Do I allow my daughter to cut her hair off? Or do we fight on over the hairbrush?
After being bald for the first year and a half of her life, my daughter grew herself a muddle-puddle of dark blond curls which at first stuck up in the air and, as it got longer, fanned out around her face and flopped down her back.
Heavy now from the ringlets at the bottom, the middle bit is straighter, but it doesn’t have that super-straight gloss of shampoo adverts. The gloss that is the standard for acceptable hair amongst 7- and 8-year-old girls.
My daughter wants her hair off. All of it. She wants to shave her head. She wants, I think, to start again and see whether this time nature will comply with her desire for dead straight sheets that do not defy gravity, but grow with meaning, with weight, towards the ground. The sort of hair that gravely obeys brushes, that remains under clips, behind Alice bands and inside elastic bands.
Her hair occupies her daily. We approach the mirror in my bedroom with trepidation each morning because it reflects an ugly truth: that her hair causes domestic tension.
We always start bravely.
‘Okay now. No fuss, alright? Remember I am not doing this to hurt you.’
‘Okay.’ She nods, but already her chin is down, her eyes appraising this morning’s madness on her little head, her shoulders tense in anticipation
We have a small arsenal of tools
for this job. Anti-frizz spray, detangler, two different wide-toothed combs and a vase full of tried-and-abandoned brushes. We have given up our early efforts at creativity – my amateurish plaits, buns, double ponytails, two high pigtails, one above each ear. Every morning now we settle on what requires the least emotional and physical friction: a single ponytail.
Trying to get the hair into one contained bunch for me to wrap a band around is hard work, but it would be easier if she didn’t insist that the top part of her hair had to be smooth against her skull. Sometimes I get the band in quickly and with minimum fuss and pain, only to have “a bubble” pointed out. I don’t know which she hates more: the bubble or the faff of having to undo the ponytail and begin again.
The process is fraught. I try so hard not to get upset, but I am the victim of her hair hatred and each morning she glares at me and my straight hair in a general all-encompassing blame
that captures my personality and my genes under one amorphous and wholly unfair label: ‘The mother who likes to torture me.’
So she wants it off. I swallow hard every time she brings it up because I love her hair. But it’s not my hair and I don’t have to have it tugged and pulled into acquiescence each morning. Everywhere she goes people comment on her beautiful locks. Curly hair is loved by everyone but its owner.
I don’t want her to chop it off, but it makes her so unhappy and maybe – if it is short – she will miss it. I eventually come around enough to the idea to present her argument to her father.
‘No,’ is the answer. Nothing else.
She and I are back at the mirror each morning wrestling boing-boing hair into obedience and wondering: at what age are you allowed to make your own hair decisions?
Do parents decide what a child’s hair should look like?