I had originally saved this quote from Jada Pinkett Smith in my post drafts back in January of this year, but even then the quote and the occurrence that it referred to was “old news” so I hesitated to share it.
However, I now have a almost 3.5 year old daughter who has been requesting for almost a month to shave her hair. Yes, Miss G Wants a Buzz Cut.
Willow Smith, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter, had a hit song a couple of years ago called “Whip my Hair” but shortly after its wild success, she shaved off her hair at the age of 12.
There was a lot of controversy, and a lot of disturbing (to me) comments about how it robbed her of her childhood femininity. While society often blames women and girls for their own objectification, I find Willow’s choice to be inspiring and innocent, though completely wise.
Her parents were questioned in the media for “letting” their daughter make such a drastic change and were accused of allowing her to make an adult and rash decision, to which Jada eventually responded:
The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. 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. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that 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. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.
Alison, a fellow blogger in one of my groups, recently posted a piece titled, “Dear Mom Who Shaved Her Daughter’s Head,” which I found interesting for two reasons: she brought to light a mom’s poor discipline choice to shave her daughter’s unkempt hair as a consequence for not keeping it neat (and then posted the haircut to social media in an effort to shame her); and Alison also shared her own stance, which is that her and her husband get a final say as to their daughter’s hair.
I completely agree with Alison that the shaming incident was inappropriate (I would personally go so far to say it was child abuse), however I faltered when Alison claimed her parental authority over her daughters’ appearances.
The article did make me think about if there is an extent to which we should exercise control over our children’s appearances, at least until a certain age. Maybe not when it comes to hair, but should we at least exercise some mom-veto power when it comes to what we perceive as poor clothing choices? Surely I don’t want my daughter walking around with a cuss word on her shirt. (Thankfully, they need our legal consent for piercings or tattoos.)
While it will pain me to see her make choices that she may come to regret, if I was to control or make the final decision I would be depriving her of exercising her own judgment and experiencing natural consequences, and I would be raising a child who will may later only know how to conform to others’ expectations of her appearance, or who will be so desperate for control that she may engage in outlandish, and sometimes dangerous, physical expressions.
I want my daughter to cherish and respect the body that she has been given, but I want her to also understand that her body is her domain and that I support her autonomy in choosing her own scripts and meanings. I can’t force her to have a positive body image, or to subscribe to my beliefs about physical appearance, but what I can do is engage her in conversation about her developing beliefs and desires for her body.
I will endeavour to educate my daughter about her body: its spiritual significance, its biological functions, its anatomical labels, its beauty, its capacity, its communication, and, most significantly, its ownership. Although it is my responsibility to inform my daughter about social convention, it is also my duty to empower her against allowing it to define her.
Because, let’s be honest, the only issue with her getting her hair shaved off is that she’s a girl. If a three year old boy asked for a buzz cut three times, most parents would allow him and no one would question their decision. Already, at three, social convention and opinion about her body and its appearance are informing our decisions.
Just as I do not have an unfettered “right” to her body by imposing unwanted touch or affection, I will not allow her to feel like society does, either.
As for shaving Miss G’s hair, if she is still fixated on it in the upcoming weeks, and I believe she truly understands that her hair will take a long time to grow back, we will start with a short haircut and then see if she really want to move towards shorter and shorter hair (waiting for a reasonable amount in between shorter cuts). If she was older, she could make the decision in a shorter amount of time, but she’s three and she still asks for Princess-hair as often as she asks for a buzz cut, so clearly she’s on the fence.
I’m not concerned about her appearance, but I am worried that if I rush to acquiesce her requests, she might experience some regret. I want her decision to be empowered by reasonable forethought and thoughtful conversation.
What are your thoughts?