We inherit so much from our mothers. You can thank your mum for everything from your eye colour to your blood type – and your dad too, of course, but with Mother’s Day in mind, we’re focusing on thanking our mums for things right now!
Our genes dictate so much about the way that we look. We also inherit everything from intelligence to temper from our parents. But there are also things that we gain from our elders through nurture, rather than nature. Things like healthy eating habits (or unhealthy eating habits) and attitudes to exercise, for example. These are learned behaviours that become ingrained during childhood and that, for many people, carry through into adulthood.
Health and beauty – what do our mums teach us?
Many little girls gain their first ideas of what constitutes beauty while watching their mothers apply makeup. We learn that makeup equals being more beautiful at an incredibly young age – long before being old enough to think critically about why we aren’t considered beautiful in our natural state, and why so many paints, polishes and powders are required.
As toddlers, being allowed a dash of mum’s lipstick or to have our toenails painted can feel like the pinnacle of glamour and sophistication.
So, too, can having our hair done.
Do you remember watching your mum blow-dry and style her hair when you were young? Did she curl her long locks or keep them cropped short? Would she experiment with colours and styles, flicking from one fashionable look to the next? Or did she have a fixed regular style, with a particular updo for special occasions?
All of these hair-related patterns and behaviours feed into our own sense of what ‘beautiful hair’ really means – and all while we are young enough and malleable enough to be building up lifelong views about all manner of beauty-related issues.
On the subject of inherited hairstyles and ideas of beauty, All Things Hair recently conducted a Mother’s Day survey. The company asked women about hairstyles they inherited from their mums, to see if they had a go-to style that had been passed down through the generations.
28.5% of respondents reported inheriting the confidence to wear their hair naturally from their mothers. This made natural hair the most popular of all inherited styles. Waves and curls came next, with 12.7% of women reporting inheriting this style from their mums. 11.3% of women opt for a ponytail, while 4.6% prefer to go for a bob, having seen their mums sporting them from an early age. Last comes softness, with just 3.3% of women flagging this up as having been inherited from their mums.
The figures highlight the lasting legacy of our mothers’ hair-related whims. Despite changing fashions over the years, more than half of us have a go-to style that our mums sported a generation previously.
Body image behaviours
There’s also an incredibly strong intergenerational link between attitudes to weight and body image. Genetics come into play here in a major way, but the genes we inherit are only half of the story.
Did you grow up seeing your mum watching her weight? Did she diet or hit the gym to keep herself in shape? Weight loss is an issue that popular culture throws at us from all angles. Studies have shown that 80% of women are dissatisfied with their weight, while Refinery29 reports that girls start dieting at the age of 8.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine, meanwhile, shows that between 34% and 65% of girls have already formed ideas about dieting by the age of five. Those whose mothers were dieting at the time of the study were more than twice as likely to have ideas about dieting as those whose mothers did not diet.
Nature versus nurture
The nature versus nurture debate is as old as the hills. Infants begin absorbing information, attitudes and behaviours almost from birth, imitating everything from their parents’ language and speech patterns to the way they dance!
It would be easy to assume that, when it comes to hairstyles, it is nurture that is in the driving seat, rather than nature. However, when we stop to consider this, there’s a genetic element at play as well.
From colour to texture, we inherit a number of hair characteristics from our parents. And, of course, the way that you style your hair is to a large extent guided by what you’re working with. As such, a mother with fine hair who curls it to add volume and texture may well end up seeing her daughter follow the same pattern when trying to deal with her own fine hair. The mother may also take an active role in curling her daughter’s hair for her, as she grows up, passing techniques along.
In this way, we see that hairstyling trends are passed down from one generation to the next. Cultural attitudes to hair are also often passed down from mother to daughter, with everything from braiding to trips to the salon being activities that mothers and daughters engage in together.
As we celebrate another Mother’s Day, let’s take a minute to thank our mums not just for all that they do for us, but all that they have given us – including our attitudes to hair and our go-to styles.