A darling reader wrote to me a few weeks ago on behalf of her daughter who is/was going through a hair crisis that sort of turned into a personal crisis. They start so young! I wound up writing a long letter about how I dealt with teasing and hair in high school, which I thought would be not only something fun to share with you guys, but a good way to start out the new year – remembering that we are intrinsically awesome, and haters gonna hate.
My daughter is a spunky, free spirited, follower of her own drum beat, awesome kid. She does her thing, which is sometimes taken as ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ in our small town North Carolina area. For instance, when she decided to dye her hair blue (by the way, she is 10) several people (teachers mostly) gave her ‘the look’ and were a bit shocked. I was like ‘Meh, they’ll get over it, it’s your hair kiddo!’.
So she recently (like over the weekend) whacked all of her hair off. It’s pretty short with her bangs long and parted to the side. It’s a cute little pixie cut. She loved it until she kept seeing girls with long hair and then regretted it. It’s been up and down all weekend though, happy then regret.
To sum this up…I started showing her pictures of awesome women with short hair (you were one) and explained that it takes much bravery to be a girl with short hair in this crazy society. And I think it would make her feel better to hear some words from someone other than me about how awesome and spunky she is. Thanks for the help muchly!
Oh, sweetie, I feel so hard for your little girl! (And for you – being the momma watching your little one go through this sort of struggle is its own special hell.) I would love to send her some love.
Dearest Punk-Rock Pixie,
I’ve been there.
I lived in an extremely small town (2000 people) from 7th to 12th grade, and I was always looked at as the “weird girl” because I had short hair and liked to dye it funny colours. I also liked to wear big black stompin’ boots and t-shirts that said, “I’m a squirrel!” Something about seeing an independent, confident young woman that didn’t fit into the Barbie beauty standard freaked people out. And because they were scared on some level, they liked to say hurtful things to make me feel bad about the way I looked.
“You look like a boy,” they’d say. Or, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you be normal?” Or, my personal favourite, “Does your mother know you do that to your hair?”
And it hurt. I felt like I’d made a huge mistake with my hairstyle choices because I felt bullied, left out, and othered in a very tight-knit community where to be on the outside meant you were nobody. That sucks, no matter how old you are.
So, for a while, I looked “normal” – I grew out my dirty-blonde hair and stopped with the neon blue (which my mother did know about, thank you very much). I convinced myself for a solid year that I was better off this way because the teasing stopped. My social situation improved, and no one called me “sir” anymore, so I must be good, right?
Not so much.
As graduation day approached, I realized that normal was boring. Not just boring, but dangerous. Maybe not in the sense of getting picked on for your outside appearance, but on the inside, where it matters most. Fitting in without question shows a lack of thought; it’s an indicator that not rocking the boat is more important to you than expressing yourself. “Normal,” more often than not, means bland, blind, and bleak.
Did I want to let someone else tell me how to dress, look, behave, feel, and think?
Uh, no. Not even a little.
The day I walked across the gym floor to receive my diploma, I did two things that shattered people’s expectations of who I was and what “normal” meant: I dyed my hair flaming orange, and I sang “In My Life” by The Beatles in front of the entire 500-person audience. No one in my town had seen or heard anything like it.
I took a stand against the boring, normal grind of a society that was uncomfortable with me because they had issues. I risked rejection on one of the biggest days of my life because I couldn’t hide my Self from the world for the sake of their egos. On wobbly knees, I retook my seat when the song was over and brushed the fire-coloured hair out of my face.
And I got a standing ovation.
The point I’m trying to make, dear, is twofold.
Point one is that people who give you crap and hate on you for having short, neon-coloured hair are jerks who don’t know what awesomeness they’re missing out on when they tell you not to be yourself. They’re afraid because your independence and wonderfully strange beauty challenge the way they look at themselves; they want you to have long hair and wear trendy fashions because it makes them feel safe. But safety isn’t how we experience all the world has to offer – it’s through experimentation and discovery and testing that we learn the glories of life.
Point two is that, when you do express yourself without worrying about how other people think of you, amazing things can happen. The confidence you show inspires others to follow your lead, to cut their hair or wear sparkly tennis shoes, because they see you proudly living your truth. And, strangely enough, there will be even more people who support your radical self-love than who make fun of you for it.
Making a stand for your right to choose for yourself is a powerful thing.
And, it’s worth mentioning, you’re helping to change the world with your funky style. Yes, that means you won’t “fit in” and that some people will try to cram you into their mental boxes. But that’s okay – that’s their problem, not yours. If you stay true to your Self, you can’t help but become more fantastic than they could ever possibly imagine. And that means making the world a cooler, more accepting place for those blue-haired pixies who come after you.
Long hair, short hair, whatever – it’s the you on the inside that’s most important. Express yourself, and nothing can stand in your way.
You like writing, yeah? What about writing those parts of yourself that you thought were boring and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with “real life”? You like writing about those?
You probably haven’t even thought about your strongest scent memory or your relationship with silence or what you’d ask God if you had a chance to pick His/Her/Their brain(s). It's too prosaic to matter, right?
Everything you experience – past, present, future, alternate timeline – matters when you’re working out who you are. They’re core questions to getting to know your true Self.
You’ve got to dig into everyday situations to discover what you’re all about.