April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Last Friday I accidentally gave my daughter a haircut. Well, the haircut itself wasn’t an accident. My now 5-year-old daughter had very long hair and showers — which led to brushing her hair — often then resulted in a cry-fest because of the inevitable knots. We tried conditioner. We tried detangling spray. Nothing worked. And so we talked for a while about a haircut and finally we both decided let’s go for it.

I put her hair in a ponytail and began to cut. But you see, I’m not a haircut aficionado. So while I intended to cut off two-three inches, off came six. Whoops. And then there was the uneven aspect. So I snipped a bit more and my mom, who cut my hair for almost all of my life, swooped in to fix it yet again.

What this experience taught me is, a) don’t take on a haircut if you don’t actually know what you’re doing, b) my daughter does not yet have an understanding of body esteem.

Body esteem can be loosely translated as how we think and feel about our bodies. It is regularly confused with confidence as our current societal messages tend to indicate that how we feel about how we look will make our self-esteem greater; this could not be further from the truth.

Body esteem exists, it is valid and real; we can likely all relate to a feeling of confidence in how we look, perhaps adding a bounce in our step. But this does not in any way make us confident in who we are at our core. The pursuit of an idealized appearance and the hope that this will “solve” issues of insecurity is a myth. Confidence based on appearance will flee and the individual will then feel a need to maintain the appearance. When we focus instead on building up who we are, based on values, then we can have a lasting sense of self and confidence.

At 5 years old my daughter does not understand or relate to body esteem. People constantly asked her after her hair was cut if she liked it. Her reply, “Yes, now I don’t have knots.” The idea that her hair length could change how she looks or frame her face is simply not something she has registered. In discussing Megillat Esther and the idea that King Achashverosh chose Esther based on her beauty she asked me, “like she had a beautiful dress?” Because the thought that one person could be more beautiful than another is not apparent to her innocent mind.

I treasure this. I love knowing that how she feels about herself has nothing to do with her hair, body, weight, appearance or size. How she feels about herself has to do with her efforts, her kindness, overcoming challenges, her friendships and connections and so much more. I dread knowing that this will change. That inevitably she will face comments from others who themselves have learned from others — whether social media, television, parents, older siblings, friends — that will cause her to realize that her appearance will be judged. I hate that people judge how we look and then joke or ridicule or hide behind efforts for health/wellness which leads individuals to feel shame and to not want to take up space.

But I know that I can do all that I can at home to teach her. To discuss confidence and values, to reflect on how we act and what makes us feel good about ourselves. I know that while this may not erase all she will experience in the world, perhaps the safety at home in knowing she is accepted will be at least a framework, if not enough.

We have such power to teach our children — and ourselves — about what makes us who we are and to move away from and challenge societal messages. So learn, please. Understand what can be harmful and what can be preventative. I may not know how to cut hair but I am doing all I can to reinforce that we can like how we look, we can think about outfits, etc., but this need not determine our moods or how we feel about ourselves. Join me.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in New York and New Jersey with individuals ages 18 and older who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Zucker is an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a metro New York consultant at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

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