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Recently, as I was watching a repeat of “Linchpin” (4×16) in which Beckett and Castle take a plunge into the river and Beckett’s hair dries all wild and wavy the image triggered a memory. It might not have happened if “Linchpin” wasn’t the concluding episode of a two-part “Castle” in which the preceding episode was titled “Pandora” (4×15). As with all nagging things that don’t let you rest (think mothers and toothaches) I had to do something about it or not sleep soundly that night.
Ten minutes later, thanks to Larry Page and Sergey Brin (creators of Google) who could have spent time partying at Stanford, but chose to study instead, I had my answer. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, an artist who lived in Victorian England, had painted a woman with wild, wavy hair in 1869 and the title of the painting was “Pandora”.
As I looked through a selection of Rossetti’s work, I was struck by Stana Katic’s uncanny resemblance to the women in many of his paintings. On the verge of excited Castlesque theories (time travel, reincarnation, an alien conspiracy) I found that Rossetti was among the first in a long line of men who recognized tall, long-necked, long haired women as beautiful, and was credited with changing the concept of beauty in an era that idealized pale, women with tiny corseted waists.
He was part of the Pre-Raphaelites movement of artists, poets and writers that wanted to reform art by depicting Nature and people in all its raw reality rather than the posed superficiality that was the convention at that time. The ‘ideal’ nineteenth-century English woman was submissive, unassuming, and restrained in her dress and behavior. Rossetti challenged the prevailing standards of womanhood and painted his own ideal woman.
In “Pre-Raphaelite Challenges to Victorian Canons of Beauty”, Susan Casteras writes about Rossetti, “The women in his paintings did not conform to the mold of the demure and fair Victorian maiden. Instead, he constructs the idea of a “dark Venus” in his paintings with powerful Amazonian structured bodies and bold, direct gaze.” Rossetti depicted women not as delicate ornaments, but as women in all their intensity, complexity, and substance. He gave them the power to be different.
While Rossetti’s paintings did not resonate with the general population, his work was one of many seeds of rebellion at a time when women were beginning to fight for their own voice and identity. It is fascinating to think about how the “Rossetti Woman” paved the way for the women of our generation. In some ways, Kate Beckett would not be Kate Beckett, “a remarkable, maddening, challenging, frustrating woman”, were it not for the vision of Rossetti and others like him.
It is not only in the layers of complexity that Beckett is a “Rossetti Woman”. I mean how can you miss the hair? Shiny long hair is significantly correlated with female attractiveness as perceived by men and women. I base this statement on irrefutable scientific research. All right, mainly shampoo commercials, but some serious Google Scholar searches too.
According to my findings, anthropologists and zoologists believe that this attraction to long, thick and healthy hair, or fur as the case may be, is a subconscious recognition of the female’s health and reproductive potential. I have faith that evolution has raised men’s responses beyond those of yaks and Persian cats so that they can see beyond the hair to the personality beneath, but no doubt we still have a long way to go before every man is like Richard Castle.
Over the past four seasons, Beckett’s hair has grown lighter, longer, and more famous than some rock stars. It has Facebook pages devoted to it and it has even made it into the urban dictionary as an example of the term “hair porn”, which is apparently the hot and steamy things you imagine when you see lustrous, windswept hair. (No, not coffee. Try again.) And, as unlikely as it it may seem, the online discussion about Beckett’s tresses is a showcase for a deeper dialogue about women’s place in a testosterone world.
Beckett stands as a symbol of the modern North American woman – strength, confidence, and assertiveness balanced with the overt femininity of her long hair and spiky mascara. Sociologically, hair is an important aspect of individual and group identity. In that sense, Beckett shares a commonality with hippies, Hindu widows, punks, monks, and Black women – their hair is a statement of who they are and how the world views them. Her Season 1 hairstyle was described by Ingela Ratledge of “TV Guide” as “short ‘lady cop’ hair that was as no-nonsense as her personality”.
As Beckett’s character relaxed towards Castle, so did her look, portraying that she can be strong and soft at the same time. In “Nikki Heat” (3×11) when Natalie Rhodes, the actress who is going to portray Beckett in the movie version of “Heat Wave”, suggests that Beckett wears high heels to add inches so she can subtly intimidate men, Beckett says, “You’re right about the heels and the stature, but it’s not because I need it…I just like it.”
Beckett is not apologetic about the ying and yang inherent in who she is, and the most important aspect of her personality is that her strength is not tied to her hair.
In a “Parade” interview, Stana Katic said about Beckett’s longer hairstyle, “She’s well-served by being able to be feminine and tough. The whole look is a balance between the hair, the wardrobe, and the makeup. I don’t feel pressure to keep her hair long. It’s more about where the character is. Right now she can let her hair down and show her feminine side and doesn’t have to be as buttoned up. We get to see other parts of her. She’s a little girl, she’s a tigress, and she’s a warrior. She’s insecure and she’s indomitable. She’s everything.”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti would have been proud to see what a long way we’ve come.