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    Categories: Random AsidesSkepticism

Mythbusting Princess Leia’s Hair

For some time now, I’ve felt there’s an uncomfortable fact lurking in the corners of fandom that no one has yet brought out into open discussion, and I’ve decided it’s time we face its probably unpopular reality. I’m sorry to have to break the news to you if you’ve so far lived in blissful ignorance, but here it is: almost all, if not every one, of Princess Leia’s hairstyles are impossible to pull off in real life.

I know it’s hard to process. Perhaps you’re a young man who persists in the hope you may one day meet a nice lady proficient in foreign galactic braiding techniques. Perhaps you’re a grown woman with fond memories of bobby-pinning rolls of hair to the side of your head and a secret conviction it looked awesome. But, alas, it’s time we embrace the truth. It just doesn’t work, and I’m going to explain exactly why.

As might be expected for a young girl who watched too much Star Wars, an excessive portion of my life was once devoted to analyzing Leia’s hairstyles, and since I also, from about age 11 to age 25, had hair that almost reached my waist, I devoted even more time to trying to recreate them. Some, with the aid of pins, extra-strength gel and the patience of a Jedi, are possible to approximate, and will even stay in place if you don’t move around too much. However, given that Leia does a lot of moving around, the idea that she could successfully wear these styles on a regular basis is dubious at best.

First of all, let’s be clear that I’m partially evaluating the plausibility of these styles based on thickness and length of hair – which we know in Leia’s case because we saw it down in Return of the Jedi. Some of these might get higher plausibility points if we had seen Leia’s hair much thicker and dragging on the ground at her feet. But we didn’t. So we have to go on what we know.

Let’s start with the obvious: the buns.

These are completely implausible. There’s no visible means of support and considering this hairstyle lasts through being captured by Imperial forces, imprisoned, ineptly rescued (sorry, it’s the truth) and almost being crushed by a garbage compactor, we’re forced to conclude she could have only kept it in place with super glue. Which I hear is not all that great for hair.

It’s also not particularly flattering, especially in Leia’s younger, rounder-cheeked days. It adds width to her face. You’re a princess, don’t expect me to believe you don’t have style-conscious girl and/or gay guy friends hanging around by the armload. They should have stopped you before you went out of the palace like that in the morning.

The award ceremony.

This is where the prior knowledge of Leia’s hair comes into play. To create so many loops of braids with such consistent thickness, her hair would most likely have to reach her feet. (Hair gets thinner towards the ends, so when you braid it, the braid gets thinner as you reach the end of the hair.) But beyond that, it’s a fairly basic arrangement and it is possible she makes liberal use of fake braids or temporary extensions, especially for a formal ceremony. In this particular case, I’m skeptical, but I’ll grant limited plausibility.

Hoth.

I’ll admit I’ve never been able to truly figure this one out. It’s not just a simple braid wrapped around her head, but two braids wrapped and then braided into each other at the nape of the neck. It might be theoretically possible, but would seem to require a ton of time and about two handmaidens with nimble fingers. Both of which would seem to be in very short supply on a icy, hidden, rebel stronghold. So – busted.

Bespin.

This is the only hairstyle I was ever able to achieve with suitable accuracy. In fact, I wore my hair like this to the premiere of the prequel. (Shut up.) In case you’re interested, this is how to do it: pull your hair into a high ponytail and separate it into three sections – two larger ones on the outside, and a smaller one in the middle. Braid the larger sections and loop each one underneath. Secure with bobby pins or tuck them into the ponytail holder. Then, wrap the middle one into a bun that covers the ponytail holder and pin it. You’ll also probably need a fair amount of gel or something similar to make sure the bun stays in place (occasionally mine would threaten to unravel because it’s sitting on top of the braids). Optional: pull the wisps out by your ears. Frankly, that touch is a little too early eighties, so I don’t blame you if you skip it.

However – the length and thickness here still doesn’t match the length and thickness we see in Leia’s hair when it’s down on Endor. So while the style is doable, I still question the execution. Next!

Jabba’s palace.

Sigh. This is just a single braid and a hairpiece. Totally plausible. What doesn’t make sense with this is that she dashes about the galaxy fighting rebellions in completely inappropriate hairstyles and her most practical style shows up when she’s not doing anything but lounging in metal underwear with a giant slug. Maybe Jabba’s the one with sensible taste.

Endor – braids.

This is similar to the Hoth style, although it’s not exactly the same. (Trust me. I checked.) This one has even more complicated woven action going on. Same deal – technically plausible, but suspect because of the complexity factor. I don’t think there was a lot of time for primping before embarking on the super dangerous, one-chance mission to destroy the new Death Star.

Endor – loose.

And here it is, the style that undoes most of the other ones. Not only does the hair as we see it here not hold up, this style itself doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s simply a braid laid over her head like a headband. There’s no possible way it could be braided from her own hair still on her head. I suppose it could be Ewok fur. Which is totally gross.

