It makes me weep. Despite all my best efforts, despite my deliberate releasing of my own long-held ideas of beauty in conformity, despite our great variety of friends who model a range of beauty styles with confidence, despite all this — one of my girls is shackling herself with poor self-image.

In the past, Calista hasn’t cared much about what her hair looked. She’s been happy to cut it for herself when she felt it was getting too long, and she certainly didn’t care what others thought about her natural hair’s state! In short, she wasn’t affected by others’ opinions and simply lived life as a happy little girl.

Calista, 5yo, September 2013
Last September when she first got her rat Silver, Calista's hair was styled with a plain cut. She has always hated having it brushed and hadn't yet worked out how to reach around to the back of her head to detangle the dreadlocks that were forming.

A win-win solution for us all was to separate her hair into sections and encourage it into dreadlocks.

And then it started. She started listening to what others thought. A friend told Calista that she didn’t need to have her hair separated in order for it to form dreadlocks (true, but it looks more messy), so Calista removed the elastics. But she still didn’t want to brush it.

My main issue with Calista’s hair really has nothing to do with her. It’s always what others think — of her, of me as her mother, of the perception of being neglectful. In this matter — society’s idea of acceptable beauty — I am clearly still lacking the self-confidence to stand up for my children’s autonomy without caving in to peer pressure.

So I talked with Cali about her hair. I asked her if I could “fix” it. It took about a month of gentle nagging, but then she acquiesced.

Calista with dreadlocks, October 2013
And with her permission, I divided up the hair again and wrapped it so it could dread "neatly".

I was happy. She was happy. Life went on.

When we were at the Rainbow Gathering in Tasmania this February, I was serving at the food circle when two separate people gave me the heads-up that Brioni had cut Calista’s hair. Mentally prepared, when I saw Calista, I greeted her with love and affection and remarked positively on her new style.

Calista, King and Aisha, Rainbow Gathering, Tasmania, February 2014
All of a sudden, Calista's hair was *very* short. But she has such a cute face that the pixie-cut suits her well, and I felt delighted that our hair-brushing conversations were over.

Over the last months, as Calista’s hair has gotten longer again, I’ve fallen back into the pattern of subtle nagging. I ask if I can cut it again, I ask her if I can brush it, I ask her when she’s last brushed it, and I offer her hats to hide the mess.

Then another — older — girl made particularly cruel remarks about Calista’s hair. In response, Cali started hiding behind hats and hoods, allowing only her family and close friends to see her with her head uncovered.

Calista, 6yo, July 2014
Calista feels happiest now when her head is covered... Thank God it's wintertime!

My heart has broken for her. She’s just six!

When I started writing this post about Calista’s hair and her sudden awareness and self-consciousness around it, I thought I was detailing how one jealous girl’s remark about Calista’s mid-length hair — how it’s an ugly cut and makes her look like a boy — could transform a bright six-year-old into an image-obsessed shadow.

However, in detailing the chronology of events, I’m suddenly aware of my own part in Calista’s formation of her opinion that her hair isn’t good enough! Ugh! I have been subtly poisoning her against herself! I have been teaching her and her sisters that others’ opinions are more important than one’s own self-esteem!

So, my six-year-old has a poor self-image. I’m aware of this now. I’m going to stop blaming the little girls who made the unkind remarks that contributed to Calista’s poor opinion of herself. I’m going to start listening once again to what I’m saying and examine my own actions around my children — especially as I talk about the girls to others.

In this I am fully culpable. Let me continue to wake up to my own insecurities before I inadvertently pass others on to my daughters.

I hope it’s not too late. By changing myself now, perhaps I can redeem Calista’s self-worth and build her back up into the extraordinarily happy-go-lucky fairy she has previously been. I must be the change I wish to see in her.