Amy Zlatnik Hurlston, 39, and her 8-year-old daughter, Audrey, were waiting in line at their local Asheville, N.C., coffee shop a few weeks ago when they noticed an older gentleman staring at Audrey. The duo looked at each other and shifted uncomfortably; Amy even attempted to make eye contact with the guy in an effort to say, "Hey, I see you looking at my kid. Quit it."
Finally, the man spoke. In what sounded like a thick Russian or Eastern European accent, he looked at Audrey and said, "Why do you have short hair? Girls like you are supposed to be beautiful with long hair. I thought you a boy. My granddaughter has hair down to here and is beautiful. You look like boy, not beautiful girl."
Audrey, still young enough that she was holding her American Girl doll (American Girl, by the way, doesn't have dolls with short hair like hers) while this sad scene went down, stood in shock and in stunned silence. Amy interrupted him and said, "My daughter chose her haircut and we love it. She is beautiful and smart and an amazing person." And they left.
I wanted to be the mean, protective mama bear and really let him have it.
I read about this exchange via Facebook (Amy and I attended high school together). I've seen Audrey's picture many times; she has an adorable sandy-blonde pixie cut that Amy says her little girl has requested, off and on, about four times in her life so far, growing it out to near-shoulder-length in between before getting antsy for a change and chopping it off. The thought of someone shaming her—an 8-year-old—for having short hair is sad, infuriating and revolting.
Moments like these become burned into our consciousness forever.
I think most women remember their Audrey moment—that moment when another person, usually a boy or a man, said something to us that forever shaped and warped our body image.
For me, it happened in the fourth grade when a boy called me a cow. (Not that it matters, but for context, I was probably 70th percentile for weight and 90th for height.) I can still viscerally feel the shame and anger that swelled up inside me, digging in and holding ground for decades to come. Do I think that single remark caused my college eating disorder? No. But it certainly didn't do me any favors. And considering we live in a society where men feel entitled to comment on the appearance of any woman as they see fit, it was simply one of what would turn out to be thousands of seemingly throwaway oral notes I would hear being taken on my looks over the course of my 20s and 30s.
As Amy Schumer captioned her Instagram post featuring her nude 2016 Pirelli calendar pic, "Beautiful, gross, strong, thin, fat, pretty, ugly, sexy, disgusting, flawless, woman."
I called Amy (Zlatnik Hurlston, not Schumer!) up and after reading her post to see how she and Audrey had ultimately ended up handling the coffee shop incident.
"I wanted to be the mean, protective mama bear and really let him have it," Amy recalled, "but I also wanted to show Audrey that meanness for meanness isn't always the way."
Later on that night, Amy and her husband explained to Audrey that "sometimes older people, particularly those from other countries, are set in their beliefs, which may be different than ours."
By that point, Audrey had recovered from the shock and had something to say: "Well, he's in our country now, where girls can make all kinds of choices about how they look. And wherever he is from, (he should know that) you keep certain things to yourself. It was hurtful and I wish I told him to suck a rotten egg. I love my short hair, old man!"