Gone In A Snip

Linda Wyrill is proud of the way in which she handled a hairy moment.

My three-year-old daughter cut her own hair.

She was playing in her bedroom. Minutes earlier, I’d stuck my head in her room to have a peek. She’d had her dolls lined up and was feeding them imaginary food. ‘What a good girl,’ I’d thought, ‘playing quietly by herself.’ With that idyllic vision in my head, I had gone to another room and set up a board game with my son.

Towards the end of our first game, a new vision assaulted me. My daughter stood in the lounge room doorway, scissors in hand, sporting what can only be described as a mullet – a very short, wonky mullet with a very long, curly rat’s tail. A look of extreme shock must have crossed my face, because she then burst into tears. “I want my own hair back!” she cried, in the frailest, saddest wail I’d ever heard pass her three-year-old lips.

Blinking back my own devastation, I tried to pull myself together. ‘What have you done?’ I wanted to scream. But there was no reprimand that I could give that was worse than the one she’d just given herself. Her tears told me that.

The next few moments are a source of pride to me. ‘Don’t yell,’ I told myself. ‘Don’t panic. It’s only hair.’ I held my daughter on my lap and hugged her tight. “Did you give yourself a haircut?” I asked. A teary nod followed. “It was too long,” she sniffed. It had been in her way. “You look beautiful,” I told her. My son, agape until that moment, exclaimed, “No she doesn’t! She doesn’t even look like herself any more. She looks like a boy!”

“I want my own hair back!” my poor daughter sobbed, louder than before. “It will grow back,” I said, in a calm, quiet voice. “And you still have your own hair. See?” I stroked the hair on her head. “It’s lovely.” (I might have given my son a stern look at this point.) My home hairdresser sniffed, and nodded, and spluttered, and eventually calmed down. ‘Well done,’ I told myself. ‘You resisted damaging her for life.’ That I hadn’t modelled panic and grief over a bit of cut hair was a revelation to me.

My pride ends there. After we’d talked about not ever cutting her hair again without asking a grown-up, and the importance of her asking for scissors rather than climbing to reach them from the top shelf of her brother’s desk, I handed out soothing drinks of water, put on some soft music, and refereed the start of a quiet game. I then put the scissors in a new and truly out-of-reach place, and went to the scene of the crime. And lost the plot.

The sight of all those strawberry-blonde curls broke my heart. I burst into stifled tears, smuggled the phone into my bedroom and rang my husband to unload my irrational but very real grief. Needless to say, I cut off the mullet, leaving my daughter with a very short (chin length and shorter in places) bob. I felt the need to adorn it with a sparkly clip. Everyone agreed that she looked angelic.

After her friend’s ‘pop star’ birthday party, my daughter again asked when her “own hair” would grow back. I showed her a picture of Rihanna. This cheered her up – a pop singer with short hair! Admittedly, it cheered me up too. Why? Why was I so sad that I needed cheering up over something as silly as hair length? Are we still passing down gender stereotypes to our kids, even as we spout messages of equality to them with the things that we say?

As my short-haired princess twirls around the house, looking as sweet and beautiful as a three-year-old girl ever has, I realise that with each twirl, she is unravelling some of my tightly held stereotypes. Teaching me things I really should be teaching her. For example, boys with long hair are as beautiful and boyish as boys with short hair. Girls with short hair are as beautiful and girlish as girls with long hair.

I’m glad my daughter had enough spunk to cut her own hair, even if I do miss her long locks. I love the way her new short curls suit her strong personality. And if those long locks ever grow back and she asks for a short hairstyle? The answer will be a simple yes.

Illustration by Nicholas Wright