Comments About Kids’ Appearances

July 19th, 2010 by Dionna | 43 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family

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Kieran's curls pre-cut

We cut Kieran’s hair last weekend.

Kieran’s beautiful, long curls laid scattered around the stylist’s feet, but his eyes still lit up my heart when he peeked at me from the mirror.

Kieran’s dishwater blond hair had never met a pair of scissors before last week, when I gave him a tiny trim to get him ready for the stylist. See, we decided early in Kieran’s life to do something unconventional: we decided to let Kieran choose when he would get his first haircut.

Kieran loved his hair as much as I did. He didn’t know that boys are “supposed to” have short hair, and girls are “supposed to” have long hair. He hasn’t been indoctrinated into traditional gender stereotypes.

Hopefully, he wasn’t aware of the remarks people made about him to me.

“Oh look, he has a mullet!”

“Aw, but he looks like a little girl!”

When are you going to cut that boy’s hair?!”

Remarks like that made me experience a range of emotions. On one hand I just didn’t care. Kieran, Tom, and I were all happy with the way he looked. We couldn’t imagine his hair being any different. On the other hand, these remarks are about my child. Why does he need to fit into some neat little stereotyped box at the age of two?! Do parents of girls with short hair frequently get “gee, she looks like a boy” comments?

As a girl raised in the U.S., I have had it drilled into me from an early age that boys should be handsome and girls should be pretty. There are certain codes and expectations that we all must follow to “fit in.” Color outside the gender lines and you run the risk of being shunned.

But when did it become socially acceptable to make flippant remarks about a child’s appearance? Especially when that child is within earshot. Is that the result of the pervasive societal attitude that kids don’t matter? That they aren’t “smart” enough to figure out that we are talking about them? Do people not think that kids are listening? Are kids’ feelings that unimportant?1

And, for that matter, is it socially acceptable to walk up to an adult (stranger or not) and say “haha, you have a mullet”?

My point, I think, is fourfold:

1) Think before you speak: don’t make comments about the way people look, regardless of whether that person is 2, 25, or 75.2 It’s rude, and it’s probably not your place.

2) Don’t get stuck in gender stereotypes: whether it’s a girl wearing blue, a boy wearing pink, a girl in overalls, a boy in a skirt, a girl with a shaved head, or a boy with a ponytail, who cares?! We are all people. We are all worthy of love, no matter how we dress, how we style our hair, or what clothes we put on our bodies.

3) Realize that kids are people too: kids can make choices about their own bodies. Kids can hear and understand what you are saying about them. Kids are people. Treat them as such please.

4) Break free of what society dictates is “pretty”: I know I’m not the only one who rolls my eyes at the stereotypical “pretty” image. If you don’t like the constraints, break free!3

(Warning: she uses the “F” word around the 2:47 mark, otherwise it’s safe for work)

2010-07-18 04

A side view of the new surfer 'do

Back to Kieran’s hair:

So, to everyone who told me my kid’s hair looked funny: I didn’t care what you thought. Yes, it might have hurt a little because you were making a comment about my child (and every parent knows that anytime our child is hurt or made fun of, it hurts us too). And yes, it made me angry if you said it around him like he was deaf or dumb. He can hear you, and he’s pretty flippin’ bright.

But we didn’t cut it because of anyone’s comments. We cut it because he asked us to. Before that? Before that he was fine with it. And Tom and I were fine with it. We thought he was beautiful.

I miss his hair, even though I really like his new hair.

Yes, it’s just hair. I realize that. But I feel like these comments, these comments about a child’s skin-deep appearance, are just a symptom of something deeper in society, something about our attitude towards kids. Or our shallowness about what is “pretty.” And it makes me sad. And maybe a little angry.

2010-07-18 03

He's cute no matter what!

  1. Think I’m exaggerating? Read this amazing “Adult Privilege Checklist,” courtesy of Shut Up, Sit Down. Thank you Kelly of for pointing me in that direction.
  2. I can’t tell you how many nasty comments I edited or deleted on the post about Lisa Rollins’ remarks on breastfeeding. Listen, if you are upset about the fact that Rollins didn’t want to see a breastfeeding mother, then don’t be hypocritical and talk about her appearance. What does it matter what she looks like?
  3. For more along this line of thought, read “I Am Fat” by Raising Boychick. Actually, many of the posts in her “body” or “gender” categories are wonderful and worth a read.

