When is a child’s haircut not a haircut? When it’s Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s child’s haircut. And when that haircut is “boyish” for a girl. Which brings us to the spectacle of gossip magazines and blogs everywhere falling all over themselves to comment on Shiloh Jolie-Pitt’s new short haircut.
Now, I care little to nothing about Shiloh’s hair. In fact, I try not to pay attention to celebrity children in general. Their fame is an entirely unwitting auxiliary side effect of their parent’s choices — so I don’t think their lives (especially at a young age) are any of our business. But what I do care about is our reaction to Shiloh’s haircut, and Shiloh in general.
If you’ve stood too long in any grocery line, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Jolie-Pitt brood, and what has struck me this past year is how wonderfully herself Shiloh is. And, if we must label it, yes the 3-year-old seems like quite the adorable tomboy. Cargo pants, hats, ties, sneakers, swords. I am sure many of us can relate.
But Shiloh’s new short haircut, it seems, has sent some media types into a frenzy. Never before have so many people who are not a child’s grandma had so much to say about her haircut. Descriptions ranged from “tomboy” to “boyish” to “Peter Pan” to “Princess Charming.” Us Weekly called on a whole panel of stylists to dissect the haircut. People, it’s a haircut.
Worst of them all is Life & Style, a magazine which apparently has neither. This week it ran the truly tasteless and offensive cover story “Why is Angelina turning Shiloh into A BOY?” Yes, because every female with a short haircut secretly wants to be A BOY. And every parent who lets her daughter wear pants secretly wants her to be A BOY. Oh boy, where do we start?
Now, I refuse to link the Life & Style “article.” First because it’s not an article, as much as a ridiculous excuse to sell magazines. And second because it quotes someone from Focus on the Family as an “expert.” It also calls Shiloh’s hair “shockingly short” and close to the “cross-dresser territory.” Google it for yourself, if you must. But know that each click on the article link makes its advertisers happier and thus the magazine richer.
The cover story was so egregious that GLAAD issued a statement chastising the magazine. Rashad Robinson, GLAAD’s Senior Director of Media Programs, said: “Life & Style is way off the mark with this outrageous coverage. Perpetuating gender stereotypes and targeting children for ridicule about the way they dress is unacceptable, regardless of their parent’s celebrity status.”
Of course, underneath all this “haircut” talk is, clearly, the more insidious undercurrent of homophobia, transphobia and general phobia of any kind of deviation from stereotypical gender roles. How can Shiloh, that most genetically gifted child on Earth, not want to adhere to strict concepts of femininity? Has she learned nothing from Suri Cruise and her toddler heels?
To which I say, bravo Brad and Angelina. With all the crushing weight of societal expectations, they seem to be genuinely letting Shiloh be Shiloh. This point is even more evident when Shiloh and her older sister Zahara are together — their individual personalities shine through. And that’s what children are — they’re individual, not predetermined reflections of cultural norms.
In a world where you’re forced to make gender distinctions when buying a congratulatory teddy bear for a newborn in the hospital (blue or pink, BLUE OR PINK!), so much of the battle about being ourselves falls on our parents shoulders at first. To let your child be free, really free, to be him or herself is at times a revolutionary act. Many, many a well-meaning parent has forced her little tomboy in a skirt and blouse and thought it was for the best.
Perhaps the Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir said it best, also last week, when he called a press conference to address to Canadian broadcasters disparaging remarks about him. The French-language sportscasters joked that Weir should “pass a gender test” and that what they called his feminine style “sets a bad example” and could make “all the boys who skate will end up like him.”
Weir addressed those outrageous comments with class and courage. And far from just blasting their inherent homophobia, he reached out to parents encouraging them to let their children be themselves as his did.
So now, suddenly, I do care a little about a child’s haircut. And, against all odds, it makes me feel a little more hopeful about our future.