Hair is a great teaching lab for children to develop their senses about body autonomy- Dr. Laura Kastner
You know how some people just radiate who they are unapologetically and unquestionably so hard that it makes you want to follow suit? Grayson is that chick. This is Grayson. She is 3 years old, a true threenager, and she is a budding radical non conformist with a healthy sense of ownership of her own body.
Grayson and her big brother Eli are friends with our 4 year old Selah through preschool, so I have had the pleasure of hanging out with G when she comes over for playdates, and more recently, have had the opportunity to play with her hair.
Grayson has insanely beautiful apricot red naturally curly hair that grows straight out into a cloud of fuzz and ringlets, and it has brought her a lot of attention in her life. Any curly red-haired person can relate. People want to touch it and make a big deal of it. Grayson is quite unconcerned.
A few months back, her brother Eli got a haircut. His long curly locks came off, revealing a more independent, grown up kid. Inspired by the power of his transformation, Grayson decided she wanted her haircut too.
She asked her folks, and they agreed. They asked me if I would trim her hair for her. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
All color photos in this post were taken by my friend Bill Anthony🙂
Grayson came and sat in my hair chair and I brushed her hair out. She smiled and shut her little eyes as I pulled and tugged my way through her hair, acting like a happy cat getting groomed.
I trimmed her ends for her, while she sat still and at full attention. I sensed her satisfaction with the whole experience, a little boost in her self, a little ownership of her choices. It is such a subtly powerful shift that I witness in people when cutting their hair.
I had a feeling that this trim was the beginning of something bigger for her. I knew that she would be back for more. She wanted to see herself in a different way, she wanted a bigger change, she wanted to make the choice, she wanted to feel big like Eli. A trim was not enough.
The next week, she came over and wanted more hair cut off. (Her parents, by the way, are impressively cool about letting her decide what to do with her own hair, which is an important point that totally drives this whole experience.)
So, we shaved her sides. She spent quite a while examining herself with this new look. She liked the look of herself, liked the experience of transformation. She really liked the larger pile of hair on the ground afterward.
This far into the process of Grayson going full punk rock girl and getting her head shaved, I started thinking about the importance body autonomy for young children.
Body autonomy, as defined by Getting to Calm author and famed clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Kastner, ‘refers to the human right of people to have control over their own bodies. This right grants people self-determination regarding how their body is used or treated, personal boundary inviolability, and choices about who touches one’s body and who doesn’t.
We, as parents, have a responsibility to make sure that our child’s health is maintained , which includes feeding, cleaning and protecting their bodies from harm. But ideally, we explain our reasoning and respect their need for control as much as possible. Even with food, it is our job is to supply healthy food at appropriate times, but it is the child’s job to decide what and how much to ingest. Because health decisions will be mostly non-negotiable, encouraging your child toexplore his or her unique tastes and whims with hair style is an ideal way tosupport your child’s understanding and rights to body autonomy.’
A week later, Grayson told her parents she wanted her hair all gone. Her dad Asa said this about the request: ‘There was a definite ‘oh shit’ moment for me, when I realized that the only reason we weren’t letting her shave it was because she is a girl’ So, being the cool parents that they are, they shaved her head for her. A beautiful example of supported autonomy between a parent and a child.
Dr. Kastner continues…’ I learned early in my adolescent development training to encourage parents to let kids make their own hair decision. To do so is harmless. It’s respectful of their burgeoning identities. Parents control so much of their children’s lives that they should rejoice in having hair as a safe realm in which they can support body autonomy.
Encouraging personal exploration in safe ways builds self-knowledge and competence! As parents, we can sometimes have big opinions about “what looks best”. However, if we dig deeply enough, we know that our notions about physical appearance and hairstyles are culturally constructed, influenced by our identities (not respect for our children’s budding ones), and potentially biased by our needs to bend our children toward conformity.’
Grayson is a great example of a child who has a very healthy sense of body autonomy (and a great sense of style). She rocks her shaved head proudly and beautifully, exploring herself in a creative and expressive way and experimenting with non-conformity. And damn it if we don’t need more non-conformist, think outside-the-boxness in this world.
Dr. Kastner sums it up…..’What’s wrong with conforming, you ask? Naturally, teaching your children to obey many social rules is imperative and your job as a parent! We want them to settle squabbles nonviolently, pick up litter and show kindness. However, when itcomes to their bodies, do you want them to learn to subjugate themselves to others’ opinions about their bodies, desires to touch their bodies, or others’ beliefs about crossing personal boundaries? I don’t think so.
Giving children control of their bodies at a young age will empower them to standup for their rights later in life. You can talk to your toddler or young child about hair, knowing that you are communicating deeper meanings. This is your hair and you get to choose how to wear it. You know best about what feels best to you. The great thing about hair is that if you don’t like it, you can change it!’
Thank you Grayson, for demonstrating this lesson in such a badass little way.