43 Responses to:
"Comments About Kids’ Appearances"

  1. the Grumbles   thegrumbles

    to answer your question– i know several parents of little girls whose hair hasn’t grown in yet and YES, they get comments like that but about being a boy.

    i don’t know why people feel that they can come up and say things like this just because it’s a child. it all comes back to a lack of respect for children. they have feelings and they can hear you!!

    i’m with you, it makes me sad, and angry.

  2. I think its societal conditioning that 1. we must categorize people and label them so that we know where we stand (competition) and 2. children aren’t actually considered people – they are more like property and can therefore be talked about like chattle in their own presence.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Just so everyone knows, I’m not upset with the people who mistakenly called Kieran a girl – we were used to those mistakes and they didn’t bother us. I do agree with you – kids are treated like property in many ways.

  3. My oldest gets comments sometimes. He’s almost eight and has long-ish hair. We let him decide how he wants his hair – so long as he washes and brushes it. Strangers (and our extended family even) feel like they have the right to make flippant comments about the length of his hair and his curls. I’ll never understand it.

    I’m proud of my guy, though. He doesn’t let it bother him. He knows what he wants and is willing to ignore the rabble.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      That is *awesome* that your son ignores the comments – that just shows you have done a wonderful job of showing him that he is worthy of love and respect because of his insides, not his outside.

    • Melody

      Both my boys have long-er hair. I am so tired of the comments! I am with you on as long as they wash it and keep it brushed, it is their hair.

  4. So, I know this isn’t what you were going for but…OMG HE’S SO CUTE WITH THAT HAIRCUT.

    But that does not by any means mean that he wasn’t OMG SO CUTE BEFORE THAT HAIRCUT.

  5. Deb   ScienceMum

    My girls have never had a haircut at 2 and 4. One of the eldest’s first words was ‘hair,’ because just about everyone who saw her would say “What beautiful curly hair!” It was nice, but it shows how aware kids are of what’s going on around them – they hear what adults say about them even if they don’t seem to be paying attention.
    I’m quite sad that my eldest has decided ‘girls have long hair and boys have short hair.’ I know she’s just going by what she sees around her and generalising a rule, which is a good thing, but I can’t help pointing out all the exceptions to her whenever I see one!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Wow – your story is a case in point of how much kids hear when we are talking “over” them. The reason we got Kieran’s hair cut is because he’d been talking for weeks about getting it “short like papa’s.” I’m not sure if he is starting to internalize the general rule, or whether he’s just comparing himself to his male role model. Either way, we gave it some time to simmer to make sure that’s what he really wanted. (Also, we did take him to the salon once before, but due to a variety of circumstances, including him saying “no! no! I don’t want it cut!” we didn’t do it that first time.)

      • CodeNamePapa   CodeNamePapa

        I think part of it was he was getting tired of hair in his eyes when we were hitting wiffleballs… he’d try to focus and the wind would blow hair in his eyes, etc.

  6. janetlansbury   janetlansbury

    Dionna, thanks for this, you make some excellent points!

    Sad that our children have to be exposed to people who focus on appearances, but, thankfully, we are the ones with the power to teach our children (through modeling) that “outsides” don’t matter.

    The bigger issue is the lack of respect for babies. Children (especially pre-verbal ones) are underestimated all the time. Even the youngest infants are fully aware that they are being talked about. I’m always amazed when the mother of a 7 or 8 month old child talks about an issue she is having with sleep (or whatever) in my parent/infant classes, and the baby stops whatever he or she is doing and looks at me! If the parent forgets to include the baby, I say, “Your mom is telling me about the way you woke up many times last night.”

