My kid is cute. Not just any-other-kid cute — She’s like, Gerber-baby cute. With pigtails in her hair, she pretty much melts the hearts of everyone we encounter. But she absolutely hates it when I put pigtails in her hair. She yells “no!” and runs away whenever I try.
It dawned on me the other day that by fighting her, and essentially forcing her to allow me to put her hair in pigtails, I am sending her a message that I stand so strongly against in theory, but apparently have not been able to avoid despite my best attempts. By forcing her to wear pigtails because she looks so damn adorable in them, I am basically telling her that her appearance is more important than her bodily integrity. I’m telling her that it’s more critical that the people around her (often complete strangers) think she looks cute than that she be comfortable in her own skin. I’m telling her that her opinion doesn’t matter — that all that matters is that she conform with society’s expectations of how she, as a little girl, should look.
When I think of it in those terms, it’s easy to say I will never attempt to put pigtails in her hair again. But what I will continue to struggle with is my own deeply-rooted belief that a little girl should look a certain way. I have noticed without question that people actually react to and treat her differently when her hair is in pigtails. It’s not as if she doesn’t get noticed without them. But when she has them, it’s a foregone conclusion that people will stop us to soak in her adorableness. As a mother, perhaps on some primal, instinctive level, I want the world to adore my children. I want them to stand out from the crowd as smarter, cuter, better…
It’s not an easy thing to admit that I want my kid to be better than yours, but there it is. I said it. And it’s equally difficult to admit that I may be willing to infringe upon my daughters autonomy over her own body to ensure that she is liked.
There’s a lot of research out there about society expecting women to be like-able. I’ve read a lot of it. I’m aware of the double standard. I know that the entrenched expectation that women be like-able leads to women being paid less than men, being held back professionally for being assertive in the workplace, to women feeling somehow less-than their male counterparts. And yet… I keep putting pigtails in my daughter’s hair against her will. It seems that it may be time for me to hold myself to the same standard I hold the rest of society to…to allow women complete autonomy over their bodies, and to reward strong-willed, assertive behavior, rather than suppressing it.
My daughter is strong-willed. She challenges me in ways that I never thought possible. She refuses the most basic requests with the lack of rationality that is all too common among toddlers. She knows what she wants, and perhaps more importantly, what she doesn’t, and she’s not afraid to express herself. These qualities, while challenging, are ones that I hope will persist as she grows up. I can only hope that she will maintain her self-confidence and belief that she should have ultimate control over what is done to her body, and over her appearance and the value that should be placed on it. I want her to grow up knowing that she is beautiful, in every conceivable way, no matter how she wears her hair, no matter how she chooses to dress, no matter how she chooses to allow others to interact with her physically. I want her to have the confidence to stand up for herself when she knows she’s right, even in the face of a society that says she shouldn’t.
As for me, I will continue down this path of introspection, and from now on, if she doesn’t want pigtails, there will be no pigtails.