Little girls, short hair and being a bad feminist

I have three young smart, witty, generous, kind daughters, who happen to be blue-eyed blondes. They’ve always attracted a lot of attention when I take them out together. Perfect strangers would tell me how lucky I was to have such beautiful daughters. I would smile awkwardly and hustle the girls along, and remind them after the encounter that yes they were beautiful, but the things that made them most lovely were their personality and their spirit, not their blonde locks.

How very feminist of me, right? Not so much, it turns out.

Girls Christmas photos

When two of them decided to get very short pixie haircuts, I was confronted by the reality of having to put my money where my mouth was. My hesitation to let my girls get haircuts traditionally sported by little boys made me realise that I too took more pleasure than I should in the physical appearance of my little girls.

When the best argument I could come up with against the idea was that they would look like boys (an argument I didn’t vocalize), I booked the appointment. They were thrilled at their new cuts, and since mornings no longer involved crying sessions over tangled hair, I was thrilled too.

Other people weren’t so enthusiastic.

Suddenly, strangers (and family and friends too) made comments about what a sin it was to let the girls cut their hair and let them “look like boys.” Adults have had the most problems with the new do’s. Kids, on the other hand, have taken it in stride. At the playground kids would ask my perpetually-in-a-dress six-year-old if she was a boy or a girl. “I’m a girl, I just like short hair,” she’d reply, and back to playing they’d go. It was a non-issue.

Just when everyone was used to the pixie cuts, my four-year-old began asking for her hair to be cut even shorter, into a mohawk style with buzzed sides a la Macklemore.

Cue internal debate, then a trip to the salon.

Coco hair

In Girls and Long Hair: What Message Are We Sending? the author 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. But how can we teach them to make strong, independent decisions about their own selves when society, peers (and yes, even parents) are sending mixed messages that it’s OK to be yourself, but only if you fit into what others deem beautiful?”

“Bikinis shouldn’t come above size 12.”
“Leggings are not pants – you have to wear a shirt to cover your butt if you pants are tight.”
“Spandex is a privilege, not a right.”

I play roller derby, and in the derby world, all shapes and sizes are celebrated. Bikinis, and leggings as pants, are the norm for women size 16+. Those women have freedom from the body shame others feel should imprison them, and their confidence and sex appeal is staggering and awe-inspiring.

It took me until I was in my thirties to learn to love my body, and to begin choosing my hairstyle, my clothing and even my ink, based on what appealed to me, not what I thought might appeal to the world around me.

I don’t know how to teach my daughters that they have to follow arbitrary rules about their bodies, rules that will change based on current fashion, the people they socialize with, the media they consume. I don’t know how to teach my daughters to sift through the shit that society decrees about their bodies.

So I’m going to teach them to ignore all of it. Whether people tell them they’re beautiful or not, too fat or too skinny, their hair is too long or too short – I’m teaching them, with my words and my own bikini-wearing bod and yes, $35 at a hair salon, that the only opinion that matters is their own.

Coco hair 2

23 Comment

  1. Leslie says: Reply

    I love this, she looks so cool! Grady and her now have the same cut!

  2. Good for you and I love all of their haircuts. I think kids make us rethink everything we’ve held as true.

    Though I still say that leggings aren’t pants. 😉

  3. Rachel Jones says: Reply

    Great blog post, Sarah…. really cool!!!!!!!!!

  4. theresa says: Reply

    I have 5yr old twins, a boy and a girl. My daughter loves to play in the dirt, play with hot wheels and doesn’t care about what clothes she wears. One day, my daughter wore a bright yellow t-shirt that happened to have Spider-man on it to school. Like her brother, she likes super heroes. 2 girls in her kindergarden class told her NOT to wear a boys shirt ever again to school. They didn’t like it. She was so crushed. These kids are 5/6 years old! I couldn’t believe it. My hubby told her that there were pretty awesome super hero girls out there and that she could wear (within reason of course) whatever clothes she wanted and felt good in and not to listen to what everyone else says. She’s still the blonde hair, blue eyed cutie in a pink sun dress but with dirt on her face and a handful of worms and rocks too. 🙂

  5. Xipha says: Reply

    My kids choose their own hair, since how they look is the one aspect of their life I give them complete control over at this age. My son has long hair (like his almost rock-star dad lol) and my daughter told us she wanted short hair by taking scissors to her finally grown out long blonde hair. Now she’s growing it out again, but its because she wants to. I take a lot of flack from my family over my son looking “like a girl”, which he doesn’t, and strangers often think I have 3 daughters despite his very boyish appearance. If anyone thinks he’s a girl he just says “No, I’m a boy” and continues on with what he was doing. Other kids don’t care, and the odd one who says boys don’t have long hair he just tells them his dad does, so obviously they are wrong lol.