    We encourage parents not to ‘talk over’ babies…it’s impolite. Even worse is announcing to everyone around that there’s a really bad smell and then grabbing a look the baby’s diaper! Can you imagine treating another adult (or even an older child) that way? And that is what I believe we must ALWAYS ask ourselves, from our baby’s birth onwards. If we want our children to grow to respect us and be respectful of others, we have to initiate that respect.

    A side note: Everyone thought my daughters WERE boys when they were infants, especially the one who didn’t have much hair. When I politely corrected people they would say, “Oh, well the haircut.” (As if I’d cut her hair!) It never bothered me…I found it amusing.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Janet – exactly! Such wonderful points, and you are so right – babies are completely aware of when we are talking about them. They absorb so much more than we give them credit for.

  7. Lis

    I love that you let him choose when to cut his hair.
    My 3 year old has not as yet had a hair cut… except for the one his sister gave him when he was 18 months old :/

    Your post reminded me of a song that I love, though. Ben Lee – Boy With a Barbie.

    “boys with their barbies, and girls with toy armies
    we don’t have to play by their rules”

    “so let them wear that dress, let them make that mess
    let them take that fall, let them kick that ball
    and thanks to the ones that tried to stop my fun
    you made me what I am, you made me what I am
    you made me a man”

  8. Great post, Dionna. We’ve had comments (mostly from male family members but a couple from strangers) about letting Everett paint his toe nails, carry a purse or a baby doll, etc. I was amazed at how many people had issues with simple things like that. Ugh! The societal pressure to fit into some gender box is enraging.

    I have to say I am mostly devastated by the role that society and clothing corporations have pushed on young girls. They are treated like giant Barbie Dolls or mini-teenagers with expendable incomes. As a teacher I constantly had girls as young as 6 walk in my art room with tiny skirts and tee shirts labeled, “Brat” “Princess” or worse. It’s disgusting and I am horrified that when (crossing fingers) I have a little girl she will be pulled into the same trap.

    P.S. Love the poetry slam!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Acacia I am in complete agreement with you re: little girls’ clothing. At the kids’ salon we took Kieran to, there was a bikini being sold for babies/toddlers. It was disgusting, and I said so to the clerk. Hey! Let’s sexualize our 2 year olds – great idea. (sigh)

      • Rebecca

        Amelia has never had a once piece swimming suit, its a real nightmare to try and take a small girl to the bathroom in a one piece…even now, it is a challenge to keep her swimming suit off the disgusting bathroom floor, and she only has to pull down the bottom part.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        Maybe I should specify that the bikini was a string bikini, it barely covered the toddler’s nipples in the picture, it was tied with strings at the bottom, and it was named something like “the teeny tiny baby bikini” or something.
        A string bikini on a grown woman is worn to accentuate certain parts of her anatomy.

        I think there are two piece swimsuits that are not made to sexualize our children, and I think that there are two piece swimsuits that are made to do so.

  9. Tanya

    Going outside the box a bit. Having been made fun of as a kid, where do you think the other kids learned it? From their parents. Children are taught to judge on appearance and that it is funny to make fun of others who do not fit in the box. I myself have done it as well. Of course, it is a reflection on our society, love it or hate it, that we do look first to appearance. This does not make it right, and is oftentimes very hurtful, to the kids, parents, and family. Props out to you Dionna for teaching your child self confidence! He will know that it does not matter how others perceive him, as long as he is happy!

  10. I let my daughter make the decision about cutting her hair, but she asked for a hair cut much earlier than most kids. For me, appearance is somewhere after functionality so we spent a lot of time talking about how if we cut her hair we won’t have to brush out the horrible tangles anymore. Hair brushing had become a rather nightmareish experience for us. So I didn’t insist, but I did push her in that direction. I don’t think that length of hair matters much but I do think that ongoing pain and inconvenience matter a lot. If your kid has easy to brush/not super tangly hair then I don’t see why cutting it is a big deal. I’ve had people tell me, “I can’t believe you cut her hair. How could you do that to a little girl.” Uhm, because her hair kinda sucks and she was miserable dealing with it? Whereas we have friends where their 8 year old son has never had a hair cut. He has super straight silky hair and the knots fall out pretty much on their own. Why should he have to cut his?

