Girls and Long Hair: What Message Are We Sending?

I grew up hating my hair. Mousy brown (that’s right, I was not born with this vibrant ever-changing grey red hair), super fine, lifeless… I dreamed of having bouncy, shiny hair like those orgasmic beauties in the shampoo commercials. It’s probably why I’ve had no problem trying so many different styles throughout my lifetime — no matter how bad it gets, it can’t be much worse than the hair I was born with.


Photo credit: Renee Bowen Photography

So when I was blessed with my daughter, I latched onto her black, thick, shiny Asian hair like she was Rapunzel and I was desperately climbing for my one chance to experience long, flowing, gorgeous locks. Seriously, her hair is perfect.

So when she started talking about cutting it short several months back, I would nod and smile and know that it just wasn’t going to happen. A few months ago, she stepped up her game, telling anyone who’d listen how she wanted a Mohawk. As I do when she asks for something that’s absolutely out of the question, I told her she could have one when she was 14.

I was pretty confident in my decision… until the doubt began to creep in. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t she have super short hair that she could style into a “fauxhawk”? Sorry, I don’t do Mohawks with my boys either — it’s not happening. I realized that I was projecting my own self doubt and insecurities onto my strong, sassy daughter. If she wants her hair cut, who am I to stop it from happening? Yes, kids might tease her… you know it happens. But the only thing worse than that is teaching her that she should make choices in life solely based on how other people (not even people she cares about) might perceive them.

Around the same time I had begun to doubt myself for being so rigid, I read an interview that Jada Pinkett Smith gave to People. While I’m not one to usually jump on what celebrities do or how they parent their children, Jada’s words about her own daughter Willow’s hair really moved, and stuck, with me.

This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination.

Willow cuts her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. Even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires.

She’s so right. We try to teach our daughters to love their bodies, no matter the size. We want to empower girls to respect themselves and not give their bodies away in exchange for a few minutes of feeling accepted and loved. But how can we teach them to make strong, independent decisions about their own selves when society, peers (and yes, even parents) are sending mixed messages that it’s okay to be yourself but only if you fit into what others deem beautiful?

I realized I was absolutely wrong and I told my daughter just that. I explained that while we weren’t going to go for the buzzed on the sides, long on the top full Mohawk, we were absolutely okay with her going for the short “pixie” type hair that she can then style into a fauxhawk when she feels inspired to do so. I told her that she was beautiful, inside and out, and it’s more than okay — it’s important — for her to be able to express who she is in creative, positive ways. If that means chopping off her hair, her dad and I were all for it.

But we had only one request. Since her hair was already so long (yet not long enough to meet the donation requirements) we asked that she wait a few more months to get her locks to a length that could be cut and donated to Wigs for Kids. I explained how there are kids who have no hair, for a variety of reasons, and would be so happy to receive a wig made from my daughter’s beautiful hair.

With a big smile on her face, she agreed — she was in.

So she waited… and it grew… and grew.

















It grew so long, it was constantly annoying her… in her face as she slept… the pony tail flopping around during gymnastics. She couldn’t wait for her hair to be cut. So this morning, we headed out to make it happen.

haircutI was worried that she’d regret cutting it all off but the smile on her face told me otherwise. It was bittersweet, seeing her so happy yet knowing that it was me and my stuff that kept her from feeling this for way too long. It was as if a weight were being lifted off her shoulders — I was finally seeing her for who she is and it felt so good.

Of course it wouldn’t be a hair post without the dramatic “after” shots. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present… my daughter.

















Weigh in: When I asked on Facebook whether parents would be willing to hand over control of their kids’ appearance, most of you said absolutely not. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Does Motherhood Do a Body Good?

“Youth is wasted on the young.”
The first time I heard those words (originally said by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw), it sounded like just one of those old people sayings, repeated by those mourning the loss of their youth.
Little did I know, the next two decades would zip by in a flash and that saying would eventually make so much sense. 
Take body image, for example. 

In a recent survey by Glamour magazine, 97% of  “young women” (whatever that means) admitted that they not only have major issues when it comes to how they see their own bodies, but are also subject to brutal verbal abuse about their appearance several times a day. The saddest part, it’s they, themselves, doing the abusing. 
The good news: As I did a little more digging, I found that the older we get – sometimes facing huge physical hurdles —  the more the negative self-talk subsides and is taken over by acceptance and, dare I say it, love and respect for ourselves.
I’m no stranger to that metamorphosis. In my 20s, I struggled big time when it came to body image. I would spend hours going through my closet, never happy with what I’d put on. I refused to ever wear things like shorts – oh no, I’m not showing those knees! I constantly compared myself to my tiny friends and never felt like I measured up physically. 
In my 30s, my body began to mean something totally different. I had two boys via c-section (one at a whopping 11 pounds) and had a health scare. In fact it was five years ago this week that I underwent a double mastectomy, the first of two surgeries that year. And while my big babies stretched my tummy to an unrecognizable state and my surgeries forever changed how I look, I discovered that the more I experienced, the better I felt about myself. I’m still shocked to admit that I am proud of all my body has handled – I am a warrior. A few extra pounds could never take that away. 
In an unofficial online poll, I asked women to rate their body image from 1-5, with 5 being the most positive. Natalie, a 29-year-old mom, admits that “before having a baby and nursing [body image was a] 2. Post pregnancy and nursing — 4.” While she says she “should lose some weight,” she also celebrates her physical self by adding, ” My body has done me well.” Interestingly enough, her 22-year-old friend merely gives herself a 2.5.
Tertia, 42, who rates her body image as a 4 out of 5, says that high rating is something she would never do when younger. “Even though I was in better shape, I thought less of myself — too much angst. Getting older is great. I like me.”
Karena takes pride in her career as a nutrition and fitness expert — and she should. Because not only is she the author of Osteo Pilates and host of Pilates for Healthy Bodies, she also travels the world teaching and connecting with women who want to achieve health and wellness at any age. But Karena’s no stranger to body battles, her fight with bulimia and anorexia began at a young age, even contributing to a heart attack when she was just 19 years old.
But while she may feel a few more aches and pains as the years pass, Karena, too, embraces her outer strength, along with the inner. “I think body image has improved with age for me. But as far as my body being a traitor — pain issues for me primarily —  I’m always looking at it like a cheating husband, like when is the next shoe going to drop.”
And maybe it’s exactly that attitude that makes the rest of us women accept a lump here or some flab there. Is it that we now have appreciation for all our body has done and gone through? Or maybe we just realize we have bigger fish to fry bake, and now look at healthy eating and exercise as a gateway to optimum health and not just to fit into those skinny jeans. And with that pressure off, maybe now we’ll begin a love affair Brussels spouts and boot camp.
A girl can dream, right?