  6. myself says: Reply

    They’re all adorable. Who cares what everyone else thinks, and bonus, it makes your life easier in the mornings!

  7. Francesca says: Reply

    I mean its only hair! It’ll grow back and in the mean time less work for you brushing it out and they get to have fun.

  8. Hey Sarah,

    I think it’s INCREDIBLE that your daughters did the wee pixie cuts. They look adorbs !! I adore it !! I have four kids and so I totally get where you are coming from.

    Keep rocking it. Rock out loud.

    With much love and many hugs to those adorable kiddos
    Lynne xx

  9. Tiffany @ MyDirt says: Reply

    As a mother of 4 girls it is a constant self education and self awareness test to teach them THIS. I love you for all that you put out in this world. Thank you for writing this. Your girls are amazing because you are amazing.

  10. Amber says: Reply

    When I was little, I always had very short hair. I was a competitive swimmer and I preferred it short. I often got asked of I was a boy and some people assumed I was a lesbian (because according to these misinformed people, short hair is a must-have for lesbians). I am now 32 years old and have gone from very short hair to very long hair with every colour in between. And believe it or not, it’s not changed my sexual preference or sense of identity even a little bit! I really appreciate your post. I’ve never asked my mom what she felt like having a little girl who preferred “boy” hair. Now I’m curious!!

    Your girls are beauties. Keep on doing what you’re doing. They look so confident!

  11. Excellent post!! I have a daughter who is almost a year, and can imagine having some of the same internal debate.

    Also – your daughters haircuts are FAB. Esp love the mohawk. What a star!

  12. Esther says: Reply

    I agree that the world is too focused on appearance. However, are we not now overcompensating? A short bob haircut could have accomplished a tangle free yet still girlish style that would not cause confusion. You can’t blame people for questioning gender based on style, especially these days when parents are supporting their little children gender-switching. My young daughter had long hair and then we cut it short to donate to cancer. Now, would you call those that get a wig too focused on appearance? Appearance is a part of who we are individually and as a gender group. Why can’t we just accept that boys and girls are different and, thus, look different. We take a power from both when we don’t honor those differences. Lastly, I agree that it’s only hair, but as a parent you need to guide your kids choices. It can be a very slippery slope to allow your children to choose their appearance, knowing that the world is how it is. Yes, it is judgemental and unfair so why send your kids out into that knowing that they will be confronted with it? We have to stop and consider our motivations when making decision in raising our children. We are their stewards and they look to us with trust and faith and we must be carful not to misuse it making statement to the world as our own personal soapbox.

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      I don’t call out anyone for any of their appearance choices Esther – if someone wants to go bald, or wear a wig, I think we should all appreciate that they want to look how they want to look, and other’s opinions on it be damned. If other people are confused about gender based on hair, clothing, makeup, etc. – that’s theirs to own, not mine. Would you tell a woman with masculine features who loses her hair and breasts to cancer that she MUST wear a wig so others don’t think she’s a man?

      I certainly don’t want my kids to be bullied, and part of my hesistation about allowing the haircut was concerns about bullying. At the same time though – if she isn’t afraid of it, why should I be? And, most importantly, if everyone is too afraid to make these choices, or let their children make these choices, will the world ever change?

  13. As a little girl, my sisters and I always had pixie cuts and not once was I asked if I was a boy!! Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes AND lengths of hair!! Your girls are awesome!