    People have dumb priorities. (In my oh so judgmental opinion. ;) )

    • Rebecca

      This is exactly the reason my little girl has short hair. SOO much easier. such a nightmare trying to get the tangles out…and get it out of her face. We are all so much happier now with it short (we did get one question about whether or not we intended to get it cut off or if we had a “haircut” that led to a haircut…)

  11. Heather   xakana

    If you think children are the only ones who get comments, you’re very wrong. I actually started shouting at one asshole who made “get a haircut, hippie!” comments at Brandon. He thought he was funny. He wasn’t. And he probably thought I had no sense of humor after that–I don’t care. I didn’t want someone who wasn’t sleeping with him to feel they had ANY right to comment on what his hair looks like. I HATE SHORT HAIR ON MEN (not all, but as a rule of thumb, I am NOT ATTRACTED TO men with short hair and this was MY husband, NOT his). Hair is THAT important to me in the scheme of what I find attractive. Brandon can pull out the hair tie and I want to jump him, just because voila, he has all that gorgeous hair.

    I hate that men are bullied out of their longer hair by idiots who think that we’re still in Rome.

    Personally, I’m against cutting kids’ hair until it’s had the chance to reach its maximum length (or at least age 5-6), because once it’s cut, it changes the texture and with some kids, particularly girls, that ruins their hair if they choose to grow it out later in life. Lilly asks for haircuts–but she doesn’t want her hair shorter. She doesn’t understand that a hair cut means your hair gets shorter. She keeps asking me to “get a hair cut to make [my] hair longer.” She doesn’t like my short hair, lol (since they stopped pulling it as soon as I cut it, I can’t say I have anything but positive feelings for it, LOL). OTOH, I think little kids with nifty haircuts (mohawks, etc.) look awesome and I’d be hard pressed to say no to a creative hairstyle like that (what? you’ve never seen a hypocrite before? ;) ).

    And yes, Kieran is adorable. His hair looks like Naomi’s now and just looks like it hasn’t grown in more than that (I’m still jealous of all the people with toddlers who have hair longer than 2-3″).

  12. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I cut my son’s hair at 9 months because he had these really long, straight bangs. They didn’t just get in his eyes, they made it all the way down to his nose and they got snotty and it was gross. When this happened to my daughter, I just used a hair clip. With my son, I balked at that. Although part of it was that he was much younger when his hair got long, and I was a little bit worried about a baby with a hair clip / choking hazard.

    Anyways, I’ve wrestled with this extensively. I felt sad when the baby curls were gone. But I also kind of like that I don’t have to deal with societal issues surrounding my son’s hair. I certainly feel like it’s up to us as a family to make this decision, and no one else’s business. But I don’t exactly have the guts to totally buck convention, either. I feel so much conflict about this, I can’t even say.

  13. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    I get comments frequently about my son, and so far they are all things like “aww he looks like the gerber baby!”, but I still dislike the emphasis on physical appearance. Sure my baby currently fits the mold of what people think makes a “cute” baby. But that’s not what’s great about him or what his self-worth should be based on. It’s frustrating that people focus so much on appearances of kids instead of their character and personality.

    • Amber   unlikelymama

      While I think my baby is adorable, of course…we all do about our own, I will admit that she is one of those that people come up and comment about. Well meaning, positive comments, but always about her looks. While I wouldn’t wish for an “ugly baby” (not that one exists) but I do wish that people wouldn’t focus so closely on the physical. My IL’s have broken apart her features since day one, and I often worry that they wouldn’t love her as much if she wasn’t traditionally “cute”.

  14. dustyz

    or… let’s teach our kids (and ourselves) not to care what others think. ultimately what ‘those people’ say is simply a reflection of their own feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, conditioning, etc. they have nothing whatsoever to do with your child, or your child’s hair or whether the boy is wearing pink or the girl wearing blue.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I agree, and we will do that. That doesn’t excuse people from making rude remarks.

      • dustyz

        no excuses for them at all. rude is rude.
        but we also can’t change their ways or waste anytime trying.

