But She Should

Saoirse got her hair cut today. She goes with her dad to his hairdresser, and it’s always a cute little time for some daddy-daughter bonding. And Saoirse gets a lollipop after all is said and done, so you know, everybody wins.

Except for today. I asked David to ask for SK’s hair to be cut to just above her shoulders, but not touching them. Saoirse always wants to wear her hair down–other than an occasional headband, she never wants me to touch it, and I figured that for the summer heat, a little shorter might be a lot easier for everybody involved. She didn’t seem too happy about it, but I told David to go ahead with the (slightly) shorter cut.

And then he called me. He said it was short. He said it was really short.

He was right.

The hairdresser had taken the “not touching her shoulders” directive to heart, and now my darling 5-year-old daughter who loved her long hair and quietly did not fight me when I said she’d get a big trim is sporting a short bob that falls against her jawline, above her chin. Yes, that’s right, above her chin.

Now, you’re possibly reading this and rolling your eyes, like, “really, Leah, you have nothing else to write about? Can’t you talk about, like, leaky boobs or something?” But all afternoon, Saoirse’s been quiet. She keeps touching it. “I don’t like it,” she said, quietly. And then, at bedtime we were reading books. I caught her looking at herself in the mirror, trying to tuck the short strands behind her ears. The expression on her face was one I’d never seen before, and one I wasn’t expecting to see until, oh, puberty. She was self-conscious. Unhappy. I knew the expression well, because I’ve worn it many, many times over the past couple of decades: she was unhappy with the way she looked.

“What’s wrong, Saoirse?” I asked her.

She got red in the face and tried to hide her expression behind her hair. She couldn’t. It’s too short for that.

She was quiet again. “I don’t like it.” I’ve never seen her act the way she was acting–her body language was limp and dejected, like she was trying to fold into herself. She’s only five.

And then:

“I don’t feel cute.”

I felt like she’d punched me in the heart.

“What do you mean, you don’t feel cute?”

She was quiet again, a bit longer this time, and looked at me. Her eyes weren’t quiet teary, but the tears were right there, I could see. She didn’t want to say it.

“I don’t feel beautiful.”

This is a girl who has never cared about being frilly and cutesy and pretty. This is a girl who insists on wearing the same sneakers every day to school because she says they make her run faster. This is a girl who hates to have her hair brushed. She is my daughter. She is smart, and funny, and sweet, and dear Lord, she just told me that she doesn’t feel beautiful, so why, oh, why does my heart feel like it’s being ripped to shreds inside my chest?

Because it happens so young–this emphasis on looks, on being attractive. Because we, as her family, talk about how we look and compliment her on her beauty, and probably contributed to this. Because I have long hair and she, as a five-year-old, wants to be like her mom. Because my daughter, at this young age, just showed me that her self-confidence was affected, that she wasn’t happy with the perfect little person she is, that she was sad about the way people perceived her because, yes, yes, of something I made her do.

I write this from the center of my emotions. I’m not filtering, I’m not letting it settle for a day before I write. Because this is the day my daughter became self-aware of how she looks to the world, how she sees herself. This is the day I realized I don’t know how to raise her to be confident about her appearance, but at the same time to not put a lot of weight on it, either. I don’t know what I’m doing in this regard. I don’t know how to do it. But she’s only five, and she’s noticing. She’s noticed. And most importantly, my sweet Saoirse told me she didn’t feel beautiful.

Tonight, she fingered a (beautiful, glossy, thick) lock of her new bob and asked me when I was going to get my hair cut next time. I told her it’d be a few more weeks, and wondered aloud if she wanted to start going to my hairdresser. She shook her head, and looked up at me with a tentative sort of expression. “I want you to get your hair cut, too,” she said. I hesitated. “You do?” I asked.  She nodded. “How do you want me to get it cut?” I asked, but I already knew the answer. Saoirse looked at my ponytail, then tried to tuck her hair behind her ear and looked down at the floor.

“I want it to look like mine,” she said.

I don’t know how to do this. I know what I want for my girls, but I don’t know how to raise my daughters to charge into the world with their heads high, not caring a whit about how long or short or brown or red the stuff that covers them is. I feel like I’m flailing around here, watching her start to stumble into all the same insecurities I did growing up. I don’t want her going down that path, but how do I redirect her? How do I stick a Band-Aid over the self-doubt and fix her back up again to the girl who’s too busy playing to care about a stupid haircut? I don’t know. All I do know is that come June, I might be getting a new haircut.  Because you know what? I know a certain 5-year-old with a cute little bob, and I want to be just like her.

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