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.