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.
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.
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.