‘She couldn’t play princesses with them because she looked like a boy’: Mom’s unique way to EMPOWER her bullied 4-year-old
“I almost shaved my head the other day… I would do anything to show her how beautiful she is, but I realized that would have made her sad since she loves to play with my hair.
I know people will have their negative opinions, but I don’t care because they don’t know the heartache my 4-year-old little girl feels every time another kid tells her she looks like a boy because she still has no hair. I’ve held my sweet girl in tears numerous times telling her that she is just as beautiful as Rapunzel… (her favorite princess) reminding her that beauty comes from within. I know her struggle though because I, too, had no hair for the longest time while all my friends danced around with their braids and long curly locksToo many times I have held my breath with sweaty palms as we approach the playground full of kids. As my daughter runs off, I say a silent prayer of a mother’s desperate plea. I immediately scan the play structure in hopes to find another little girl she can connect with. Another little girl who has no hair, but shines with spunky personality. Some days it doesn’t matter — she’s free as a bird and nothing will get her down. But all it takes is one child pointing and laughing and all my parental anxiety comes crashing down on me like a pile of heavy bricks. I remember the first time it happened. It was shortly after her first day of preschool. Pick up was over and we headed out to the school playground. She ran around with the few kiddos whose parents were running late. I thought it was strange that my daughter, who was just skipping about in the sunshine, was now walking back towards me as if she was being followed by a rain cloud. As she quickly approached me, she requested that we go home immediately! This was not like my child. I usually have to pry her off the playground. Holding her hand tightly, we walked back to the car in silence. As I buckled her in, I asked if she wanted to share what had happened. The sobs came on instantly as she told me her girlfriends said she couldn’t play princesses with them because she looked like a boy.
At first I saw red, as any mama would, but then after a few deep breaths I realized that wasn’t what was important here. Kids will be kids. Especially at such a young age, they have no filter and don’t always know the weight of their actions. Finally we were home and I couldn’t wait to scoop her up out of her embarrassment. I gave her a nice long cuddle while I tried to find the perfect words to explain why she looks different. Hoping she would sincerely hear me, I put on my warmest smile and tucked her tiny locks behind her ear. I tried to choose my words carefully, knowing what I said next might stick with her for the rest of her life. I told her, ‘God made us all special in our own way. If he made each person exactly the same, then the world would be a boring place. Think about the flowers. Some flowers have big petals, some have tiny petals. Some of your favorite ones have thorns and some fall apart when they are blown by the wind. But each time you come across a flower, you are excited because you love them all just the same. That’s what you are in this world, a tiny, precious, rare flower.’Unfortunately, this was not our last experience with this. In fact, the older she gets, the more it seems to happen. When I go to bed at night, all I see is her sad little eyes. I toss and turn with the image of her tugging on her hair begging for it to grow. My precious baby, so beautiful and innocent. You have so much life ahead of you to worry about what others think of you.My husband and I have always done our best to build her up and make her feel special. We have many great sayings in our household, all of which we practice quite often. Like ‘Beauty comes from within’ or ‘Happy girls are the prettiest.’ These words of wisdom help us carry on, but in the back of my mind there is something still eating at me. Sure, these affirmations are absolutely true, but I find it helplessly disappointing that the world she lives in today will not value them. I have told her, ‘The world will love you for who you are and not for your looks.’ But then, I would walk away shaking my head. Because we all know that that just isn’t true, especially with the unrealistic expectation of social media platforms. I cringe each time I try to wrap my head around if I had to keep up with Facebook in my high school days. These poor kids. How torturous for a mother to have to lie to their own child about life. It honestly felt like a nail piercing through my chest with every word. I realized I should no longer preach this to my sweet girl when I myself have not experienced this acceptance often enough. I will always teach her to see the good in everything, but I refuse to set her up for disappointment. So, I started listening to my gut and now we choose encouraging words like, ‘You are smart, brilliant, and strong.’Sometimes I find myself asking if there is a medical reason this is happening, but it’s just plain genetics. I’ve taken her into the dermatologist and each time they tell me to just relax, it’s normal. I know this is actually quite common in a lot of children, so I’m trying my very best to be patient. But it’s never easy when your child is hurting. On the car ride home, I turned on her favorite song as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. I know this struggle. I went through it. How did I cope? When did it get better? Was it really all that bad? I ask myself these questions as I simultaneously replay the sight of her frowning at herself in the mirror that morning. The worst part is she didn’t even know I was watching. All my mommy instincts were tingling and I began to examine myself. Where did I go wrong? Do I not display self-acceptance? Did I let other people’s opinions of me shape the way that my daughter views herself? Let me tell you, those are some really hard questions to have to answer and I was beginning to feel defeated.
I finally hit my breaking point the other day. My baby was looking at a picture taken of her and her three friends, and she had such a long face. I asked her what was wrong? She told me, ‘Mommy, I look ugly.’ My heart sank, and I broke down. She’s only 4 years old. It’s so hard to be a parent and to feel so helpless. I can’t make her hair grow, but I used to be a hairstylist so there must be something I can do. After racking my brain for many days, it hit me. I CAN make her feel unique, special, vibrant and stand out! So we went to the store and I let her pick out her favorite color: pink. We stained her hair! Of course, this is absolutely temporary and it will wash out.As we started to paint on the pretty color, her face began to light up. She anxiously giggled as we waited for the big reveal. As soon as I finished drying it, she ran off to the other room. I tip-toed down the hallway and peered into her room. I knew exactly what she was doing. Sure enough, she was checking out her new DO in her full-length princess mirror. I froze in the doorway studying her reaction. I remember my cheeks grew wet as I let out a huge sigh of relief. Our eyes met, and she gave me a look that said, ‘Thank you, Mama.’ I kissed her head and gently tucked her new pink hair behind her ears and whispered, ‘Now you see what I always have… you’re so beautiful.’ I have never seen her smile so big.All day she danced around glowing and singing, ‘I have pretty pink hair!’ I know it’s not the norm, but it’s summer, so I did mine too! She picked out purple for me. I know people will be judgmental and have their negative opinions, but I don’t care. They don’t hear my sweet 4-year-old daughter pray every night asking God to make her look just as beautiful as Rapunzel. So judge away folks, but if you could only understand how something so simple has brought my daughter so much confidence, then you would smile too. So to all the parents out there who have felt the sting of their child’s insecurities, don’t give up because the world tells you it’s ‘normal.’ Instead, think outside the box, be creative and stand up with your child against the norm. Sometimes, it’s the simplest of solutions that makes a world of difference.
by Janelle Cuilla, 31, of Hollister, California
Credits/Sources: Dapper & Posy A Photography Tale
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