Footage of one woman forcibly shaving another’s head — purportedly her daughter’s, as punishment — has resurfaced online this week, several months after making its first horrifying appearance.
In the video, a woman with blond hair calmly buzzes off the long, dark locks of a girl who is crying and screaming throughout the process. It’s unclear why it has reemerged now, as Uptrend posted the video to Facebook in June, with the explanation that this was a mother punishing her daughter for bullying a girl with cancer. It was also posted on Facebook in February 2015, by Cyberwarzone, with the explanation, “Mother shaves her daughter bald after seeing naked pictures of her daughter on Facebook.”
Yet another proposed explanation, according to Snopes, is that the daughter “was being punished for having premarital sex, and the family agreed to cut her hair to make her unattractive to young men.” The alleged mom in the video is speaking Portuguese, although the audio is difficult to make out, which is why so many different explanations have emerged; the origin of the footage has not been determined, and some online readers have even suggested it’s fake.
It hasn’t stopped onlookers from weighing in with opinions in comment sections, of course. “Yet another example of bad parenting, taking the easy way out of enforcing and dominating her child, instead of having a dialogue, understanding and genuinely wanting to help,” noted one. “Acts like this don’t make children better or anything; on the contrary — they make them fearful and resentful.” A surprising number of others weighing in, however, felt the mom was being an excellent disciplinarian. “Good for Mum — rare to see a parent getting it right these days,” noted a Daily Mail reader. Another chimed in, “Excellent, well done mum. She won’t do it again.”
Parenting stories of public humiliation tend to be extremely divisive — although in 2014 when Facebook and Reddit posts showed a 10-year-old girl whose mom supposedly shaved her head as punishment for not brushing her hair, it drew much public ire. “Seriously, there’s no chance she’s ever going to forget her mother doing this, or the grief it’ll cause in her life when other kids harass her,” noted one of many critics. “I feel so terrible for her,” wrote another. An older story, about a mom and her boyfriend who shaved the head of her daughter and forced her to wear a diaper in public as punishment for bad grades, also inspired anger.
“What they did was pure evil,” one commenter noted at the time, with another declaring, “She was being abused.”
Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg agrees that head shaving and humiliation are not optimal ways to parent. “This is the worst possible consequence you can give to your child,” she tells Yahoo Beauty in response to the head-shaving video. “You are teaching aggression and making your child feel shame, the worst possible human emotion.”
Whatever pushed the woman to take such action, Greenberg adds, “There’s no good reason for this. And all the research shows teens don’t learn well from punishment, but from repair work.” So for example, she explains, “It would be more effective to maybe have her volunteer at a cancer center or somewhere else where she can practice kindness. Instead, [the mother] is modeling anger and teaching shame.”
Her advice to any parent trying to figure out the best approach to doling out consequences is simple: “Always ask yourself first, ‘What will this do to our relationship?’” A situation like the one in the video footage has “created a trauma,” she says, while it is in fact “an opportunity to teach empathy skills.”