Last night at dinner with my two young daughters, my husband, and my father, the five of us went around the table trading news of our days, the good parts and the bad. When my turn came, I said, "Well, this didn't so much as happen to me today, but I'm thinking that I"m going to shave my head." Really, I meant buzz my hair pretty short with electric clippers. But saying "shave" sounds a whole lot more exciting. I directed a big smile directed at the girls, one of whom immediately started crying.
"But Mom, I don't want you to cut off your hair. You'll be so UG-LY. Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it."
My father and my husband stared down at their plates while she spoke. Neither of them laughed at her melodrama. Mark had already commented earlier in the week. He prefers me with long hair, but won't argue with my decision. My father, I'm sure, was just trying to be respectful and therefore remained quiet.
In the quiet, after my daughter's comments I found myself riling up inside. I know my five year old is not alone in her opinion. Especially in Christian culture, where people toss around scriptures about women's hair being their glory, yada yada. The other thing I know that's true is that hair is associated with beauty in women--in secular or sacred culture. So what my daughter says is true: in a black-and-white, fitting-the-mold-is-what-matters, kindergartener view of the world, I'll be ugly.
Many of us know ugliness is an unpardonable sin in a woman.
I hadn't given up on my five year old, though. "Hey," I said, "If you want to shave yours too, we could do it together." I was picturing a female-bonding sort of thing while hanging our heads over the bathroom sink, sneezing together from all the short hairs we inhaled. For a brief moment I imagined how life altering this memory could be for my daughter. One day, she and her mother shaved their heads together, symbolically and actually forsaking externally imposed standards of female beauty. She and her mother lived to tell about it. This one subversive act would alter the course of her thinking for the rest of her life: she would remember how once she defied sexual objectification of herself, and she could defy it again, perhaps not with electric clippers, but with words, with confidence, with truth--in her workplace, in her classroom, in her service to others.
But my daughter, still distraught, asked, "Why??! Why would I do that when you know I've been trying to grow it out?" She grabbed the ends of her hair and held them up for me to see.