The Standard of Heian Beauty: Incredibly Long Hair

  • During the Heian period, which lasted roughly from the 9th to the 12th century, there was a very unique and fascinating standard of beauty. One important aspect of beauty for Japanese women during the Heian period was sporting incredibly long hair. This must be the dream era for admirers of long hair!

    Long Hair, Don’t Care

    ‘The longer the hair, the more beautiful the woman’ was the adage of the Heian period. Supposedly, this hairstyle has its origins in the opposition of the much shorter Chinese hairstyles that were all the rage at the time. The typical Chinese style back then especially involved buns and ponytails.

    Pictures, novels, and essays of the Heian period depict how nearly every lady that was of aristocratic lineage sports extremely long hair, which was often even longer than their own height. It is said that Yoshiko, who was a woman of nobility, possessed the longest hair during the Heian period. It was about 7 meters in length! I wonder how they moved about with their hair hanging on the floor, as they would probably have accidentally stepped on it all the time. The hair resting on or brushing the floor also seems quite unhygienic. Thankfully, there was a solution for this problem: the ‘Junihitoe’ (a formal dressing kimono for noble women back then) was designed to be long enough to protect the hair from touching the floor.

    The Tale of Genji

    The Tale of Genji is a very popular Japanese book written by female writer Murasaki Shikibu during the peak of the Heian period, which is regarded as a masterpiece. It is about a love story, and the main character is Hikaru Genji, an Emperor’s son. According to the story, Heian men were supposedly not really interested in a woman’s appearance and didn’t have many opportunities to see them anyway. The only physical aspect of a woman that men were interested in was the hair, which must be thick and longer than the woman’s own length. This fascination with long hair is why a woman’s choice to be a nun was treated with much seriousness, as the hair could not grow to its maximum length anymore. Thus, Genji did not allow his wife Murasaki to take the tonsure (the religious practice of shaving the hair) when she was unwell. I recommend you read the rest of the story if you want to know how it ends…

    When I first saw this hairstyle, I actually found it looked a bit scary, which is partly due to the influence of Japanese horror movies, in which the female ghosts usually have really long black hair. Nevertheless, it was a special culture and a trend of beauty. Since fashion comes and goes, the extremely long hairstyle might make a comeback someday, at least on the runway!

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