My 6-year-old cut her hair today. Twice. Once alone, in the basement, and very much as a secret. And once in the bathroom with me. Helping her...to cut her own hair. And it’s because of assholes like Harvey Weinstein. And other instigators of fear before him. Every morning I wake up 45 minutes before my daughter so I can have a cup of coffee, feed our two cats, and read the headlines of what is going on in the world. This fall my morning moments have been an anxious exercise in seeing more and more news about men in power using their position and influence to attack women and children with unwanted sexual advancements.
Harvey Weinstein’s accusers unlocked the gates, and the flood of perverts is still pouring through. The #MeToo hashtag explosion was before that, and before that, we elected a man into the most powerful office who bragged about performing sexual assault. All this is terrifying as a mother of a daughter. It feels like as soon as she was born her beauty was remarked upon, and her worthiness started to be measured. And as her mom, I started to think of how I would help her navigate this world where 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted.
I have not been shy about my intent to parent my daughter in a manner that encourages individuality and strength, courage, and bravery as a way of life. I would love to be accused of raising the most self-loving person on the planet. Because, frankly, doing so is the only defense I have come up with on how to raise a daughter in a world where her best interests are not the concerns of the people who make laws, or of the majority of people who could employ her. Her best interests are protected only in relation to how closely connected she will be to a powerful man to represent her.
This representation. I’ve seen it and felt it. I have lived it.
This representation - it starts a separation inside ourselves - I felt myself loosening my grip from my representative that I send out to the world. She goes and talks and sees and reports back, and the me tucked safely inside will wade through it, and see what might be worth creeping out for.
Friendships, job interviews, conversations with family, simply walking down the street; do I send my rep, or do I make an appearance today? This representative was created for safety, but she stifles, and suffocates me slowly. And as a 34-year-old woman I am learning to tell my representative, no thank you. Not today. I got this. Forming a foundation of [hopefully] unbreakable self esteem, my daughter and I...we stand in the mirror and shout out what we love about our bodies. I compliment her clever problem solving and strong voice. I talk with her, not to her. I hope she understands that agency is power she gets to wield herself, and not what others have over her.
I have invited my daughter to join me in self loving rituals - two ladies, bare-chested looking at their bellies, bodies, faces and eyes, shouting at our reflections “You are brave, you are strong, you can do anything!”
And for a very very long time, I have taught my daughter that she is the boss of her body. It is her body. She owns it. It belongs to her. It is the only body she will have, and it is the body that will move her through this world.
She gets to touch it, dress it, and move it, how she chooses. And in choosing how she represents her OWN self, I hope she becomes less susceptible to the stories and the false support others use as a way to influence her.
So. When I found a fistful of her brown hair clipped off and stuffed in a nest of secrets with ribbon, snippets of paper, and candy wrappers I called her over and asked her some questions.
... Harper I found some hair. What is it from? She said, I don’t know. Did you cut your hair? She said, Yeah.
Okay. Did you hide the hair because you thought I would be mad?
Oh. Well. I’m not mad you cut your hair.
Do you know what I’m not okay with? I’m not okay that you didn’t clean up the mess you made. And now I have an extra job to do, when what our family tries to do is help each other, and make life a little less hard. So, It’s your hair, and it’s your body, so if you want to cut your own hair you can.
Okay. I want to cut my own hair.
Okay. Where do you think is a better place to do that?
In the bathroom.
I agree. And when it comes to using scissors, who else should be close in case you get hurt? You or Dad.
I agree. And who will be responsible for cleaning up the mess after they are finished?
The person who made the mess.
I agree. Now can you please go scoop the cat litter? Why?! Because I am cleaning up one of your messes, so I would like your help with one of my chores.
I love you. I love you too.
And later she asked me, “Mom, I want to cut more of my hair. Will you help me?”
And this is the time I get the privilege and reward of parenting this person. Together, me teaching, and her learning, we get to remove the shame she felt when she first made the choice to cut her hair. But. Let me pause here. So, like, it’s easy to let her wear unmatching clothes as an expression of her individuality. It is easy to say she doesn’t have to hug people if she doesn’t want to... I can easily go to bat in her defense for those things. It is not easy to silence the voice in my head screaming - 6-year-olds should not cut their own hair!!! But I did. And I did it with one question, “Why?” Because… she will hurt herself!... That’s why I’m there, to keep her from self harm.
Because...it will be crooked and unattractive!...Why does my opinion of appropriate beauty overrule her self expression??
Because she will hate it after and we’ll have to go fix it!...Maybe. Maybe she won’t like it, and then we can support her through her feelings, and ask her questions to help her see that some things may require the help of other people. Then it becomes a lesson in accepting help. Why is that bad? Because...Because she is a little girl and little girls shouldn’t cut their own hair!!!...Shoulds have no place in this house. We can “could and would" all day long...but should...no. Should is inviting judgement, shame, and separation.
Hearing life’s shoulds for what they are is teaching me as much about my own ability and agency as I hope to instill in her...so no...should is a response to what other’s will think of my parenting choice. Should is “the other” looking in and telling me how to parent. Should is opposite of self love.
Recently Tracee Ellis Ross, made a self realization which she shared at the Glamour Woman of the Year Summit. She talks about the importance of bringing the “brave me” into reality. She says, “Beings at the height of their own resonance. They’re own selfness. Fully in bloom. That is what bravery and beauty looks like.” This powerful woman is 45 years old. She is discovering this idea of self love and empowerment in a new way at 45!
What I am doing is taking this idea of being the “brave me” and teaching it to my daughter at an age that seems inappropriate to other people. It’s like we expect our children to need to recover from childhood so learning these tools of self acceptance and self love feel like revelations when we hear them in our 30’s and 40’s, and beyond.
But I don’t have time for worrying about what other people think is inappropriate. I have to worry about sending my daughter into a world, where she may knock on the door of a future employer, and be faced with his unwanted advances and unlawful use of power. I want that inappropriate use of power to be so blatant that she can make a choice for herself. , that she knows her voice and has practiced using it, and she can decide how to use it and not feel like she has to hide. Not feel she has to retreat and use a representative to make those choices for her.
So. Again. Back to my daughter asking me to help her cut her hair… I say, “ Sure, I’ll help you cut your hair.” And we go upstairs.
I comb her hair. I ask what her plan is. I ask if she will let me help if I think it is not what she told me. I ask if she would like to hire a hairstylist.
I ask if she is ready. She raises up the scissors and her wrist doesn’t know how to move to make the action she wants while looking at her reflection. So I slow her down...and I help her hand go where she wants it to go. And she cuts. And she cuts again. And she cuts again. And she stops. And it’s not straight, and it is obvious that it was cut by a 6-year-old. And she looks in the mirror, and she looks at me, and she says, “I love it.” ….. I want to encourage you, reader to listen to Ms. Ross’s full speech, and it can be found at Glamour.com. This post can also be heard by the author on Sound Cloud.