‘Raising Children with Bodily Autonomy’ or ‘Haircuts’

January 14, 2012

I’ve been agonising over this post for a good 24 hours now and I’ve decided to accept that it’s not researched or written with professional journalism skills. But I hope you’ll still enjoy it.

Recently KD gave herself a haircut. We know that AB had something to do with it.  A week or so later AB ends up with her own home-made short haircut. Not unusual for kids to do this I hear.

Interestingly, when I tell people the story, I’m often amazed at how great an offense this can be perceived as.  Sure, I was annoyed. It’s not cool that the kids helped themselves to sharp implements and did something they knew they weren’t allowed to do. But y’know, cutting their hair? Not the worst thing ever. We’re not related to Samson. Long hair can have cultural significance for many people but my family and I are not from a culture where that is the case.

Now many of you will currently have or have at some point had your own long hair, but for those of you who haven’t let me explain a few things. Long hair can hurt. Brushing it can hurt, putting it in a ponytail can hurt, taking it out of a ponytail can hurt. Especially if you have fine hair like me. Long fine hair can be really annoying, distracting, wind gets it in your eyes and it needs controlling.  If you’re like me, you end up worrying about it, if it’s sitting right, clean, etc. The end result is that it can absorb your attention and your energy. Long hair can be a pain, literally.

(Ironically, the time I loved my hair best was when it was long, but in dreadlocks. It was most manageable then. It was either up or down, with little variation between. Simple)

Some people have the kind of hair long hair that is glossy and thick and full of life, but also so incredibly well-behaved. Mine does NOT do that.  And neither does our children’s hair. When they were babies they would get little dreadlocks on the back of their heads. They end up with food, glue and glitter in it and brushing it twice daily was required just so that birds wouldn’t nest in it. (I can’t vouch for other critters.) More often than not it would turn into a fight. Me trying to get them to sit still, them trying to squirm out of the chair and just generally make themselves as slippery as possible.

And there is this trap that we can fall into as parents, where we potentially objectify our kids. Our two girls have wavy and curly hair and there is this thing that would happen to me where I would want to groom them, brush their hair and croon.. They would take on this completely objectified state and become like dolls that belong to me, for me to style the way I wanted.

The end result is that we end up teaching them that they should look good for other people’s enjoyment, that their appearance is so important that it’s worth suffering for. They also get the message that because we are in control, the decision isn’t theirs. (It is of course very appropriate that small kids are not allowed to make all their own decisions, but equally as parents I think we need to challenge ourselves to hand over decisions where and when it’s safe to do so.)

In the end I was quite proud of them for cutting their hair, especially KD. She and I had been battling everyday to keep the knots out and I had been suggesting for ages that we cut her hair. She agreed, but Dad wasn’t keen. So she took matters into her own hands literally and got rid of the problem altogether.

It’s so important that our girls learn that their bodies are theirs.

Just recently our girls have started going to play at our neighbours house, walking there and back by themselves. So I gave them some very basic safety messages. We try to explain how their bodies are their own and nobody can touch them without their permission. But I don’t think we can teach kids safety messages about how their body is their own, but not let them decide to cut their hair or not.

We can’t have it both ways. I would rather have stroppy girls any day than meekly obedient kids. If they’ve got the guts to cut their own hair then hopefully they’ll also have the guts to claim their own bodies in other ways in the future.



5 Responses to “‘Raising Children with Bodily Autonomy’ or ‘Haircuts’”

  1. buddhahaha said

    Brilliant, which is not surprising, bien sur. This one needs to be forwarded and posted EVERYWHERE.

  2. Maria M said

    I started the forwarding and posting. Just posted in Feminist Mothers group on Facebook.

  3. Marcelo said

    “If they’ve got the guts to cut their own hair then hopefully they’ll also have the guts to claim their own bodies in other ways in the future.”

    So true.

    I found your site while researching children’s rights, and this post made my day. Thanks.

  4. […] ‘Raising Children with Bodily Autonomy’ or ‘Haircuts’ […]

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