I’m gonna level with you: I think about Connie Britton’s hair a lot. As in, at least a few times a week a lot. I ponder its perfect mermaid waves while painstakingly attempting to curl my own. I fixate on it while watching (my ultimate-guilty-pleasure-primetime-musical-soap opera, Nashville. I’ve commented on it to my boyfriend while watching American Horror Story. (“Don’t you wish my hair looked like that?” I inquire. In tacit disagreement he answers with a quizzical look and a gentle pet of my brunette locks.) Once, I even tried to get into Friday Night Lights and failed because Tami Taylor’s hair didn’t get enough screen time.
Aside from my childhood fascination with Audrey Hepburn’s cheekbones, I’ve never experienced this kind of female celebrity fixation. And unlike when I was girl and for a time wanted to be Audrey Hepburn and all of her delicate grace and stunning beauty I lacked in my awkward adolescence, I don’t want to be Connie Britton, or Tami Taylor, or even Rayna James (although — don’t tell my boyfriend this — but I’ve sidled up next to Deacon Clayborne at a honkytonk a time or two in my mind). I don’t even really want those cascading ginger tresses, so much as I admire the womanly confidence they signal with Pantene-esque shine.
See, when it comes to women and hair, it’s usually the cropped-topped among us who are called daring and brave — we did an entire podcast about the still-shocking act it is for young women to chop off her hair. But the power of Connie Briton’s long hair, as eloquently explained by Sarahs Mesle and Blackwood at Avidly, has more to do with owning age than flouting gendered fashion norms:
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.
Mesle and Blackwood go on to mention the evolutionary biology go-to answer on why (Western) women have traditionally grown their hair long, as its an outward signal of our inward fertility. It’s like a tangled billboard for our uteruses (a line of thinking that frankly makes me want to shave my head immediately). But if you peek back in history, normative femininity also dictated that while unwed and presumably virginal girls could wear their hair long, once married and mothered, a proper woman kept her hair pinned up — or in other words, she took that billboard down.
That pattern persists even today with the Soccer Mom Hairdos and Mature Woman Crewcut. Connie Briton’s hair, meantime, advertises a middle-aged female sexuality we’re rarely shown on screen. And that, I think, is what mesmerizes me about it so much: its lustrous possibility of not having to abide by The Rules of How Women Should Age Properly.
As I’m now bidding a fond farewell to my 20s, I’m feeling my advancing years in a way I never have and witnessing their passing in the form of gray hairs springing forth in unprecedented numbers. I’m now pondering that most dreaded salon question: to color, or not to color — and honestly, I don’t know the answer. But I know that as I grow older, I don’t wish to pack away my sexuality and succumb to the societal nonsense that certifies women over 40 unsexy and undesirable or women over 40 who openly express sexual interest as Mrs. Robinsons and “cougars.” Instead, when I grow up, I want to be Connie Briton’s Hair: fully confident, unapologetic and not fretting that people will mistake me for over-and-done-with and unwanted.
Britton — the actress, not the Hair — also has expressed resentment at Hollywood’s typically terrible depictions of women and aging and has fought against those tropes in her recent roles. Speaking to The New York Times in 2013, Britton shared frankly how she fought against the initial portrayal of Nashville‘s Rayna James as over-the-hill: “That’s not even who I represent as an actor,” she said, sitting back in her seat. “My life started being awesome five years ago.” Funnily enough, so did her hair.