Have you ever had the distinct feeling that your body wasn’t your own? As a kid and as a teenager I was aware that decisions about how I looked and acted were controlled by my father.
I’m not referencing protective parenting where you won’t allow your child to cross a highway because you fear they’ll be struck by a truck. I’m referring to my dad not letting me get my hair cut. If I wanted to cut my hair, I had to get my dads approval first because he liked it long. Even after the major moment, when I was thirteen and finally allowed to cut my long hair, my dad continued to express his disapproval of me cutting my hair short. The shortest I ever had it cut was to my chin but that was still too short.
Throughout high school as my hair was cut, re-grown, and then cut again my dad could never say anything positive about how I looked. He scoffed at me, teased me, laughed at me, or told that he didn’t like my hair cut. I was caught in a trap with my dad. I only felt good or beautiful when my dad thought I was beautiful so I was chasing the balance between my father’s approval and my own. He only seemed capable of praising me when he had made a decision for me. My image wasn’t my own to decide. And when I deviated from a norm that was determined by my father, I was expected to understand that I wouldn’t be supported.
The incident or experience or moment when I was finally allowed to cut my long, long hair was controlled and manipulated by all my dads’ insecurities. But the fact that the decision to cut my hair was not mine to make was upheld by everyone I interacted with. Firstly, my dad took me to the salon, or barber shop, at the truck stop where he visited regularly. I attribute this decision to the comfort and safety he felt there. Major mall salons were spaces where he felt out of place and had no control. It didn’t matter to him how I felt at the truck stop.
I remember being so excited to have my hair cut, but everyone around me had this somber attitude that cutting my hair was the worst decision I could make with my life. If I would only acknowledge my father’s opinion about beauty then I’d be a happy, satisfied child. I remember the stylist repeatedly asking me, “do you really want to do this?” and she actually started crying when she began to cut my hair.
This incident isn’t particularly violent or abusive but it reflects an abuse of power. I was constantly made aware that I should have no control over myself and that my dads’ manipulation of control was normal.