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When I was 5, maybe 6, I came running into the house, eyes filled with tears, after a neighbor girl had pulled me off our swing set by my hair. My mom stopped me in my tracks, spun me around and sent me back outside.
"You can't come inside until you go hit that girl back," she said.
Let me clarify, my mom was not a proponent of violence or lacking in compassion, she was just tired of watching me silently endure meanness from this particular girl.
This memory is what came to mind when I read about another mama shaving her daughter's arms after she had been picked on at school. I was so torn reading this. My stomach turns when I think that my daughters should be subjected to that sort of teasing. I think that my impulse, perhaps like any mother's, is to be a blanket of perpetual protection for my children.
I want my children to understand that being different is an asset, not a weakness that must be shoved down and covered up.
I am sure that my mother felt the same way, but I think she also wondered that if I were silently enduring bullying from our neighbor, would I put up with worse in the future? Would I start to change who I was to avoid conflicts with my peers?
My mom knew the trade off she was making: She was choosing to teach me a lesson in standing up for myself while she could watch over my safety from our kitchen window over my comfort at that moment.
When I think about my daughters being teased or bullied for their looks or their personalities, I want to do everything I can to spare them. But honestly, I am not sure that is realistic. In a country where diversity receives so little respect and a mainstream ideal for beauty is sold as an end-all, be-all for acceptance, where do we draw the line?
What happens if my daughter is teased for her height or something else that can't be changed?
I see how hard a decision it is and I get why her mom made the choice she made. But would I have said yes to shaving my 7-year-old's arms because she had been teased? No, probably not.
I want my children to understand that being different is an asset, not a weakness that must be shoved down and covered up. I think this applies to our physical being just as much as it does to our preferences and personalities.
As I parent, I hope to make choices that communicate just that. They don't have to change to conform with a mainstream ideal of what is beautiful or normal. I also hope to teach them that they can do hard things, that they can bravely be the person they were made to be.