Hair, Symbolism, and Azula's Descent into Madness
Not my hair! Father always loved my hair!
One of Bryke’s favorite forms of symbolism has to do with hair. We see it with Zuko (both with him cutting his hair in “The Avatar State,” and growing out his hair as symbol of his gaining wisdom as the series progresses); we see it with Korra when she cuts her hair in “Korra Alone”; with Tarrlok as he adds more and more braids to his hair until he has as many braids as the man that he never wanted to become; we see it with Kuvira whenever she loses control of a situation which causes her hair to become unkempt; and, most notably, we see it with Azula.
The same principle used for Kuvira’s hair symbolism (unkempt hair whenever they lose control) can also be applied to Azula. However, with Azula, it’s not just about control–it’s about perfection. It’s about living up to her father’s standards. After all, shes a prodigy, and Ozai would expect nothing less.
Azula grew up in a world where she was held up on a pedestal as her father’s prodigy. As such, she was forced not only to surpass her brother in the art of firebending, but to be perfect in every way in order to meet her father’s absurdly high expectations. This caused Azula to be obsessed with perfection and control. Consequently, to be anything but perfect and to lose control would mean falling short of those high standards set by her father.
And that’s precisely what happened. Her plans began to fail, pawns began acting on their own. She was no longer in control. She was no longer perfect. Her world began to fall apart around her, and she was left with nothing but her hallucinations.