Just recently, I became one of those mothers a friend of mine warned me against. You know, the kind who cuts their daughter’s hair short because they can’t be bothered maintaining it.
At least that’s how the friend summed up my motivations when I said we’d decided to give our three-year-old daughter, Lexie, a “Shiloh” cut (referring to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s penchant for wearing her hair short, like a boy’s).
Apparently, parental laziness or lice are the only admissible explanations for cutting a girl’s hair short. Never mind that we’d waged World War III every morning for the better part of the last two years over a brush and a bunch of hair elastics. Despite buying every gizmo claiming to comb out knots painlessly, the morning routine still rang with Lexie’s cry, “ow ow ow, no do hair!” It’d become a daily ordeal for both of us and we really needed to conserve our energy for our nightly battle over “no eat vegetables!”
So when I pushed the stroller into the salon, I pointed to a little boy getting a short back and sides and told the hairdresser, “I want my daughter’s hair cut like that.”
“I thought you said ‘your daughter’,” asked the hairdresser, inspecting the stroller for any sign of boy-children.
“Yes, that’s right, my daughter.”
Judging by her reaction, you’d think I was suggesting we bind Lexie’s feet.
“It’ll be a big change,” she warned.
I could only hope so.
“She looks like a boy.”
“I suppose she does,” I responded, wondering why this is the worst possible insult a girl can hear in our culture. She only looks like a boy because parents are expected to keep their little boy’s hair short…to keep them looking like little boys. It’s a circular thing, and little more than gendered window dressing. Because, at the age of three and for a good time afterwards, kids look gender-neutral: their big eyes, button noses and round, hairless faces are girlish; while their bodies—lacking bust and hips—are boyish. There’s nothing to identify our kids as male or female until adolescence, when the secondary sexual characteristics kick in, except how we dress and groom them. This makes a girl’s long hair sacrosanct, never to be relinquished except in an extreme act of selflessness (think: Jo in Little Women). It seems I’d become Delilah to Lexie’s Samson, unforgivably robbing our daughter of the quintessential physical attribute identifying her as a girl.