It should be just hair but our culture actually puts way more weight on women’s heads than our follicles could ever produce.
At some point during the last week I entered the world of the surreal. Why? Because I “allowed” my daughter to shave her head a few weeks ago.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Well, I guess more like 50/50, but the sheer amount of people wanting to talk about it is something I consider a positive development in the discussion around child autonomy and choice, gender roles for children, and a female’s right to find her own definition of beauty without worrying about society’s definition of “attractiveness.”
Wednesday morning, Good Morning America did a short piece on the “controversy” my daughter’s hair sparked. They called it a “provocative parenting decision.” At the same time, many people have told me “it is only hair! who cares” or “why is this news?”
So which is it? Mountain or molehill?
Part of me gets that worrying about a little girl’s hair is silly. After all there was another earthquake in Nepal and a horrific commuter train derailment in Philadelphia and yet a simple haircut is news?
The other part of me knows though that it isn’t just hair. It should be just hair but our culture actually puts way more weight on women’s heads than our follicles could ever produce.
I don’t think anyone should shave their daughter’s hair to make a statement. Forcing is as bad as forbidding as parenting tools go—neither work and both can have long-lasting detrimental effects on our girls (and boys). However, you should be having this discussion with your kids, friends, neighbors, and grocery clerks because it is provocative to buck traditional gender norms and we all need to talk about why that is, if we want it to be that way, and if not, how to find a better way.
So, please. Let’s be provoked. Let’s talk about hair and gender and beauty and all the social trappings and how it harms us and our children.
Here are 25 Reasons Why Honoring My Daughter’s Decision to Shave Her Head Is Provocative:
1. Because people who don’t fit gender “rules” because they are transgender or simply gender-creative have an attempted suicide rate over 40%. Our gender rules are literally killing people.
2. Because when an adult woman like Miley Cyrus cuts her hair short people ask, “Can [her fiancé, Liam Hemsworth] possibly like this edgy and not-so-girl-next-door statement?” A woman’s appearance isn’t about what men think.
3. Because Leelah Alcorn felt trapped by gender rules. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse.” She died of suicide at 17 years old.
4. Because the cure for bullying isn’t for the bullied to conform and be “normal” but for the bullies to be told to stop. This little bit of victim blaming with hair grows into the victim blaming we see as a culture in domestic violence and rape cases.
5. Because we conflate a woman cutting her hair off to being “crazy” or “hormonal.”
6. And because a hairdresser can actually refuse to give you the cut you want.
7. Because a child is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. Many have to shave their head. They don’t need sexist standards to make their journey even more difficult.
8. Because not having long hair is a reality for millions of kids with illnesses like alopecia and trichotillomania and they shouldn’t feel it diminishes their worth in any way.
9. Because some people think shaving your daughter’s head against her will is an appropriate punishment.
10. Because controlling how girls look is part of rape culture.
11. Because “gay/trans panic defense” is even a thing.
12. Because children have a right to bodily autonomy. Yes, they aren’t at maximum mental capacity yet, but we ensure the rights of other mentally-diminished people to make decisions about their body.
13. Because parents model how relationships work for their kids. If you show them that control is a primary tool in relationships they will grow up to be the controller or the controlled. We know this isn’t healthy.
14. Because hair is just dead keratin pushing from your scalp follicles and has nothing to do with sexuality, gender identity, or your value as a person.
15. Because a woman can lose her job for choosing a shaved hairstyle.
16. Because we should listen to children. They have important things to say.
17. Because if your definition of beautiful doesn’t include shaved heads you are missing out.
18. Because a hairstyle can be a “career-ender” for women in the public sphere.
19. Because, “you don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.” Erin McKean
20. Because, “it seems to me there’s this tyranny that’s not accidental or incidental, to make women feel compelled to look like somebody they’re not. I think the effort is being made to get us to turn our time and attention to this instead of important political issues.” Eve Ensler
21. Because girls as young as 5 or 6 are suffering from anorexia. They are literally starving themselves to fit the standard model of beauty.
22. Because we would deny an education to a child for having hair that is too short.
23. Because we would deny an education to a child for having hair that is too long.
24. Because supporting your child’s choices can dramatically influence their future emotional health.
25. Because being a parent isn’t about making decisions for your kids but helping them to make their own decisions.
I bet we could all think of more if we were adequately provoked to discuss this issue.
It wasn’t easy for me to help Aellyn listen to her voice. It would have been much easier to use my insecurities, hopes, and desires for my daughter to coerce her into keeping her hair. When Willow Smith cut her hair her mother, Jada Pinkett-Smith, said, “even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes, and desires.”
I refuse to enslave my kids in either my or society’s expectations of them. Until that sentence causes us all to say, “well, duh, of course,” then we need to continue having these provocative discussions.
Paige Lucas-Stannard is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a parenting educator and writer and the founder of ParentingGently.com, which offers resources to help progressive parents find their authentic voices and implement respectful, values-based (and fun!) parenting in their homes including her new book, Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves. Follow her on Twitter @babydust, on Facebook, and on Pinterest.Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.
Photo courtesy of the author.