      • Dionna   CodeNameMama

        I do not agree that people are incapable of changing. I changed immensely after having a child – why can’t we expect good things out of others?

        I write this whole blog with the thought that someone, somewhere – who was maybe thinking of circumcising, or maybe thinking of not trying breastfeeding, or who regrets the fact that they yell too much – maybe I can plant the seed that helps them change their way of thinking, if that’s what they are looking for.

        It would be a sad world if no one was capable of change!

  15. Monty

    Ok sis he looks good, now quit using past tense on him “We thought he was beautiful” I know that you know he is beautiful and so do we. As I know he is your life do to the nature of how long it took for you. Love you

  16. This all rings very true for me. We didn’t cut our little boys hair until he was about two and we got a lot of comments about it, and questions about when we would cut it. I give his fringe a little trim when I need to but other than that it is fairly free form and longish ‘for a boy’. He really dislikes getting a hair cut, and I love his soft untrimmed hair, so we are all happy. The comments get can be what they are.

    Also, reading your post reminded me of taking my few weeks old daughter to a client meeting (brief sporadic work continued from home). I had her dressed in a little blue onesie with a little bear or something on her chest. Of course I thought she was gorgeuos and was pertty happy in those early days to have a clean healthy baby out and about at a work thing. A woman there almost aggresively asked me “why do you have her dressed in blue!?’ I was taken aback by the strength of her ‘question’. Those stereotypes run deep for many people.

  17. Jen   diplomom08

    Aw, I think he’s adorable in both photos. If Nicholas had curly hair, I would probably not have cut it right away (10 months)…but we do a trim every few months as otherwise it just gets terribly shaggy and in his eyes..he doesn’t like barrettes (trust me, his sisters have tried), though pink skirts are just fine and he adores playing Barbies/dolls with them as much as he likes to play with trucks and trains or playing with whatever is available outside.

    My father-in-law started to criticize the doll playing when we visited recently, and I just shot him a look. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, seemed to love it and just glared at my FIL. Never heard another word after that!

  18. The haircut looks cute. Kind of reminds me of my nephew Niklas. He’s 11 now. Last year, he went through a spell where he was growing his hair out. My sister allowed him to do so. He kind of looked like a surfer dude last summer, as he was so tan and his hair was so sunbleached. It was cute. I write my grandma in Omaha frequently, and I sent her some pictures of some of my nieces and nephews from a family gathering we had. She wrote back and asked me, “Who is the girl in the picture with Henry?” (Henry is my other nephew, he’s the same age as Niklas.) I had to write my grandma back and tell her it was Niklas in that picture. She never said anything else about it, my guess is she was probably embarrassed… honestly I felt kind of bad having to correct her! I also never told my sister that my grandma thought Niklas looked like a girl. It was an innocent enough mistake, she’s older and doesn’t see all of us all that often. Eventually, on his own accord, Niklas decided to cut the hair off. He looked adorable either way, but sometimes there’s nothing like a fresh cut to highlight some of those facial features.

    I didn’t really have a point to my story, except that my sister probably could relate to you with some of the comments she got about Nik’s hair (even though towards the end, I think she was starting to hate the hair too!). 2 or 10, she let him make his own choices though.

  19. dustyz

    if you’re referring to me as one of the people who thinks that others are incapable of change, you’re wrong. people can change. i believe that too.

    i was simply commenting on the the context in which the issues of gender stereotyping arose (ie. from strangers, possibly on the street). if you go around trying to change people on the go, every time someone has a comment, etc. i feel it’s a waste of your valuable time. that’s all i was saying.

    the differences we have in this world (individually in our society) act like magnets and as soon as we spend a little too much time “fighting” the wrongs we perceive, we often just end up repelling them further from the truth we know. which is why it’s often the best course to simply do the best we can and hope that our example inspires others toward the change we believe in. and best presented with a smile and acceptance of their “ways”, firstly, before moving onto trying to convince them that they are wrong. otherwise conflict arises and then everything breaks down and sides become entrenched. which is what we see out there politically, morally and religiously.