I skipped over two more hairstyles – the simple bun she wears at the end of Empire (which, while simple, is rather small for the mass of hair the more complicated braids demand), and the braids she has dressed as the bounty hunter rescuing Han from Jabba’s, which are just knotted at her neck and have the same problem as the bun does. So, neither helps out the Leia hair plausibility factor.

The other damaging fact here is that long, thick hair is very heavy. When my hair was long, I couldn’t keep it gathered in high ponytails for a long period of time because it would literally give me headaches. And don’t even get me started on split ends or the amount of conditioner you need.

So, there it is. I’m aware there was no useful function in doing this, but now the internet, the true and rightful home of all things without useful functions, is no longer lacking a ridiculously detailed expose on the reality behind Princess Leia’s hair. You’re welcome.

Cross-posted with my blog Deliberatepixel.com.

Jen: Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

View Comments

  • aside from the fact of the need to create a yet another registration to post a comment being appalling in the 21st century, you're forgetting several things:
    - Leia is not a human with human hair.
    - They have robots capable of performing complicated delicate surgery in just a few minutes, so why not braiding?
    - The physics of their universe is fundamentally different from ours, so why wouldn't it affect the behavior of hair too?

  • @charonme: Yeah, I miss the blogs from the olden days of the 20th century, where you could just comment willy-nilly.

    For the record, I think registration has less to do with technology level and more to do with the fact we foster here a community of people interested in engaging with the writers and readers on a regular, profound basis, rather than hit-and-runs.

  • I bet Yeoman Janice Rand's hair on Olde Star Trek can't be done either. Without a styrofoam cone under that beehive hairdo!

  • I'd like to debunk one of your thoughts. I personally have hair just long enough that I can almost sit on it and have successfully pulled off the Hoth braids. It requires a third braid twisted in the middle and you must have hair of even thickness all the way down which means very healthy hair with no split ends and a LOT of bobby pins but it IS dooable.

    As for the weight, I am an artist and am very used to my very long thick hair up in a bun for very long periods. You stop getting headaches when this becomes a fashion of habit.

    Oh, and a very old technique they used in the Victorian era was using 'bumps' which were padded pieces with hair sewn around them and hidden inside the hair to make it look bigger. This is how Gibson Girls got their signature fluffed out look with a decent sized bun in the middle. I'm sure something similar would have been used to wrap her hair around for the cinnamon buns look. Also there IS the possibility that her hair was longer in ANH than it was by Jedi.

    Just sayin.

  • Actually most of these styles are pretty easy (though you are right about most hair tapering towards the ends).
    Leia's default style is Cinabuns, these take literally seconds to do (it's my default style for jogging), take hair, twist until it curls up on it's own add hairpins. These are actually pretty resistant depending on how tightly you twist them, not sure they'd stand up to quite as much as she puts them through but hey this is film with space battles I think we can give her hair a little creative licence.

    The Hoth and main Endor styles are variations of the crown braids (examples: http://images.suite101.com/946314_com_800pxmsc_2.jpg
    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/126/320141165_177b9fb9f8.jpg ). If you plait your hair a lot these are painfully easy to do, there are a lot of tutorials on how to do them on youtube, and with a bit of practice you can do them quite quickly on your own (I've managed to get my time on crown braids down to 8 minutes).

    Endor loose is a lace braid (http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/replicate/EXID52502/images/lauren_conrad_tiny_headband(2).jpg), which is like a cross between the crown braid and a sideways French braid, it also appears to have ribbon (or possibly leather thong) plaited into it, out of them this was probably the most time consuming style as it's a thin braid.

    As for the heaviness, styles that involve braids (especially the crown braid based styles) tend to not feel as heavy as regular pony tails as the weight of the hair is more evenly distributed.

  • i have to confess - i've pulled off every single one of these except the cinnamon buns. my hair is to my knees, but i've been doing it since it was waist length [the award ceremony i cheat, using a small small inner bun to wrap braids around] the full-braids-around-the-head no longer works as my hair is now TOO long... except when i can con my boyfriend into helping me, by tucking in the extra foot [feet? a foot on each side] underneath the rest.

    the headband is easy, but easIER if you use two braids at the back underneath the rest of your hair, wrap them over, then pin on top and use a hair tie at the back [again, behind/below the rest of your hair] this got me in trouble at a screening for EverAfter. lol

    now, Padme Amidala just CHEATS outright!

    this may be more a function of my hair - it's very thick as well as long [but 90% of the time, my hair is in a bun. so i almost never get hair induced headaches. that helps] because i'm half cherokee and half irish - people noted for their long and thick hair

    i have no clue on the side buns - and i'm pretty sure my hair is too long to do that now, too. le sigh. i got it to work with braided buns, but it just didn't look right.

    also; yes, this is so long after you wrong this, but blame TVTropes. i do :D

  • I braid for Renaissance festivals. The endor hair is easyyyy-- both of them. Hoth too. I've had people ask me to recreate these specifically, and with hair to about midback, it's not difficult at all.

  • I loved reading this article, Im watching episode 4 now and i.m not a fanatic but enjoy watching star wars every time its on tv, strangely I was thinking could she hear very well whilst wearing the ear buns, and I came across your post... a nice read and I liked how you dissected each style