Body Autonomy

“I can do whatever I want to you.”

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article entitled, “7-year-old girl traumatized after White school staff member cuts her hair”, and I was horrified by what I read.

It seems that little Jurnee Hoffmeyer, who is a Biracial girl with beautiful curls, was assaulted two days previously by a fellow student on the school bus. That student cut out a section of her hair. Her father immediately took her to the salon and let her choose her own style. (I like this man.) She came away feeling slightly better, with a beautiful crown of shoulder length curls. The father requested that the cutter in question not be allowed to sit next to Jurnee on the school bus. Case closed.

Or so you’d think.

Two days later, poor Jurnee came home in tears, her hair butchered. She now had less than three inches of hair all over her head. Her dad asked if it was the same kid, but to his shock, he found out that no, this time it was the library teacher, Kelly Mogg.

Insert the sound of my head exploding here.

HOW DARE SHE??? In what universe does a teacher look at a student and decide how he or she can be “sculpted”, like she’s a statue? Especially without talking to the parents first? What’s next? A tattoo on the kid’s wrist of the school mascot with a number underneath? How dare she even TOUCH that child? This is abuse and assault, and I’m stunned that the woman wasn’t ridden out of town on a rail.

Yes, hair grows back, but you don’t understand the trauma that is caused when you teach a child that he or she has no control over their own body. Here are just a few examples from my life.

In junior high school, I had lovely thick wavy hair down to the small of my back. A kid on the bus thought it would be funny to drop a big wad of chewing gum between my hair and the seat back. The only way to get it out was to cut it. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to live with the thought that a big glob of someone else’s spit was clinging to my hair until I got home. It felt like a violation.

And it also triggered me, because when I was around ten my mother chopped off all my hair down to a pixie cut against my will. I was mistaken for a boy for ages after that. I’d walk around hiding under a big floppy hat whenever I could, but they didn’t allow one in school. It took me years to recover from the theft of my autonomy and the theft of my gender. It still sticks with me.

And I’ll never forget the time a boy walked up to me and stuck his finger in my mouth and ran it along my gum line. I have no idea why he did that, but it was disgusting and inappropriate and so not okay that I can still feel the way I felt when it happened if I think about it for very long. Talk about your invasion of space.

I know someone who was in the midst of a horrible custody battle with her ex-husband and his new wife. The child was sent to the father’s house for visitation, and when she came home, it turned out that the stepmother had pierced the child’s ears, a permanent change, without discussing it with the mother. It was a smug little way to send the message that they were in control. Evil. Just evil.

And then, of course, there’s sexual abuse. I won’t go into detail here, but trust me when I say that it changes you forever. You are never the same after that. You never feel completely safe.

All of these things have one thing in common. They are aggressive. They are all about sending the message that you are not in control, little girl. I am. You don’t even get to have agency over your own body. I can come along and do whatever I want to you, and you have to live with it. You have no right to choose. Your saying no does not matter one whit. You are inferior. You are weak. Just lie back and take it. Stop being so sensitive and hysterical.

No wonder Jurnee’s spirit seems damaged now. Especially when you factor in the racial overtones of her assault. “You have bad hair.” “You are different.” “You look funny.” “I know better than you do how you should be.”

The Mount Pleasant Public School system is not viewing this outrage as a big deal. I’m glad lawyers are involved. I think this is the biggest deal of all.

Jurnee, if you ever read this, I want you to know that your hair is beautiful just the way it is. Grow it back out and be loud and proud. Oh, and I love your name, too.

Jurnee before and after.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

6 thoughts on “Body Autonomy”

  1. Aaa…. (several lines worth)…augh.
    I won’t go into the details of what-all was done to me, but the message, though not in words, was loud and clear–“because you’re an odd lone-wolf kid with strange interests and your grades are all over the map, you don’t really count for anything, and your body, which is also subpar, is ours to hurt as we please.” I’m still dealing with the fallout.
    Thanks for telling the truth, you might help the next poor kid,

  2. I’ve had long hair most of my adult life. Once when I was about 22 my dad (note lower case) said somebody was offering me a job but I need to get my hair neatened up a bit. He had a friend who was a barber who would respect my long hair but trim off the frayed ends. I emerged with no hair on my head longer than half an inch. I was outraged. Never trusted my dad again. And never had a haircut since.

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