Nothing is more refreshing than the anti-beachwave.

By Olivia Crandall
Dec 28, 2020 @ 8:45 am
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Credit: HBO

Do you remember when the word “epidemic” was used lightly? More specifically, back in 2016, when it was brought to our collective attention that everyone on TV had the exact same glossy-on-top, wavy-on-the-bottom hair? It’s hard to believe that was only four years ago, but it’s safe to say things are a bit different now. And while change doesn’t happen overnight (we’ll probably be able to vacation on Mars before Emily in Paris puts down the curling wand), 2020 was full of hair so mediocre it veered aspirational for us normies just trying to make it to the other side of an actual pandemic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean this year was free from truly majestic hair. Between Anya Taylor-Joy’s immaculate color in The Queen’s Gambit and Jurnee Smollett’s voluminous curls in Lovecraft Country, there was no shortage of iconic looks. It is, however, worth noting that much of 2020’s best on-screen hair came from period pieces. Shows set in any kind of present reality began to exhibit cracks in the deep-conditioned veneer. 

Hair will probably always be used as an occasionally lazy shorthand for villainy — ahem, Aya Cash’s neo-Nazi side shave on The Boys. But it can also signal dynamism, showcasing antiheroes that are more than just flat cartoon characters with a signature look and a perpetually frizz-free blowout. Kaley Cuoco’s curtain bangs in The Flight Attendant are a prime example. Her character, Cassie, makes a laundry list of bad decisions as someone in active addiction, her hair ranging from Farah Fawcett cosplaying as a TikTok influencer to Cindy Loo Hoo on day four of Bonnaroo along the entire ride. It’s nothing if not proof that you can have great hair while still being a total disaster and vice versa. 

Credit: AMC

The same could be said about both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in Killing Eve. Villanelle may have a closet full of Gucci, Hussein Chalayan, and Dries Van Noten, but for the most part, her hair reminds me of the times my dad would do my hair in kindergarten. Not necessarily bad, but just sort of “there.” Eve’s hair plays a similar role — rather than taming Sandra Oh’s curl pattern, it’s left natural and fluid across episodes, forcing us to focus instead on her complexity as a character. Women, we contain multitudes! 

Hair left on its own to simply exist wasn’t just happening in prestige dramas, either. From Coach Monica’s flat iron situation on Cheer to the entire cast of Outer Banks’ humidity-fueled muss, there’s a spotlight on imperfect hair across genres. There’s something borderline rebellious about Davina opting out of the signature Selling Sunset extensions and clawing her way to that $75M listing with nothing but (oftentimes toxic) audacity and those limp balayage-free locks. 

In the Bachelor mansion, a longstanding beachy waves institution, the seeds of a revolution were planted with the introduction of franchise addition Listen to Your Heart. The new show brought us earnest acoustic duets, a bushel of men with thumb ring collections, and most importantly, a handful of women with hair that was natural, purple, and everything in between. Contestants on Listen to Your Heart were ultimately just normal people, as mediocre at playing the reality-star-to-influencer game as they were at replicating the signature Bachelor Lauren.”   

Is the notion that you don’t need access to a Dyson Airwrap to win a singing-romance reality show going to change anyone’s life? Unlikely. And are a few instances of imperfect hair going to do anything in terms of real representation or evolution of beauty standards? Absolutely not. But there is something to be said for slight deviations from perfection in this total shitshow of a year. And as someone who’s been dealing with chronic hair loss for a while now, I’ll take even the tiniest move toward a future where what’s on your head matters less than what’s inside.