She had tears in her eyes as I tried to reassure her that I wasn’t saying no just to be mean,
“Honey, I don’t think I could give you that hair cut. I’m pretty sure I would mess it up and you’d wind up with a haircut you don’t really want.”
“But, but, it’s easy. I just want you to shave here, and here.” She said, pointing to the sides of her head.
“I completely understand, love. I just think we should take you to my hairdresser instead. Would you like me to make you an appointment?”
She nodded sullenly, still not happy with the compromise.
“It’s my hair and I can do whatever I want with it, Mama.” She was telling me, as though she thought that I was telling her that she couldn’t have the cut she wanted.
“That’s right. It is your hair, and you can do whatever you want with it. I’m just not comfortable being the one to give you that cut. You need someone who can do it properly.” I explained as I pulled her up into my arms.
She nodded, “I’m the boss of my body, right?”
“Indeed you are.”
When I was a little girl, especially because I was a girl, there were many limitations placed on me. I couldn’t wear anything above the knee. I couldn’t wear sleeveless shirts. Makeup was off limits. I wasn’t allowed to participate in certain activities because the outfits were “immodest” — dance for instance. Then there was my hair. It was always cut the way my parents deemed appropriate and ladylike. When I wanted to start experimenting with color, it turned into a battle. At some point, my parents relented, and I was finally allowed to use henna, but only specific colors that my mother approved.
My hair was part of my rebellion in many ways. I was never attached to it the way some of my female and even male friends were. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t aware that it was part of my body and therefore didn’t belong to anyone else. I wasn’t taught that I was the boss of my own body. When I began to develop full, logical doubts about Mormonism, I began to look for ways to express myself, my uniqueness, and the fact that I was taking back my body. My body became the canvas in many ways. When it came to my hair, I began to use permanent dye. I went for blacks, and reds, and even deep purples, nothing too out there, because it was still a risky business for me to assert my bodily autonomy in this fashion. Then I decided to cut it all off. I wanted spiky, short hair. And I did it.
I was subjected to comments from family and supposed friends about how I was a boy. How I looked like a “dyke”. How it made my face look fatter, how it was the wrong cut for my face. Sometimes, the comments hurt, but mostly, I felt pretty stoked that I had done something so bold and brave. It didn’t even matter if I liked the cut — it was just hair after all — I had made a choice for myself, one that didn’t necessarily fall in line with all of the rules I’d been told I must obey as a girl.
10 years later, I still feel exactly as I did as a teenager. It’s still just hair. I’ve since cut it short again, I’ve dyed it a variety of colors on purpose and accidentally. Every time, even when I wound up with splotchy pink hair that was supposed to be a beautiful purple, I didn’t really mind. I was just happy that I was in a place where I could make these decisions, even if they didn’t always work out the way I’d planned.
What I’d failed to realize that in taking back my hair, I was saying without saying it, “This is my body and my life. I get to make the choices, even if they don’t make sense. Even if you wouldn’t make them for me. Even if they don’t fall into the expectations you’ve set out for me. Because it’s not up to you. ”
Isn’t that just the very crux of feminism itself?
After a week of Pinteresting with my daughter, I was both floored by her creativity and excited for her to get her hair cut. We talked about dyes, about how long it takes to grow, what she’d to wear in her dance class to keep it out of her face, and the cuts I’ve had over the years. I made the appointment as I promised, and we walked in together. At the last minute, she’d opted not to shave the side of her head, saying that she just wanted it shorter. She sat up in the chair, making silly faces at herself in the mirror when the stylist turned to me and asked,
“So, Danielle, what are we doing today?”
I smiled, “It’s her hair, she knows what she wants.” The stylist turned to my daughter and asked her the same question, adding, “Oh, you are my favorite type of clients.” With great confidence, my daughter explained the cut, the length and offered to have me show her pictures from that “pinning thing” on my phone. Then, they got to work, as I sat and watched the long strands of her golden hair fall to the floor.
When she was finished, she declared, “Oh, this is exactly what I wanted.” Because it was exactly what she wanted, and while I would have loved for her to keep her long hair, it wasn’t my choice to make, because it’s not my body.
I know it’s just hair, but it’s the smallest way I can think to teach her, right now, that she is fully in charge of her body. It was a lesson I didn’t get to learn until I was much older, one that I think every person deserves to know right from the start.
She looks a billion years older now, I swear. Especially when she proudly boasts to anyone who will listen, “I cut my hair because I’m the boss of my body.”
Yes, my love, you sure are.