When I was 11 years old, I got a fairly dramatic haircut a week before I was about to enter sixth grade. Up until that point, my hair had been notoriously Rapunzel-esque long. It was also a pain in the butt to keep up with. Getting my locks chopped short enough to just barely hit my shoulders was very exciting to me and after securing a few butterfly hair clips in, I thought I looked awesome. Until the first day of school rolled around and a friend of mine saw me and gasped, “You cut your hair! Why?”
I remember laughing, but being confused. Why did I cut my hair? Well, why not? In a weird way, it made me feel like I had made a mistake for a moment, as one can only feel in the cliquey and judgmental tween girl world. But I knew I wasn’t wrong because I loved my new look and I defended my hair, proud of my decision. 90% sure I added in an extra butterfly hair clip that day, too.
Flash forward 10+ years later and it seems we still aren’t done berating little girls (or grown ones) who decide they want to get their hair cut or change their sense of style or make personal decisions of their own. “Whip My Hair” singer Willow Smith is 12 years old and has gone through a series of radically amazing hairstyles from braids to platinum blonde dye. Last February, she decided to shave her head. Cue collective criticism from the internet, most of it aimed at Willow’s mom Jada Pinkett Smith, who fired back on Facebook:
“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. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that 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. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.”
You’d think that since February the internet would have moved on in discussing Willow’s hair, or any celebrity’s hair change for that matter, but they haven’t. Magazines continue to run nonstop editorials that are devoted to whether or not we like so and so celebrity as a blonde or better as a brunette (57% say brunette!) and full page spreads devoted to said star’s hair transitions over the years. But beyond hair, the focus goes to every possible physical facet you can imagine. The dress you decide to wear, the amount of weight you gain or lose the length of your freaking fingernails – it’s all about looking the “right way” and fitting into a carefully planned box for your age bracket.
To say I want this all to stop is too easy and too difficult all at once. Too easy because anyone can say to a little girl that these magazines don’t matter and too difficult because you can say that all day, every day, and publications will still continue to print and update their Twitter handles nonstop. What needs to be said instead is “you are not your hair.” You are not a pink dress or a designer pair of jeans or an expensive pair of sunglasses. You are you! An amazing, vibrant, thoughtful and intelligent person who is constantly growing and changing all the time. A person who can make their own choices and be their own self and be as creative as possible in expressing that along this road called growing up. There should be absolutely no reason why anyone in the world gets to decide you should look or behave a certain way either.
The unspoken part that doesn’t always follow up “you are not your hair” is “you have my support and unconditional love in whatever you decide to do” and that, above all, needs to be said. Whether you’re a mother, a sister, an aunt, or a mentor, these are the years where little girls need that kind of support and encouragement from the “cool older girls.” Say it often. Say it daily. Say it out loud and say it using body language like a thumbs up or a big grin. Tell these girls they’re beautiful because of what they’ve accomplished and will continue to accomplish in life, not because they have long or short or buzzed hair. Write an email and say it. Leave a Facebook message. Text it. Just start doing it as soon as possible and as often as possible, unless you already do. Keep it up and don’t stop what you’re doing.
It may not change the world, but it’ll change the girl. And that’s really all that matters.
Image via Tumblr