We took our son to get his haircut.
He is 4 years old and hasn’t been to the hairdresser for a long time.
For the past 2 years he has been growing his hair out “like Dad” because he wanted to be like his Dad.
We went through all the stages of hair growth;
that super untidy phase,
the phase where it looks like we might be neglecting him a bit,
the phase where he looked like one of the beatles,
the phase where you could only tie it up on top or at the back but not both….
We stopped ourselves from rolling our eyes when people would say to him “doesn’t your mum take you to the hairdresser” or “you need a haircut!” or made any remark to that effect that was intended as a joke but wasn’t actually funny. These comments were different to our friends who celebrated with him and said “I love your long hair, you look just like your daddy!” and would then joke “are we going to cut it off?” and they would laugh “no!” in unison.
Then finally, his hair was long enough to tie up altogether and he could wear it “like Dad”
But it was about this time we entered a new phase – a phase that perhaps naively I had not anticipated; the phase where everyone referred to him as a girl.
Except we worked out pretty quickly this wasn’t just a phase – this didn’t end. It went on and on and became more and more prevalent the longer his hair got. Something had happened in the process of growing his hair past his ears that made his sex seem publicly incontestable. By society’s standards, he had long hair so he was now a girl.
In the beginning I tried to brush it off, maybe I thought I would get used to it or we would just become immune to it? After all, theres nothing wrong with being a girl – but its not really fair to always be referred to as something that youre not. The more I saw it starting to affect my son, the more it got to me. I tried hard. I told myself it wasnt a big deal and I would just correct people when they would say “she” or “her” but people didnt listen.
“oh shes so clever climbing to the top of the playground”
“look at her go. shes very brave”
“hes a boy”
I started to get irritated that people could stereotype him by his long hair because by that logic, wouldn’t his blue hat point out that he was a boy? It seemed silly to me. It seemed so obvious he was just a boy with long hair but everywhere we turned he was pointed out as being a girl.
And the thing that bothered me the most was that people were really thoughtless in their comments;
When a man at the tyre shop offered “her” a lollipop and I said “hes a boy” he asked “are you sure?”
When anyone in public picked up on my correction that my daughter was actually my son he was then often directly quizzed with dumb questions like “aww did mummy want a daughter?”
When we went to the doctor and she asked what other symptoms “she” was having I nearly had a nervous breakdown.
He heard all that stuff. He knew you were talking about him. He may only be 4 but hes a person and you’re speaking as though he doesn’t get it but he does. Its pretty shitty that you don’t understand or consider that your words effect him.
He stopped wearing or publicly enjoying anything vaguely feminine. His favorite pink Dora handbag that he carried his Lego around in was left on the shelf. His orange or red shirts were “stupid” and he would rather go thirsty than drink from a purple cup.
Another kid would walk past and say “look at that boys ninja turtle toys” and the parents would say “yes but that’s a girl” and I would sometimes bite my tongue and sometimes I would not and then the parents would steer their children away from us because somehow we had become bad company.
I thought we could handle it until people started acting like I was being defensive by correcting them.
I thought we could cope with it all until people started acting like they were offended by the way my son chose to wear his hair.
And sometimes my son would ignore it and sometimes he would lose his shit and yell that he was a boy and shove transformers toys into peoples faces to try to prove his point because that’s all that he could think to do.
Sometimes it really got to him and I would see his shoulders slump. Sometimes his brother would stick up for him and argue when a group of kids in the park were insisting he was a girl. Sometimes I would pick him up from daycare to hear stories about how his friend calls him ‘her’
Sometimes he would run towards a playground quickly stuffing his hair up under his hat and sometimes he would come back to me in tears.
Every now and then I would ask him if he wanted to go to the hairdresser and he would say “no, like dad” and we would just get on with it until one morning out of the blue he looked up and me and said “mum I want to get my haircut so I look like the other boys”
My heart sank.
I reminded him that his Dad was a boy and he had long hair too but he looked at me with watery eyes and replied “but no one calls him a girl” and broke down into heaving sobs.
He’s 4 years old.
It is heartbreaking that at such a young age his individuality is being snuffed out and he is being molded by his need to be socially accepted.
I told him if he wanted a haircut then he could get one. I said I would take him to the hairdresser that day but he said “not yet. in a million days” which I roughly translated as “I don’t really want to but I feel like I should”
Over the coming weeks I would gently ask again “would you like to go to the hairdresser today?” and I would get the same response of “in a million days”
We continued to correct people in public and he continued to assert his right to be called a boy on the playground and we continued to be annoyed by it all and I waited patiently for the day when his million days were up and he was ready for his haircut.
And that day came pretty soon;
He sat in the barbers chair looking very serious while his long locks were cut short and he was shaped and shaved into looking like any other 4 year old boy you would see on the street.
I sat behind him with my eyes burning trying to fight tears because he wasn’t just losing his hair – he was losing part of his individuality. He gave up on being “like Dad” so he could fit into societies perception of how he should look and on the way home, he tapped me on the shoulder and he said “mum I look like a real boy”
Again, he is 4 years old.
He is happy. That’s what matters.
But here’s the thing guys, i’m going to ask you all to do me a favour – stop stereotyping kids by their hair. Stop making comments about how boys with long hair need hair cuts or how girls hair will “grow back” after they cut it short. Stop making kids feel like the way they choose to look is unacceptable or wrong. Stop trying to pass off comments as jokes because when they are comments designed to damage a childs self esteem they are not funny.
Do you see now how much bigger this is all is than you simply thinking my son needs a haircut?
Our kids are just kids. This is a time when they get to learn about themselves and how to express themselves. This is a time when they learn about body autonomy and start building their self esteem and confidence. This is when they start learning how the world sees them so don’t be a dick about it just because its not how you ‘think’ they ‘should’ look – they hear what you say about them. I want my son to grow up secure in his own skin.
Also I just want to note – it is none of your business. Like if you’re a stranger in a playground or in a shop commenting on a kids hair you should really be questioning why you think that has anything to do with you.
Our kids will spend so much of their lives wearing regulation uniforms with regulation shoes. They will spend years having to be just like everyone else and being told how they can and cant look.
So for this little bit of time; in these very precious formative years, stop making assumptions about how they should look and let them decide for themselves.