t really the kings of the jungle, they are more like one of many apex predators of the savannah, but the combination with so many royal emblems and insignia since at least the Mesopotamian era give both monarch and beast similar traits, and gives the animals a human title where there is none. Through the use of either allegory or association, subjects of artwork use animals to depict what we respect and fear about these beasts.
What is interesting here is not the use of the animals, but rather the use of the hair. As a society and culture, hair is most associated with women as it forms an important aspect of their beauty. In this case though, this aspect of the beauty is being replaced by something else, a symbol of strength and power. In the field of comics which is often criticized for its poor representation of women and of female beauty, this is an interesting and almost unnoticed coincidence from this past week, as female hair, which is usually just a representation of female beauty, in this way becomes a representation of female strength. While it is worth remembering that the medium as a whole has some ground to make up in terms of female physical standards, it is also worth noting that there are those in the field that use what they have in unconventional ways and that was the case this week with these two unintentionally related covers.