Z wants to grow her hair long.
I'm surprised by this request, as she has hated having her hair washed, brushed, combed, pony-tailed, TOUCHED since birth. She emerged from my undercarriage with a thick, full head of hair and never looked back. As it grew in unwieldy, scraggly tufts, my every attempt at brushing, barrettes or ponytails, no matter how benignly gentle, were met with angry rebukes. I was not interested in fighting with her about her hair. So another Dorothy Hammill was born.
This short haircut of Z's was so easy, for all of us. We took her to get her hair cut every six weeks, where she could zone out to Dora while the scissors flew around her head. We washed it once a week, we brushed it maybe twice as often. The rest of the time, her hair was just there.
I look at little girls with long, smooth ponytails or complicated braids and wonder how much effort goes into that style and whether it was their idea or their parents'? I know some girls love having their hair fussed over, and maybe some really enjoy sitting still while their mothers pull a brush through tangled knots and OKAY, REALLY? DO ANY LITTLE GIRLS LIKE THIS??
I've really loved Z's short hair, not only because it minimizes the number of minutes I have to listen to whining, screaming or "YOU'RE PULLING OUT MY SCALP!" but also because it's so darn spunky. I liked that it set her apart from all the girls with long hair in ponytails. I liked thinking she was doing her own thing.
Though, I realize as I write this, it was most likely entirely MY thing.
Is our girls' hair, and what we do with it, really all about us?
When I was about five, my mother took me to a hairdresser, whispered a request and sat back to watch as the hairdresser proceeded to slice off many inches of thick, tangled hair that I refused to brush. I was shocked, and deeply unhappy with what was deemed a "pixie cut" by the hairdresser and a "boy cut" by every kid in our neighborhood. Gone was the wrangling over hair brushing but also gone was the clearest marker of my femininity. I did NOT approve.
I grew my hair long as fast as I could and kept it long for the rest of my childhood.
I remind my mother of this moment as often as possible for maximum guilt inducement.
Sometime this Spring, Z began asking us to let her grow her hair long. I reminded her that if she had long hair, we'd have to wash it more often, put it up out of her face sometimes, and brush it much more often, figuring that this undesirable list would quickly put the kibosh on her plans. It did, for about a month, but then the requests began again in earnest.
"Just cut my bangs, Mommy, let the rest grow LONG."
She doesn't seem to have a specific reason for wanting long hair- she's not desperate for a ponytail, she doesn't have favorite barrettes she's just dying to wear, in fact she still hates those things most of the time. With nothing else clearly forming her opinion, I can't help but wonder if the dominant cultural imperative of Pretty Women Have Long Hair has made it through to her brain.
When I was a sophomore in college, I spent a session at a summer dance festival in Massachusetts. Something magical and deeply adolescent happens at these summer programs: you imagine you are changing in some radical way. I was still convinced I could shed parts of myself like a snakeskin, becoming someone slippery, daring, new.
The culmination of this summer's transformation was a very short haircut from a pricey Boston hairdresser. A bunch of hot, sticky days spent in un-airconditioned dance studios with hair stuck all over my face and a little encouragement from my best friend gave me the push I needed for a drastic cut. I walked out of there feeling like a million spunky bucks. For the last week of the dance festival, I swear I danced a little sassier, like I left some of my reserve along with my hair on the salon floor.
But then I got back to my little college town, where no one was capable of cutting my wavy hair in any style but "ten year old boy" and "blue haired granny". I felt I had to wear dangly earrings and makeup every day to counteract the neutering combination of my butchered hair and curve-less figure.
I quickly grew it long again.
Z is about to start kindergarten, and the gravitational pull of peer influence is getting stronger by the day. I see her carefully watching her friends, trying out what they say on her own lips, seeing if it fits. I can only assume that being one of the few five year old girls she knows with short hair is starting to feel uncomfortable.
I know I have consciously made her hair low fuss because I myself am low fuss about my hair. I use my blow dryer only for special occasions, like when icicles might form on it if I walk out with it dripping wet in February. My flat iron gets dusted off maybe twice a year. I once got in a raging fight with a boyfriend who complimented me on "brushing" my hair, after I had spent an hour blowing it dry, applying four different products and flat-ironing it. If it looked like this when I brushed it, IT WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS EVERY DAY, BUDDY.
Wow. I could still get into that fight TODAY.
I like to think that how I spend my time, every minute, counts. And my girls are paying attention. When CG and I have date nights, I spend time dressing up, putting on makeup, BRUSHING MY HAIR (Anyone want to have this fight with me? I'M READY.). I make an effort to celebrate our dates, to mark them as special, with a little extra effort. I feel good when I'm making these preparations and I think this is a fine message to send to my girls.
But day to day? I've got better things to do than fuss over my hair for an hour. I think this is a GREAT message to send to my girls.
However, I do have long hair. Yes, I've had short, spunky haircuts before. But they never worked for me. I like having long(ish) hair. I feel naked without a ponytail. I've figured out what works for me and I'm sticking to it. I no longer believe that a haircut can change my life.
Sometimes I worry Z will be at a disadvantage socially because I haven't taught her all the girly things she might need to know to fit in with her peers. It is my inner teenager that worries this, of course. I know that what I really want for her is the self-confidence to create her own sense of style and beauty and comfort.
We are going to try this idea of hers, letting her grow her hair long. She needs to be allowed to figure out what works for her. I'm not sure how this'll go but it is her body, and as she gets older, she's going to want to experiment and own every part of it.
Even the dead parts that need to be brushed. Daily.