Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Hairy Business of Self-Acceptance

Americans. We like to think we are a nation of tolerance and diversity, but we've still got a long way to go, baby.

Last week on the Mamaworldforum, a mother posted in regard to her seven year old daughter, who  has always had thick, dark hair on her back. Apparently, a classmate had made a comment to the child about this--the mother didn't mention the tone of the comment, if it was an observation or teasing--but now the mother felt devastated and wondered if she should start using Nair on her little girl. Reading through the comments, which ranged from "WAX IT! That's what I'd do" (Which me wonder if this woman was a sadist) to "Leave it alone until your daughter asks for help, and then talk to a dermatologist", I felt terrible for this kid. Seven years old and already being told something about her is unacceptable. Excuse my french, but what a crock of shit.

I understand the parent's sensitivity, in wanting to protect her daughter from teasing. But what I simply don't understand is our willingness to conform in order to avoid the hurtful words of the mean and ignorant. Kids tease about everything under the sun. Even the "perfect" kids will find someone talking about them behind their backs: "Oh, she thinks she's so great, but she's really just a $#@*% . " Kids get teased for being overweight, being skinny, having curly hair, having big boobs, having no boobs, having a big butt, having big feet, a big head,  sticking-out-ears, the way they walk, any lisps or stutters, wearing glasses, wearing braces, being smart, being not-so-smart.... have I covered it all? Probably not. And thank goodness there are some parents out there who say "Honey, that kid who called you Big Butt? Screw him! You've got strong, powerful legs from biking and running, and having a little backside comes with that. What do they have? A bunch of insults which show that they don't understand how a body develops."

I wonder how many girls would have loved to hear their mothers say that instead of "Well, honey, you might want to stand up straighter/lose some weight/do something with your hair to draw their attention up and away from the 'problem area'."

I grew up in a a house where self-acceptance was an elusive treasure, always out of reach. In our house, you had to be society-standard perfect, and I was a short little dumpling who was curvy and sweet, but certainly by no means perfect. I was not skinny enough. I wasn't pretty enough, my hair had no pizazz. Contact lenses, perms and frosting my hair didn't really render an improvement, but it was considered 'making an effort' and I did the due diligence of trying to please. I sunburned too easily to ever have a healthy glow; my glow ranged from ghost-belly white to radiant lobster red, but never the lovely tan my sister and mother wore. Unwanted hair was attacked with a military-style single mindedness, and one of my sisters suffered for this. Nair burned her skin, left a rash; other depilatory options were explored until finally, shaving was the only reasonable option. What probably wouldn't have been a 'big deal' for long, if left alone, had become one. Shaving like this becomes a lifelong need. But I kept trudging on, making the effort despite resenting it.

I felt this way until an enlightening weekend several years ago, when I stayed at a beach house where one of the other guests happened to be a bearded woman.  Talking to this gal, I was so impressed with her sense of self and level of self-acceptance. She didn't need to shave her face because she wasn't looking for the approval of others. She was doing what she felt best for her own self, and having a chin that grew hair was just one--only one-- part of who she was as a whole person. She chose to keep company with people who could accept her for who she was, and I could see why. People who couldn't? There was never going to be any pleasing them anyway.

Fast forward to today. I've stopped shaving my legs and am happy to not be enslaved to the stubble and razor rash that used to make my life very uncomfortable. I don't miss the hours of time I used to spend in the shower trying to control the thick dark hair on my legs. When I actually calculated it, it ended up being somewhere around 36.5 hours a year. That's a lot of time I won't get back, so I've decided not to spend it there. I also figure that Gillette's gotten enough of my money in this lifetime, and it doesn't bother my husband, so everyone's happy.

There's a lot of lip-service paid to 'letting your freak flag fly', but there always seems to be that little whisper of "but not too much" that follows. We are a culture that seems much more comfortable with eccentric hairstyles, loads of tattoos and septum and face piercing than I would ever have thought to give us credit for twenty years ago, but I still see that we have our odd fetishes and proclivities about keeping ourselves and our children as homogeneous as possible. Underneath the skull tee shirts, baby mohawks, pink hair and temporary tattoos, we still want our kids to conform just enough, to fit in just enough. And as much as I dislike even saying this, chances are that our little picked-on kid has also said something unkind to a less-homogeneous-looking child themselves. If we don't teach our children how to accept themselves, if we don't show them that we think they are just fine for who they are, how are they going to learn the self-love that helps them appreciate and tolerate differences in others? What if, instead of Nair, the mothers of the hairy-backed daughters said "Hey, let me tell you about my grandmother. You have her beautiful eyes. She had a lot of hair on her body too. She came from a part of the world where women tend to grow more hair on their bodies than they do in other countries". In this way, our children could learn so much more about themselves. Sure, she still might one day want that hair removed, but really, when parents teach self-acceptance, our kids get so much more depth and appreciation for who they are as a whole person, for what makes them and where they came from, and an understanding of how the world is so full of people with remarkably different appearances. There's so much more for us to offer than just a correction in a bottle. 

2 comments:

Amanda said...

and THERE is the topic for your next book, my sister. It saddens me to watch women my age fighting time tooth and nail when they're spirit is a mess. I'm sad it took me 30 years to get that I'm just "all good" and I hope more this changes in society, but sometimes I think we're headed hopelessly....

are you familiar with Operation Beautiful?

http://operationbeautiful.com/

Hazel M. Wheeler said...

Wow! That book and a stack of Post-Its... another thing to add to my ideal Baby Swag Bags, with the Audodon books and Read to your Bunny.