To the inconsiderate stranger I encountered the other day:
Before you decided to tell my daughter that she could be beautiful — like a princess — if only she’d grow her hair long, I wish you’d taken a minute to think about your words.
The truth is, you do not know my child. You do not know that she cried every day when I brushed her long hair, leaving both of us frustrated and in bad moods.
You do not know that last summer she and I got matching bob haircuts and she loved hers. Then this fall, when she started ballet, she desperately wanted to wear her hair in a crocheted bun holder, leading me to tell her if she grew it out and was very patient through all of the hair-brushing, she’d be able to by recital time in the spring.
You did not see how proud she was when she wore her hair in a bun for her dance recital, nor did you hear the excitement in her voice when it was over and she asked me, “Can I get my hair cut short again now?”
You did not watch her sit still — and be very well-behaved for a 4-year-old — while she got her new haircut. You definitely did not watch her look at herself in the mirror and smile when it was finished because she was so happy with her new look.
You aren’t aware that after her haircut, we had to run errands at the mall — boring errands for which she was so patient and good. You didn’t see her face light up as we were walking through the store when she saw the Disney Princess dolls and asked, “Oh, Mommy, can I please get one?”
You only know that my beautiful, spunky preschooler is standing behind you in line, waiting to pay for the Rapunzel doll. The one I told her she could get since she had been so well-behaved through haircuts and errands.
“What a beautiful doll,” you say to her. “Which princess is that?”
She looks at you with her silly, friendly attitude on display and says, “Rapunzel!”
And then, you look at my perfect little girl and say, “Well, her long hair is so pretty. You would be that pretty, too, if you had long hair.”
I feel like you punched me in the stomach, because who says that to a child? And I see the wheels turning in her mind, wondering if she should have skipped the short haircut, wondering if she is beautiful like a princess. I see the shame and self-doubt that this small comment brings to her eyes, and I want to run from the store and protect her from the standards of beauty that our society wants to place upon her.
But we have a doll to pay for, so we stand in line and make small talk with you until we’ve finished paying.
On the walk to the car, my daughter says to me, “Mommy, I wish they would have had a princess doll with short hair like me.”
And so, I tell my daughter that all kinds of hair are beautiful, just as all kinds of people are beautiful. I explain that sometimes people say things without understanding how those things sound to others, and that you were not saying she wasn’t beautiful — only that Rapunzel had pretty, long hair.
But then I ask her, “Do you remember what happens at the end of Rapunzel’s movie [Tangled]? What does her hair look like?”
I get giggles from the back seat as she says, “Short and brown like me!”
And so, instead of talking any further about how a lady in a store told her that she would be more beautiful if she grew her hair long like Rapunzel, my daughter and I drive home talking about the end of Rapunzel’s story — the way she stood up for herself, was strong and brave, took care of the ones she loved, and put other’s needs before her own — all while rocking a short, beautiful haircut.
I’m sure you didn’t mean to insinuate that my daughter was not beautiful. You were just making conversation with a very cute little girl in the same checkout line as you. But please, in the future, speak with more caution to the little girls you meet. Children soak up everything, even the voices their mommas wish they could shield them from.