As is her role, my teenage daughter Kaiann is forever pushing my limits, but not in a bad way. She is challenging my societal indoctrination. At 13-years-old, she is pushing me to look at her and not just through the lense of judgment that so many of us have been taught and conditioned to view young women through, particularly women of color. She challenges societal norms about external beauty. She does it through her dress choices, once wearing purple combat boots and torn clothes, later donning high fashion outfits with dresses and heels. My daughter has also done it through her hair. She has worn it in a purple Afro, pitch black and straight, a curly top knot, and even long braided extensions. This versatility has helped Kaiann in modeling, which she has been doing since she was practically in the womb. But with every choice, she has faced judgment from the world around her, even bullying and harassment.
I have stood by her through every style, but secretly it’s been causing me a lot of anxiety. Not because I disapproved of her, (ok I wasn’t thrilled with every look, i.e. the torn clothes and uncombed hair), but I was mostly fearful that she would be hurt by the judgmental glances, the inappropriate overtures, and the hostile reactions from people she encountered in her life. Which is why when she came to me and said she wanted to shave her head, I started hyperventilating. She went back and forth, mulling it over in her mind and talking through the decision with me. I worried most that she would regret it, and waiting for it to grow out would be painfully long and cause her emotional distress (and me too).
I must admit, my fear of her getting a shaved head was part of the reason why I consented to her getting braids last summer. I thought that would be a safer choice, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The sexual advances she experienced from strangers everywhere were terrifying. Men would stick their heads out of moving cars to try to elicit a response from her. A subway passenger even tried to take a picture of Kaiann without her knowledge or consent. Other responses included whistles and catcalls. What is it about long hair that makes men behave so badly? It was unbelievably distressing. Then one morning it was gone. Her hair, I mean. She shaved her head. Yes, you heard me, she shaved her whole head. (Like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, minus the Army greens.) Kaiann told me she shaved her head because she wanted to see for herself if her beauty was about her, and not the hairstyle she adopted.
The world — or rather her teenage world — reacted with shock, and in some cases fear and even anger. Many were aghast that she would make such a choice freely. They assured Kaiann that her hair would grow back, as if to assume that she was upset about the result of her own choice. One teacher even reported her to the administration, fearing that Kaiann’s shaving of her own hair was the result of an emotional breakdown. The teacher never asked my daughter about her choice or checked on her personal wellbeing. There was even a rumor that Kaiann had shaved her head with a knife. Apparently my kid is so badass that people claimed she had shaved her head with a knife like Xena the warrior princess or some Spartan. 13 years old, and she is already an urban legend.
I would be lying if I didn’t say these rumors were some of my fears. I feared that the world would judge her and cause her harm. I wanted to protect Kaiann from that. But in my instinct to protect her from the unknown, I diminished her. I became an oppressor too. I had to shake off my own fears and let my daughter be fearless with my full support. Let the chips fall where they may.
The only thing I never worried about was how beautiful Kaiann would be. First of all, what makes my daughter most beautiful, in my opinion, is her heart — the compassion she has for children, her intelligence, and the way she uses it to try and change the world for the better. But her external beauty, aided by her inner glow, is remarkable as well. My daughter has such a unique combination of history in her features. Much of which is unknown to me specifically because I am adopted, but her face hints at great historical travels. It’s a stunning combination. But even knowing this, I still wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking her beauty would become when she shaved her head. It’s as if a spotlight was lit on her features. Her eyes now dig even deeper into your soul when you look at her, because it is all just there, laid bare.
This new stunning look has proven beneficial for her when modeling. With Kaiann’s longer hair, she experienced a lot of damage, as some stylists were ill-prepared to attend to black hair. With her shaved head, stylists from a recent photo shoot (pictured below) loved playing with her short curl pattern. She’s also using wigs, which are a lot safer for her hair. A frequent hairstyle change is very typical for black people, playing with it like an accessory. Kaiann also uses her hair as an extension of her mood or ‘place in life’. Her new hairstyle is a testament to that.
I feel she looks even older now. (Be still my parent heart.) Her mature appearance is partly because shaving your head is not a common choice for a 13-year-old. Maybe if it included blue and pink stripes or was half-shaved, half-flowing, it would be considered young, but the full shave that she chose for herself was an adult choice that took courage and conviction. She looks like an adult … until she opens her mouth to complain about something I bought or didn’t buy, or when she rolls her eyes after I ask her to do a chore … then magically she turns back into my 13-year-old. However, from afar she is a woman, a woman of inspiration and I couldn’t be more proud.
When I “grow up” I hope that I can be as fearless about my own sense of self, of my own beauty. There’s hope, because my daughter is providing such a radiant example, one challenge at a time.
Kaiann feels most beautiful when she is working with children. She is raising money to fund an international service trip to work with underprivileged kids. You can help Kaiann reach her goal by donating here.More On