My children have a very beautiful relationship with creativity. At Christmas I made some dough and got out the festive cookie cutters and before I could say Jingle Bells the girls were on the table pressing their toes into the squidgy mass with joy. We get the paints out and they carefully and lovingly dabble a bit on the paper, and a bit on their face, a bit on the paper and a bit on their hair, their bellies, their knees.
Early on I learnt to bite my lip; I didn’t want them to feel controlled by my arbitrary ideas about what counts as “art” and what counts as “mess”. Who am I to judge their own creations?
Whenever we get scissors out to cut shapes or paper people, they do the same thing; a snip of the paper, a snip of their fringe, a snip of a magazine and a great big walloping chunk out of the middle of their forehead. A few weeks ago I came in and they were surrounded by felt tips, shreds of paper and hair. Ramona had cut Juno’s hair down to one inch all over. It looked amazing. In a bald-patches kinda way. And they were both utterly stoked. They had a vision for their art, hair, whatever, and they made it happen. They did a little dance together, sang a song about being hair twins.
Ramona had cut all her own hair off a short while before. Well, she cut almost all of it. She left a 15 inch long plait at the base of her neck. Technically, it’s a ratstail. Hairstyle of the rebellious teenage boy in 1992. But to Ramona it is simply “her long bit” – the bit that means she has the best of both worlds.
My children love cutting hair so much they want to share it around. My mum and dad are visiting us from the UK next month and we wrote a big list of all the things we would like to do with them while they are here. Number seven is “Give Nana a hair cut”…I just know she is going to be SO EXCITED about that!
When my children cut their hair I usually have one reaction – to fetch them sharper scissors. No-ones got time for a haircut executed with those tiny yellow giraffe schnizzors.
You see, when my kids cut their hair, I delight in it. For me it as a chance to send an important message to my daughters.
And it’s a chance that MANY parents get. Almost every child I know has picked up a pair of scissors and had (or tried to have) a little snippitysnip or a big chunkycrunk at their hair. My sister and I did it – she chopped off one of my pigtails. One kid I know experimented with an electric razor. Jeepers. Even if your child doesn’t give themselves a jazzy new style, there is still the same opportunity whenever they visit the hairdresser.
And in every instance we are invited to share a lesson with our kids about consent and body autonomy.
So here we go- ten reasons I am happy about my daughter cutting all her hair off:
1- It is her body. She is the boss of it. She gets to say what happens to it. Either I mean this, or I don’t. If I do mean it this involves stepping back and watching her cut all her hair into a ratstail two weeks before a family wedding – even if she has been asked to be a bridesmaid.
2- It is her body. Nobody gets a say in what she does with it. I want her to continue in this vein for her whole life; giving Zero Effs to what other people expect her to do with her hair, face, or body.
3- It is her body. She does not belong to me. No child is the possession of their parents. We are here to guide them through this tricky world, not treat them like they are ours.
4- It is her body. It is her human right to have autonomy over her body. I’m not being dramatic.Body autonomy is one of our most basic human rights and forcing a kid to have a hair cut, or not have a hair cut is a violation of that right. Everyday we can choose to not infringe on rights of children in our homes.
5- It is her body. When I stand back now and let her do what she wants with her body, she learns a lesson that will serve her for the rest of her life.
6- It is her body. My daughter’s experience of body autonomy through my response to hair cutting will form a part of her ability to say a clear no to unwelcome touch, and is a key part of protecting her from sexual abuse.
7- It is her body. My daughter is at the start of her identity journey and getting to know herself, and love herself, and expressing herself with her body is something only she can do.
8- It is her body. No one should ever force anyone to do something, or not do something, with their own body. This is one of the fundamentals of dismantling the rape culture we live in.
9- It is her body. Giving herself a haircut and not coercing or manipulating her to do something more “socially acceptable” creates a culture of consent in our home. One of the greatest wishes I have for this world my girls are growing up in, is that our rape culture will be replaced by a culture of consent.
10- One last reason; It is her body.
I have a load more reasons in my head, just so we are clear. For example, wanting to save my children from the knowledge that society judges people by their looks. If I don’t blink when they do something dramatic to their appearance whilst they are young, perhaps that will provide a buffer of sorts to the stark fact that we can be a shallow, judgemental bunch. I could also have spoken about gender stereotypes and the good message that is given when I am not precious about her long hair. I could also have made a point about how practical and unknotty short hair is- quite frankly, it is mindbogglingly amazing.
But all of these pale in significance to the one clear truth that my child’s body is her body and she can do what she wants with it.
I want my children’s relationship with their body to be like the one they have with art; expressive and loving and fully autonomous.
(Forgive these capital letters, melodramatic titles, it’s kinda the way Youtube works… meh.)
PS- I write with almost all the privilege there is and want to recognise that body autonomy looks different for those without the same privilege. I enjoyed this article about how to support a child who needs blood tests whilst upholding their body autonomy. I would love to hear from others, to hear of how you support your child’s body autonomy whilst not being healthy or wealthy or white. A little while ago my children got sick with something the internet told me was an illness that impacts mostly poverty stricken households. We were in a bad space for a few different reasons and I was feeling really nervous about taking them to the Dr, with their dreaded hair and felt tip all over their bodies and this Thing. I was worried they might ask questions, dig deeper. I scrubbed up, I put on the smartest clothes I had, and put my shoulders back and acted as if I hadn’t a care in the world. It was an awful, tragic glimpse of how lucky I was that I could do that. It was one of my first insights into how privilege works, and how my privilege is related to all these parenting choices. This radical, rights-upholding, respectful parenting is being done by a huge, diverse array of parents… but we must acknowledge the role of privilege.