    it’s commendable to feel strongly about subjects like circumcision, breastfeeding, etc. and it’s important that the debates be heard. i’m on your side. but for the most part all i see out there are “sides” and not dialogue. it’s the dialogue, in the right context, at the right time, that brings about change. without judgement.

    just look at gun law debate in the US for a perfect example! no dialogue, just stereotypes, judgement, anger, distrusts, etc.

    i realize that is a hyper-stereotype of what we’re discussing, but it illustrates my point.

    here’s to more breastfeeding (in public), less circumcision and good parenting!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Good – I’m glad I misread your comment :)
      I definitely don’t try to change people on the go. That would be setting me up for some futile arguments ;) No, I have said something to the effect of “we haven’t cut it, we like his hair!” in order to stop further comments.

    • rebecca

      Very important reminder that change is only affected by starting where others are not expecting them to start where you are. I they were where you are, then you would not feel the need for change them.

  20. Brooke

    We have been dealing with this issue for the last 17 months (since my son was born). He has the most beautiful, huge eyes and eyelashes so everyone assumes he’s a girl….?! Seriously, it blows my mind. Do boys not have eyes? Or eyelashes? We also will not be cutting his hair until he asks for it. He now has a long, curly mullet. I can’t get over how many people have asked when I’m going to cut his hair. Honestly, I struggle a bit with what to say. I stuggle for me and I struggle for my son – I prefer to just let it slide rather than have him pick up that is hair is an ‘issue’ for some people. I prefer to say ‘we’re getting it cut after winter’ than stand around having an actual conversation about it. I do struggle with not standing up for my decision though. I do find it hard raising my son to shun (or at least question) gender stereotypes in our society.

    Also, I never thought about circumcision, we breastfeed and I try so hard not to yell….but I am someone, somewhere (a long way away!) who reads your blog and feels a whole lot less isolated (because of my parenting choices) as a result.

    Apologies for the massive ramble!!

  21. To me the shallowness of “pretty” is besides the point. I just hate that our culture seems to think it’s okay to make comments like that right in front of a child, or even to a child, as if they had no feelings or didn’t count. Most people who make those comments would likely never say that to another adult! Just shows how little respect we have for children in our society.

  22. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    That video brought tears to my eyes. What a powerful piece!

    I love that you let Kieran decide when to cut his hair, and it’s atrocious that people said things about him within his hearing. I hate when people do that to Mikko, like telling him he must have said he wanted the blue balloon, not the pink balloon, because pink is for girls, or other aggravating nonsense like that. C’mon, people, he’ll have plenty of time to be indoctrinated into the patriarchy later. (Or, you know, never, let’s hope!) Gah.

    I have mixed feelings about my cutting of Mikko’s curls. Just from a purely selfish gooey-mother perspective, I love love love them and hate to see any of them fall. From a practical standpoint, his cowlicks make it grow straight into his eyes, and it bothers him after awhile. But when I cut it, and it looks like such a boyish cut, I wonder how much I’m giving in to the culture that says short hair is for boys, because I know with a girl I’d find a way to let it grow long. It’s complicated, isn’t it?

    Anyway, Kieran’s absolutely cute either way! I hope he continues to make his own strong-hearted decisions on his appearance and ignore the hecklers. I know I get so irritated with my mother every time she makes a comment on someone’s appearance, a snide, “Oh, that‘s attractive” about someone in a goth get-up, or wearing a particularly bright color, or wearing sandals with socks, or whatever it is that offends her at that moment. I just can’t believe her view of the world is, Everything would be so much better if we all looked the same (i.e., like her). I love how different everyone is, and how much variety there is. I wish she could love it, too.

  23. Annie @ PhD in Parenting   phdinparenting

    I had short hair as a girl and people used to ask me: “Are you a boy or a girl?”. It does go both ways and it hurts both ways. Gender stereotypes and pigeonholing isn’t helpful to girls or boys.

  24. jackiesayshuh

    my middle daughter has thyroid problem that made her gain weight rather quickly between the age of 7 and 8 she is now nine and people would come up to us and say hurtful things because she didn’t fit into there idea of what was pretty and i don’t think a one of them realized she could hear them and she was far from a toddler.

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