Warning: This article contains MAJOR Avengers: Endgame spoilers. We have a completely spoiler free review right here.
In the lead up to the epic movie, there was a bit of a dust-up about Captain Marvel’s looks. Some fans were surprised to see that our fresh-faced hero, last seen heading off into space in the ’90s with a very no-frills look, seemed to have picked up some makeup on her way across the galaxy toward Avengers HQ. My personal head canon? Her friend in the comics Dazzler, the mutant/intergalactic pop star taught her how to do a perfect matte lip.
But after all that, it turns out that it’s Captain Marvel’s hair that turned the most heads in Avengers: Endgame. Carol really only has her long hair in a couple of scenes within the weeks after the snap. When we see her next, five years later, she has a rad short haircut. It’s a bit longer than a pixie cut, like something you might see on Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber. Rocket Raccoon even makes a snarky remark about Carol’s new look, which is pretty on-brand for his character and the friendship they have in the comics.
Unfortunately, Marvel’s wig game could use a bit of work. Luckily, it looks completely cosmic in its CGI iteration when she’s flying through space or using her powers, in what I suspect is a movie-version of her Binary persona in the comics (that’s a reference to a star, not a gender, folks).
Carol’s hair is accentuated by her amazing helmet, which was on display in Captain Marvel in comics-accurate perfection. Even when she has long hair, the helmet creates an amazing faux-hawk, adding to Carol’s overall Big Queer Energy and her practical approach to her looks and life. Contrast this with the majority of women superheroes, who almost uniformly wear their long hair down, in spite of how impractical that is. Captain Marvel is one of the few to push back against the very narrow ramge of appearances for women superheroes, following in the footsteps of Valkyrie and the women of Black Panther.
Obviously hair doesn’t necessarily indicate a person is a member of the LGBTQ community, but it can be an important part of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. Queer folks have all kinds of ways of embracing identity and signalling to one another, but short hair on women and femme folks is one of the most common tropes in our media. Especially considering how rare it is for superhero women, it makes sense that people wonder about the choice, which some might worry is queer-baiting, or signaling to LGBTQ fans just to give them hope with no intention of ever making the character’s LGBTQ status canon.
It’s not surprising that Carol has a huge queer following, and it comes from more than just hair (see star Brie Larson’s politics, her and Tessa Thompson encouraging fans to ship ValCap, and the inclusive, Queer-positive content in the comics) but there’s just something about Carol’s hair that screams queer visibility and gives a lot of fans hope. For a franchise that has yet to confirm Valkyrie’s bisexuality on-screen and only just now had their first on-screen LGBTQ character in a blink-and-you-miss-it bit part, hope isn’t just an important thing, it’s truly the only thing.
Captain Marvel’s hair is one of her coolest features, but it’s unfortunately not without its controversy. Back when she was Ms. Marvel in the comics, one of Carol Danvers’s trademarks was her long, blonde hair. During famed writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run writing the hero from 2012 to 2016, she made a number of critical changes for our hero: Carol took on the name Captain Marvel, changed her costume, and got a number of killer short haircuts, ranging from what looked like a bisexual bob to a pixie. Since then, her hair has varied in length, something many of us do, but her various short hairdos are definitely fan favorites among the Carol Corps, her loyal fan base, many of whom are women and/or queer folks.
At the time, there was also a backlash to these changes, and some fans said Carol Danvers didn’t look like herself, or extremely unkind things about her no longer being a woman or appearing queer. There’s a segment of fandom for whom Carol’s short hair will always be a problem, and they will only ever see her in their mind’s eye with long hair. They also tend to be the same fans who miss the thigh high boots and leotard. I love over-the-knee boots, but there’s no denying that Captain Marvel’s costume, designed by Jamie McKelvie, is one of the greatest superhero costumes ever designed.
When it continues to come from mostly straight male fans longing for skimpier clothes and long hair, it gets harder to see Carol’s hair as a genuine “controversy.” Any woman or girl who’s ever done the big chop has had men (possibly even strangers!) inform them that they looked better with long hair, ask them if they’re a lesbian, or wonder in horror why they cut their hair when they used to be so pretty.
In this context, Captain Marvel’s short hair is not a neutral act. It’s certainly comics accurate – there’s no shortage of books full of her with all manner of short hairstyles. But more importantly, it’s a way of honoring a segment of her fandom that has often been deprioritized or outright ignored by the MCU. Many viewers might see part of themselves on screen for the first time (or might hope they will soon). That’s not to say that it’s enough, or to excuse Marvel’s exclusion of LGBTQI characters from a multiverse that includes magic, time travel, and a talking raccoon. But at minimum, Carol’s look pushes back against the strict expectations of gender roles, and that’s a good thing.
Carol’s short hair is a way of not caving to the vocal segment of fandom that wants women characters to exist for their consumption and sexualization. And the more stridently people oppose her short hair on the grounds that they want her to be more in line with gender norms and their beauty ideals, the more important it is for her to have it because, as she made abundantly clear in her solo film, she was never trying to please them in the first place.