The Only Voice That Matters
Tonight I dyed my daughter’s hair purple. She didn’t have to ask for permission, but she did ask for help. She’s 13 and an art student, so she can get away with things like that. Plus, I think one of the perks of having a teen is watching them explore and play in ways you can relate to—unlike, say, trying to play Polly Pocket, or Dora, or whatever it is kids are into these days.
When I was 20, I wanted to dye my hair blond. I remember telling a small group about my plan. I felt shaky because I feared it was a bad idea, but I also secretly hoped they’d tell me it was an excellent one. Someone in the group, a natural blonde piped up, “Oh, you’d look terrible.” Well, that was that. Someone thought I would look terrible, so I never did it.
I do that sometimes. I give weight to outside voices that amplify my inner ones full of fear.
When I first got to college, I enrolled as an English major. I wanted to be a writer. In high school, I fancied myself one—I wrote for the school newspaper, took so many English classes that I received a special certificate, and never skipped a chance to take a creative writing class.
It wasn’t until my second year in that I discovered writing was not for me. It happened in my Southern Literature class. My professor screwed up her eyes, handed me back my paper and said in her thick Southern drawl, “You aren’t in high school anymore.” The next semester I switched majors.
I don’t want that for my kids. I’ll take it a step further and say I don’t want that for anyone. Sure we’ll all experience criticism at some point—we don’t live in bubbles—but we shouldn’t let the voices of others define us.
There’s another important layer to this story. It’s also about identity and power. It’s making sure this message is clear: I do not own my daughter’s body, nor does her father, nor does anyone other than herself. As a parent, I can advise what I think will keep her safe and healthy, but ultimately she is the one in control. I want her to understand and respect that power.
I tell her that as I work the dye into her hair. And while I deeply believe what I’m saying, sometimes I wonder if I’m saying too much. As a parent, even as a confident one, I can’t seem to shake the worry entirely. It’s a big thing to raise another human being.
Last month, I did something I’ve wanted to do for nearly two decades now. I finally went blond and not just blond, but white-blond. I didn’t ask for anyone’s permission, although I did call on a friend for support (I felt myself chickening out and knew she’d tell me I needed to go for it). For something as trivial as hair color, for me, there was some strong symbolism—I was tired of holding onto other people’s thoughts. I needed to make room for my own.
And my daughter needs to make room for her own thoughts too. Her thinking about going purple? She laughed and said in an excited voice, “I love it!”
That’s the only voice that matters.