I have been experimenting with hair since as long as I can remember. I have a very tense relationship with my hair. As a child, I had stupidly sweet blonde ringlets that had everyone around me gushing. When I hit puberty, my once angelic hair turned into a ball of frizz with a mousy dark hue. My lack of control over its desire to forever cause me to look like I had stuck my finger in a socket, combined with my weight, crooked teeth and acne, resulted in a total disdain for my hair. To me, my hair represented the epitome of adolescence; my body changing in ways that I had no control over.
Desperate to try and tame it, I used gels and mousse to no avail. Then I began using a clothing iron and a cloth to fry the bastard! For the first time in a long time, I felt as though I had some say in how my body appeared.
I was… Rebellious in my pre-teen/teen years. I yearned for those jeans with the legs wide enough to hide another person under. I wanted wallet chains to hang from their pockets, and ball chains that resembled bathtub drain chains, to hang around my neck. I wanted steel toed black boots and safety pins in my ears. I wanted piercings. I wanted coloured hair.
My dad fought me every step of the way. We had to compromise with mod robe pants. I had to actually take the drain chain and hide it along with my safety pins and black toque. I went to sketchy piercing places and got body mods that I didn’t really care for, but settled with because they were out of sight and I wanted to do with my body what I pleased.
I went to an all girl catholic highschool. Yes. I’ll stop there with that. My desire to control my appearance, my body, my aesthetic was stifled from all sides. I couldn’t be “me”, or even explore who I thought that was, anywhere. I was punished at school. I was punished at home. The message I continuously received from those in positions of power, of influence, was that what I liked was wrong. To me at the time, that translated to WHO I was, was wrong.
When we ignore our children’s body autonomy, when we disrespect their individuality and the rights they have to experiment and explore, we teach them that we don’t accept who they are. If we do not accept who they are, as parents and caregivers, we shut down our attachment, we mute our connection.
When we allow our children to have control over their bodies in a safe and healthy way, we teach them that their bodies are their own. When we allow for a judgement free environment in which they can experiment with their clothing or hair, we are not only emphasising that our love is not conditional, but that their choices matter, THEY matter. Allowing children to have ownership over their bodies reinforces intuitive responses and allows them to come to their own conclusions about how they feel. This is important. This is so important. The hope is that by learning to trust oneself and feel confident in decision making, a child will develop into an adolescent who is equipped with the self arruance required to question and critically examine peer pressure situations.
My four year old has pink hair. She is also barefoot 90% of the time. Her hair is usually filled with tangles. I do not force her to finish meals. I spend a lot of time discussing things with her. I do not abide by the “because I said so” style of parenting. It does not intuitively feel right for me, so I don’t do it. I try to allow my daughter to make decisions, feel out the results of those decisions and learn about herself and the world through those decisions.
I understand that to a lot of people, a four year old having pink hair may stir up some uncomfortable feelings. That is your work. Not mine or my daughters. To me it’s not just “pink hair”. I am providing my daughter with opportunities to make decisions about her body and her life. I am providing her with experiences to help her feel empowered as a person, as a self identifying female, in today’s world.
I may not like with the decisions she makes (such as deciding to donate a toy I got her last year for her birthday, and keep a sock she filled with rice, instead), and that is for me to work on, not for her to carry.
**I feel the need to emphasize that decision making in our house typically follows a Socratic discussion and depending on the topic, involves some debate. This is also very important, as it exemplifies the fact that not every decision can be made quickly or easily. This helps all of us practice our critical thinking and communication skills and paves the way for further learning opportunities. I would like to expand on this in a follow up post.
Liz Videka is a mom in Burlington, critical thinker, and the creative mind behind Sisyphus Creations. She designs and creates custom eco-friendly handmade wool toys for kids who love to imagine.