THE BLOG
05/28/2013 06:19 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2013

Girls and Long Hair: What Message Are We Sending?

Jackie Morgan MacDougall

I grew up hating my hair. Mousy brown (that's right, I was not born with this vibrant, ever-changing gray-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.

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.

Then, 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 that 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 OK 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 OK 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 OK -- 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 hair 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. It was in her face as she slept, and her ponytail was always flopping around during gymnastics. She couldn't wait for her hair to be cut. So, this morning, we headed out to make it happen.

haircut

I 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.

lucycollage

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.