I didn’t have any hair when I was born. It didn’t start growing until I was about three years old. It was thin and my curls were loose and limp. My mother cut it often, believing the more she cut it, the thicker it would grow. She was right, my hair grew to be long and thick.
At nineteen, after breaking up with a boyfriend, I needed a change. I cut my hair until there was hardly anything left to cut. I told myself that when I met the man I would marry, I would let my hair grow again. (At nineteen, this kind of promise made complete sense.)
In the early 1990s not many women had short hair and my dramatic change sparked a neighborhood rumor about my sexual preference. Somehow having short hair made people look at me differently. I saw myself differently too. I learned not to care what people thought about me or my hair. “It’s just hair,” I would say, “It will grow back.” I was more confident, it felt liberating. My hair stayed pixie short for the next six years.
When I first met my husband, Joseph, my hair was still short and his was almost shoulder length (he was growing it out). We’ll be married ten years in June and my hair is the longest it has ever been. Joseph’s is short now (he doesn’t like it but his current job doesn’t allow long hair).
Our son, Norrin, has long hair. Beautiful golden brown loose curls that frame his face. The other day we were out and someone called Norrin a little girl. He gets mistaken for a little girl a lot actually. If it were up to me, I’d cut Norrin’s hair. But Joseph insists on keeping it long. In seven years of parenting, Joseph insisted on two things: Norrin’s name (a Marvel superhero) and long hair. Since, Joseph doesn’t insist on much – I let him have his way.
But…if I had a daughter I’d keep her hair short, until she was old enough to care and manage it for herself and only if she wanted to let it grow out. I admit, my main reason is purely selfish. Even though my own hair is now long, it’s often kept in a bun or a ponytail. I’m in too much of a rush to brush it, style it and sometimes even wash it. Having a little girl with long hair would require work, it would require time in our already hectic morning routine. And if you read my post from the other day, you know I’m already stressed with the one kid I have.
But it goes beyond my own selfishness. I wouldn’t want to raise my daughter believing that hair equates beauty. Latino culture can be so fixated on hair. “Good” hair is silky straight, “bad” hair is too curly to be combed. As a result women spend hours and hard earned dollars at the salon, trying to achieve the coveted ideal.
In a recent Huffington Post article, Jackie Morgan MacDougall, writes about the mixed message parents may be sending to their young daughters about their hair. She writes: “We try to teach our daughters to love their bodies, no matter the size. We want to empower girls to respect themselves and not give their bodies away in exchange for a few minutes of feeling accepted and loved.” Morgan-MacDougall shares her apprehension in granting her daughter’s request to cut off all of her hair. She admits the apprehension was based on her insecurity about her own hair.
Society still expects girls to have and want long hair. Little girls are almost always complimented on their hair, especially when it’s long. I can’t tell you how often, I’ve heard people tell parents, “Her hair is so beautiful don’t cut it.”
We cannot teach young girls about body image and self acceptance without having a conversation about hair. We need to tell them that the length or texture of their hair doesn’t define their beauty. Hair is not and should not be where their confidence and courage comes from. It needs to come from within.
Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.
photo credit: iStock photo