In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) does something decidedly unusual for a female superhero: She wears her hair up while fighting.
And not in a fancy sci-fi updo or anything, either. Just a plain old messy ponytail, the likes of which you’ve seen on every long-haired woman at the gym.
It may not sound like a big deal. But that one detail speaks volumes about who Hope is – and, maybe even more importantly, how the film sees her.
Hope is not the first heroine to discover the sweet relief of getting her hair out of her eyes. Some, like Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Nebula, Black Panther‘s Nakia and Okoye, or Deadpool‘s Negasonic Teenage Warhead, go super short or totally bald. Among the long-haired set, Shuri, also from Black Panther, favors elaborate hairstyles that pull her braids back or up.
They are anomalies, though. Most superpowered ladies fight with their luscious locks flowing freely – see The Avengers‘ Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Gamora, Thor: Ragnarok‘s Valkyrie, X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Psylocke, or even Wonder Woman herself.
It makes zero sense, practically speaking. When I had long hair, I could hardly write a blog post without getting my hair in my face or stuck to my neck, never mind knock out half a dozen henchmen.
Sure, maybe you could explain away some of these unworkable styles from a narrative standpoint. Who’s to say the Asgardian equivalent of Pantene hasn’t come up with a magical formula to keep your locks behaving in the midst of battle?
Hope’s ponytail isn’t about prettiness. It’s about pragmatism.
But the real point of these styles is to look good on camera. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Wonder Woman’s crowning glory emphasizes her femininity even as she charges into war zones, and it’s part of the iconic look we’ve admired for decades. I don’t know that Wonder Woman would have felt any more (or less) empowering had she decided to wrangle it into a bun.
However, as in so many other areas of life, there’s a double standard at play. There are male superheroes who sport loose and lengthy styles, including Thor, Bucky, and Aquaman. But their hair is allowed to get gritty and messy in a way that their female counterparts’ don’t.
Thor’s hair gets sweaty and tangled after a hearty battle, while Gamora’s seem like she just stepped out of a Drybar. Bucky’s has the greasy sheen of someone who hasn’t showered in weeks when he resurfaces in The Winter Soldier. Black Widow, in the same movie, finds time to magically straighten her hair after showering at Sam’s.
Which brings us back to Hope’s ponytail. It’s not particularly sexy or stylish or even polished. She has the flyaways and bumps of someone who barely even glimpsed in the mirror before yanking it up. In reality, of course, all superhero hair is carefully styled and maintained by a team of professionals, and Hope’s is no exception. But this ‘do isn’t about prettiness, it’s about pragmatism.
Hope is a down-to-earth lady who’s just like us. And that means she pulls her hair back when she beats up bad guys, damnit.
It’s there to let us know that this lady is more concerned right now with getting shit done than she is with looking cute. It’s there to make her seem no-nonsense and #relatable at the same time. It’s a marked contrast from the untouchable Anna Wintour bob she sported in the last film, when we only saw her from Scott’s perspective as a cool, mysterious figure.
Most crucially, it’s a detail that lets us know Ant-Man and the Wasp itself cares more about presenting Hope as a capable superhero than as sexy eye candy. She’s still attractive, of course – literally every superhero is a stone-cold hottie, even the ones who would never deign to care about such things – but her prettiness is framed as incidental.
Not only that, it’s proof that someone, somewhere on this set cared enough about Hope to consider how a woman like her might wear her hair in a situation like this. That sloppy pony is a subtle way of positioning Hope as a bonafide lead of Ant-Man and the Wasp, rather than just another supporting character.
The MCU movies’ first true leading lady isn’t a literal goddess, or a mysterious spy, or a space assassin – not that there’s anything wrong with those. She’s a down-to-earth lady who’s just like us. And that means she pulls her hair back when she beats up bad guys, damnit.