The Internet has been buzzing about 4-year-old Marcella Marino being banned from her school picture over her hairstyle.
Marcella asked her father, who’s a hairstylist, to make her look like a princess for picture day and when she showed up to school with a literal hairbow, which many have likened to a style worn by Lady Gaga, the school wouldn’t allow it. What’s worse is that the popularity of this case has exposed a rather peculiar dress code rule that the Ramsgate Holy Trinity Primary School has: no braids allowed. Marcella’s hair obviously wasn’t braided, which is why her father thought the style he created was okay, but it’s still an unfortunate rule for the school to have, given that style of hair dress is most typically worn by not only little girls but particularly little black girls. But even more so, it begs the question of what message the school is sending about individuality?
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Willow Smith, a girl who doesn’t have to contend with a school’s opinion of her hair, but rather the general public who has been quite vocal about her drastic hair changes. Ever since Willow was no longer able to whip her hair back and forth, her mental stability and the capability of Will and Jada to properly parent her has been called into question, but Will recently explained why he’s given Willow license over her hair. He told Parade magazine:
“We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.”
It’s a radical idea but one that makes a lot of sense. So often we tell girls not to be afraid to stand out, to be bold, and independent, to have a mind of their own, but when it comes to doing just that in terms of personal style, be it clothing or hair, we’re quick to shut them down and demand they conform. In Marcella’s case, the fact that her school appears to be private likely plays into why she was shunned for her hairstyle but that’s not much of an excuse when administrators teach about bravery and being game changers but allow a student’s hairstyle—that their own parent created—to stop them participating in a school activity.
With Willow, some of the concern has been on whether her hair is age appropriate but what makes choosing not to have hair grown? It’s an adult choice that says she truly believes she is not her hair, but isn’t that the message we’ve been trying to ingrain into young girls all along so they don’t feel they have to have their tresses fried, dyed, and laid to the side to be beautiful? In a lot of ways we’re sending girls the same bad messages we claim to be protecting them from when we seek to limit their individual style. If there’s really no harm in being different, then why aren’t they allowed to be?