Molly, American Girl: Deep Dive

These Books Made Me
3 min readSep 2, 2021
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

You can’t say heroine without mentioning hair, which is why we want to talk about the incredible hairstyles that dominated this time period. But what’s so important about hair, anyway? We see Molly struggle with her hair later in the series, her dreams set on curls instead of “straight sticks” (her words, not mine). Perhaps the old saying about how you always want what you can’t have contains a good chunk of truth.

But let’s step back a bit and contemplate what, exactly, hair is. I won’t try to dictionary-definition you but, from a biological level, hair is basically a filament made of a protein called keratin. Connected by and growing out of a hair follicle, slender hair filaments grow out of the skin of all mammals, including humans (if you want to read more about the scientific and cultural history behind human hair, I recommend picking up Hair by Kurt Stenn).

However, hair clearly means a lot more to us culturally and individually than being just a simple physical, mammalian trait. The way a person styles and cares for their hair speaks to their personal identity, their culture, and their relationship with the beauty standards of the time, place, and society they exist in. Most people are able to gauge the time period of a TV show or movie based on the hairstyles of the characters. Although, to be fair, the success depends on how much time, care, and skill was put into accurately recreating the time period in question (for example, I love the film Dirty Dancing but it was set in the 50s and produced in the 80’s and the 80s definitely bleed into a story that is ostensibly set several decades earlier). What makes a decade or era identifiable is multifaceted of course but hairstyles are one of the easier ways to place a scene in time.

We talked about how Molly’s hair struggles in Changes for Molly possibly sent some questionable messages to readers. Forget your (tap dancing) skills, kids — what really matters is what you look like! That being said, it’s accurate that curls were a coveted commodity during that time period. Curls were all the rage in the 1940’s, a time characterized by wave and volume in hair. You name it, they had it: perms, pin curls, finger curls, victory rolls, and waves! They had waves for days: wet look waves, side part waves, wavy pixies, peekaboo/femme fatale waves I mean, just look at a quick overview of some of the styles. Ella Fitzgerald, for example, was known for her elegant style and love of updos with pin curls. It’s kind of understandable that Molly felt insecure about her straight hair.

Adams, Ansel, photographer. Miss Tetsuko Murakami / photograph by Ansel Adams. California Manzanar, 1943. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2002695341/.
Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. United States, 1946. , Monographic. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/gottlieb.02871/.
Here Eunice Kimball, Bendix employee, gives a final pat to her newly-dressed hair. Bendix Aviation Plant, Brooklyn, New York. 1943. Nitrate negatives. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017697257/

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These Books Made Me

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped our childhoods. @PGCMLS