My Parents Are Strict, but I’m Grateful They Gave Me Free Rein With My Hair – POPSUGAR Australia
My Parents Are Strict, but I’m Grateful They Gave Me Free Rein With My Hair – POPSUGAR Australia

“You didn’t ask for my permission.”

I can’t remember if this was his reaction when I got bangs, dyed my hair red, or chopped off years of hair growth in one fell swoop, but I remember hearing this from one of my old boyfriends after returning to our apartment post-salon. Over the course of our nearly four-year relationship, he succeeded in controlling me in many ways, but I was always in control of my hair. I thank my parents for that.

They were strict about most things: I wasn’t allowed to wear bikinis, watch Harry Potter movies and “Lizzie McGuire,” listen to my Mariah Carey cassette tape, or have a boyfriend until I turned 17. I was taught to ask, “May I be excused?,” before leaving the supper table. I attended church every time the doors were open. My chores were many, and my allowance was nonexistent. My showers were timed to prevent water waste. My phone calls were timed, too. During my teen years, my dad found a few classic-rock CDs in my car, and he was so upset about it that he didn’t talk to me for two weeks. But when it came to my hair, my parents only asked that I keep it clean and combed.

As a blue-collar, Christian family living in Missouri’s corner of the Lower Mississippi Delta region – a place where tradition and conservative values reign supreme – my parents’ brand of strictness wasn’t uncommon. The area was, and still is, a devout sector of the Bible Belt. Yet despite being dedicated followers of a religion that says a woman’s glory is in her hair, my parents never seemed to mind when I wanted to cut my hair short. One of my earliest memories includes me cutting my own hair with kitchen scissors and not getting in trouble for it. When I was looking for photos to accompany this essay, I realized I had short hair for most of my childhood. I hadn’t thought about it much before, and I suppose that’s because my parents never made a big deal about my preference for short bobs and pixie cuts.

Paying for them was my responsibility, but hair dye, hair products, and styling tools weren’t an issue for my parents, either. I dyed my hair red, yellow, and black. (I searched and searched for photos of my black hair with no luck – sadly, black hair dye didn’t last very long on my naturally blond hair.) I had highlights and lowlights, sometimes simultaneously. I experimented with flat irons, curling irons, crimping irons, and a wide variety of gels, mousses, sprays, and leave-in conditioners.

As a teenager living in a pre-Instagram, pre-smartphone, pre-WiFi world, I spent hours in the magazine section of my local Walmart, happily researching hair-care tips and product recommendations before making my way to the health and beauty aisle.

The term “bodily autonomy” didn’t enter my vocabulary until I reached my 20s. When I was a kid, the concept wasn’t championed in mainstream culture like it is now, and it certainly wasn’t a topic my youth pastors covered. In fact, the churches I attended were big proponents of purity culture, which actively teaches young people that their bodies belong to God and their future spouses – not to themselves. I can’t remember my parents ever discussing bodily autonomy with me either, but they knew what they were doing when they allowed me total control over my hair.

I recently asked them about it, and they said they gave me free rein with my hair because “we thought that was your choice.” In the most holistic way, they did teach me about bodily autonomy, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that.

Although I’ve lived in the Bible Belt for most of my life, I stopped attending church as soon as I moved out of my parents’ house. I came out of the bisexual closet in my mid-20s, I usually vote for Democrats, and I own multiple bikinis. As an adult, I don’t share most of my parents’ political and religious views, but I’m happy to say I’ve never let go of what they taught me about being in charge of my hair.

Several years ago – after ending my relationship with the controlling boyfriend I mentioned earlier – I dated a guy who hinted that he didn’t want me to cut my long hair shorter than shoulder length. A few days later, I got a chin-length bob. In 2021, I realized I hadn’t gotten bangs in years – even though I love them – because someone once told me they made me look unattractive. I got bangs a few days later.

I’m fortunate to have found a talented hairdresser who isn’t afraid to give me bold, short hairstyles – which isn’t a given in my region. She always acts excited to see me. “You’re my only client who ever wants to do anything fun!” she often tells me, lamenting the fact that most of the women she works with repeatedly request “long layers.” I scheduled a haircut with her the other day, and I can hardly wait to see what we do next.

Elizabeth enochs

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