  14. An incredible post Sarah. You’ve opened a Pandora’s box in me. I consider myself a feminist, and certainly, in contrast to many of my friends, I am. But I still have a long way to go and I am seeing that I too buy into many of society’s perceptions of what is feminine and what is not (and thereby what is right for a girl and what isn’t). And of course, I pass that on to my daughters… You’re giving me loads to think about… Thank you!!!

    Natalie
    XX

  15. Madalynn says: Reply

    They look adorable! I loved to swim and hated all the tangles in the morning and out of the pool so I got my hair cut, not as short since I was 12-14 and wasn’t very confident,but I wish I did cut it like that. I was a tomboy also so I assume most people would definatly think I was a boy.

  16. Thank you for the article. I am a camp director and this session I have 2 girls in a younger cabin-8-9 years old who are getting picked on by the other girls in the cabin. Their hair is just like your daughters. So as a camp director, father to a 14 month old boy, and someone who works with children, how can we actively work to change the culture of shaming both boys and girls about their appearances?

    1. Sarah says: Reply

      Hi Shawn – I’m not an educator, but ending body shaming in our society is very important to me as well. I have worked hard to eliminate any form of body shaming out of my vocabulary, and when I’ve overheard my eldest daughter’s peers use body shaming language, I’ve spoken with them openly about the issue.

  17. Angie says: Reply

    I am so very glad I came across your article. I am one who needs to practice what I preach. I always tell my kids to think about what they are about to say and how it would affect them and then I catch myself doing it! My youngest daughter wants to go short, pixie, (don’t know if it’s because mommy has!), and I won’t lie and say I haven’t been apprehensive because I worry. Some kids are nice. Heck, some adults aren’t nice. My sweet sweet girl keeps telling me that everything will be okay and if anyone says anything mean she will tell them that is not nice. Thank you again so much for sharing! Beautiful young ones!

  18. Jennie S says: Reply

    Hi

    This made me smile. My daughter had a stacked short bob for the longest time. She kept saying she wanted it shorter like daddy. About 2 years ago she did it. It definitely tested me as my mom cut my hair short when I was little and I was teased all the time. I absolutely hated it. She on the other hand loves it. She is called a boy on a daily basis as she wears a lot of super hero and boy tshirts as she hates pink and anything she defines as too girly. It bothered her a bit when she first cut her hair. I told her that she had a couple of options. She could grow it out. Nope. Or she could wear different clothes. Nope. Okay then accept that people who don’t know you will only look at the clothes and the hair to determine whether you are a boy or girl. We can either correct them or just move on. She only corrects people if we will have an on going relationship. Otherwise it doesn’t bother her at all. She has so much more confidence than I did at that age. Ps. She is wanting that Mohawk too but doesn’t want to use products. So she is going shorter.

  19. tamara says: Reply

    My almost 5-year old saw this hairstyle when we did a google search. Its exactly what she wants for her hair. Daddy might not agree, but perfect for the summer , thanks for sharing!

  20. Lissa says: Reply

    My 5 year old wants a pixie cut and I have been so torn about it. You are spot on. Just made her an appointment with my stylist to get the hair she wants. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing.

  21. Bex says: Reply

    Love this! Hair, size, etc. doesn’t define beauty. An individual’s heart and attitude do. My parents have always let my brother and I express ourselves as we please (as long as it was appropriate for our age). Hair is hair. It grows back after a cut. And eventually you get old and wise and it falls out anyways. An individual would never tell a cancer patient or an elderly person they aren’t beautiful because they have no hair (and those who do are a-holes). I’ve had short and long hair, I’ve had two piercings and now I have 14, I’ve had an inkless body and now I have 10 tattoos. Yet, I was still called beautiful and ugly at every stage of my life. The haters will hate regardless of what we look like. Might as well piss them off and do what we want 😉 I’m 21 by the way. I wear what I want, I voice my opinion, but I’m respectful of other people. Having short hair doesn’t make me a boy, it means I like my hair short, just like your daughter WISELY said. I also happen to really like men and I’m pretty darn sure that my boyfriend would agree 😛 I also dress like a girl, so I don’t see where people get that I’m a lesbian. Oh, wait. I know where: effed up societal standards of bull crap. Society is messed up and unfortunately will probably never change, but I’ll never stop fighting. I’m a rebel for life. And I hope to pass that on to my children some day!

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