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Little Girls, Long Hair

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Combing the tangles out of Bisou\’s coat the other day–a process she does not enjoy but for putting up with which she gets small bits of mozzarella–I thought about some hair issues that arose over Christmas concerning my granddaughter, V.

V is in second grade, and has long hair.  Not long enough to sit on, but long enough to cause problems with knots.  The trouble is that V wants long hair, but doesn\’t want to deal with the ensuing tangles–especially the ones at the base of the skull, which are both the biggest and the hardest to reach.

Over the holiday week, everyone in the house–parents, grandparents and aunties–volunteered to very gently brush out V\’s hair.  But she turned us down.  We then suggested that she get it cut–not, God forbid, like a boy\’s or anything–but short enough so that it wouldn\’t hurt so much.  But she wouldn\’t hear of that.

One of the persons offering to help with the detangling was V\’s Auntie A, who, back when she was in second grade, had even longer hair than V, and tons of it.  Like V, A refused to have her hair cut, and turned down my offers to brush it for her.  The summer she was eight years old, A took swimming lessons, and you can imagine the effect of frequent baths in chlorine on already-tangled, sweat-coated hair.

One day, A finally agreed to let me help untangle the mess.  I found the comb with the widest teeth, and went to work as gently as I could, gripping a hank of hair with one hand, holding it away from the scalp to minimize the tugging, while slowly combing out the snags with the other.  But tugging was inevitable, and A put up with it without protest, although under the tent of hair I saw her shoulders shaking–she was crying silently.  I don\’t know which made me feel worse, the fact that I was hurting her, or the knowledge that she was taking responsibility for the pain, and being brave.
But back to V.  Inevitably, her mother had to step in and detangle.  There were tears.  I left the room, unable to watch, and wondered, what is it with little girls and long hair?  Why, in this enlightened age, do they feel that it is worth the pain?  Do they believe that long hair is beautiful, and beauty is worth suffering for?  What do they think would happen to them if they were less beautiful, but more comfortable?

Is this a cultural phenomenon or a predisposition towards masochism embedded in that pair of X chromosomes?

Unlike V, and A before her, poor Bisou isn\’t free to cut her hair, which is why she gets bits of cheese while I work on her mats.

10 Responses

  1. I did the long hair and the short hair as a girl–and the short cuts were always done after frustration with the long hair. Then I'd forget and grow it out again. My children, as well as my siblings and I, suffer from \”rats nest syndrome\” which is a huge frizzy tangle on the back of the head, from hoods and pillows and carseats. Sophia gave up on the idea of long hair at about age 3–hers is so kinky and brittle that it is adorable short and just nasty long. Maeve, however, is determined to have long hair, and she has the hair for it, if not the pain tolerance for tangles…

  2. When I was a little girl I had very long hair which I wore in two long braids which probably accounts for having no memory of the kind of torturous pain described here – also there was a spray called something like 'Hair So New' which helped a lot with tangles – do they not make that anymore?

  3. I too wore braids until puberty, and had little experience of knots. V's mother does use detangler, but there's only so much that products can do. Given V's comment above, however, it may all be moot.

  4. I'm pretty sure it was Johnson & Johnson, because one line of advertising used the phrase \”No more tears,\” like the shampoo.Little girls weren't the only ones; I was an adult when I used it. It was the best thing for detangling teased hairdos, and I used it to set my hair as well. (Oh, for the days when I had decent hair!)

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