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The Tortoise and the Hair: One Mother's Attempt to Loosen The Reins

Posted by Elisa Taub
The Tortoise and the Hair: One Mother's Attempt to Loosen The Reins

As I drove toward the salon I started to panic. What had I agreed to? Why had I suddenly had a change of heart? What message did this send? For the love of g-d, what was I thinking?

I had just dropped my daughter off at the hair salon to get low-lights in her hair. My almost 15 year old daughter. Getting her hair dyed. I felt like I had let down the sisterhood of mothers, the whole history of feminism, and quite frankly even Gloria Steinem herself (although I'm pretty sure she too dyes her hair).

You see before today I was a mother who drew the line in the sand when it came to letting my daughter alter her image. I didn't let her blow dry her hair until she was 12. I didn't allow her to wear black nail polish until she was 13. I never let her use a straightening iron until she was 14. And I certainly wouldn't let her highlight her hair. I didn't see the point. She was beautiful the way she was, without all the accoutrements.

I was adamant in my stance that letting her dabble in the world of altered states would send her the wrong message: That she wasn't good enough the way she was. That she needed to change. No, I wanted my daughter to be comfortable about who she was. You know the whole "don't judge a book by its cover." It's what inside that counts.

But as she soon as she saw that first glimmer of make-up in my drawer, my daughter fell in love with all things beauty. And I mean LOVE in all caps.

What started out as a little clear lip gloss and light pink polish for dress up when she was in nursery school, turned into light lipstick and tasteful pearly eye shadow worn only in the house in grade school, and then quickly moved into a tasteful bit of blush, eye shadow and mascara for special occasions in middle school. As she entered high school we were talking full blown makeovers.

And to my surprise, the girl actually had talent. While I sometimes still yell as she leaves for school, that a smoky eye is only appropriate for evening, and am still convinced when a friend stops me at a bar-mitzvah to say she looks gorgeous it is code word for" too much make-up/what were you thinking", for the most part she masterfully applies the latest and greatest of beauty products for a stunning finish.

Not a mother's worst nightmare I know, but still I worry.

It was as if that first lip gloss was a gateway drug that led her to this moment of dying her hair, and then whatever else comes after that... which I know is the attention of male admirers.

Yes, that is what I fear. Rational or not. That same fear that led to the knock-down drag-out fight in the Abercrombie dressing room about he short shorts. (They didn't pass the bend test. End of story.) And in this day and age is it not an unfounded fear?

I don't want my daughter to appear older than she is, or too sexy or even give anyone a passing thought that she is trying to say come hither. Not only do men look, but people talk. Mothers. Other girls. And in their closed little teenage worlds your good name is all a teenager really has. I don't want her to lose that.

So I worry. Just whom is she changing the color of her hair for? Herself? Boys? Maybe both.

Of course, the truth is that at some level that is exactly what is happening here. What teenage girl doesn't want to look attractive to the boys in her class? Of course she will eventually attract one or two, carry on a relationship and someday even marry. Intellectually I know this. Emotionally, well I guess I'm just not ready.

So when she came to me and asked to add darker lowlights to her naturally beautiful, honey kissed hair, I hesitated at first. Why do you want to darken your hair? What's wrong with the color now? Your not going to look goth are you? Who else has their hair like that? And other ridiculous questions came sputtering out of my mouth. And then just as quickly as I had passed judgment, I gave her the go ahead.

And why shouldn't I have. It wasn't as if she was doing something drastic. Going blonde. Or purple. She did come to me and ask permission, and she was getting it done in a reputable salon. No "Surprise! Look what we did in so and so's bathroom last night." I keep thinking of the opening scenes in the My So Called Life TV pilot when Angela dyes her hair red at her friends house and then shows up at dinner shocking her family. That wasn't the story here.

Intellectually I know that she is expressing herself in a safe and personal way. Like the crazy purple straight legs jeans I used to wear, or the thrift shop clothing my parents never even reacted to. We've all heard it before: the teen years are a time of exploration. A time to try some things on and see if you like them... blah, blah, blah.

Making matter worse, I have come to realize that my constant resistance is actually sending my daughter a dangerous message. My daughter is in fact, quite beautiful. But by constantly picking at the way she does her make-up and the way she dresses, I am not allowing her to embrace her own beauty. Instead, I am actually telling her she should hide behind it, that there is something wrong with it. This is the exact opposite of what I had intended.

But the truth is, I still wish I hadn't let her dye her hair. I know that by doing so, I am starting in motion that which I will not be able stop -- the slow and painful (for me) process of handing over the reins of her life. I'm the one who wants to slow down the inevitable... she just wants to add a little color to her hair.