If you read Tuesday’s post – and especially if you read the comments – you know at least one of my readers doesn’t like Nathan’s haircut. I do like Nathan’s haircut, so in a perfect world the story would end there, and I wouldn’t be writing a post about Nathan’s hair.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
In fact, our world is very, very broken, so when I saw on the reader survey that someone said their least favorite thing about Bringing the Sunshine is “Nathan’s haircut” I texted a friend of mine with sons who I hoped would tell me the truth to ask her if maybe his haircut really is hideous but no one wants to tell me. She assured me his hair is fine.
On Tuesday, when I asked a throwaway question (Is Nathan’s haircut really that bad?) and by 6:34 am – only a half hour after the post went live – I had received a response (Yes, his haircut really is that bad…) I texted another friend, who also has boys, and asked the same question again. She also assured me his hair is fine.
And I also think his hair is fine.
He’s four years old, with lots and lots of finely-textured unbelievably straight hair that grows really, really fast and only looks good for about two weeks in between trims. It’s the same hair I had at his age, and the same hair my dad had as a boy, as well. He also boasts a similar face shape to my dad and me – a shape that isn’t accentuated by super-short hair. And…he’s FOUR. I’m just proud he makes some attempt to brush it, and stays still long enough for me to finish the job.
So why did I end up asking the question a third time, on Facebook?
It’s not because I want Nathan to be on the cutting edge of fashion. When I walked into the local coffee shop for my weekly date with friends on Wednesday morning, my friend Jeni joked that she didn’t know who I was because I was in “real” clothes, not workout gear. I almost always go straight from coffee to working out, so what’s the point of dressing up? I hate clothes shopping and I always have. I quit dying my hair and embraced the gray at age 38. My mother has been prodding me to put on some lipstick for three decades. Fashion is not my specialty, and I’m fine with that.
It’s not because I worry about other people’s opinions, either. You have to have a thick skin to be a blogger – especially if you occasionally blog about topics which elicit strong opinions – and my skin is alligator thick by now. I’ve mentioned before the note I have on the wall above my desk that reads “Don’t listen to people who aren’t saying anything.” I’m all for a healthy debate, but not everyone wants to debate – some people just want to troll. One reader’s opinion about my son’s hair just isn’t important to me. So why did a comment about Nathan’s hair derail my morning?
Because I know that appearance matters.
Call it personal image, perception, first impression, or whatever you want, but the reality is that we are all judged – at least initially – by how we look. When my gray hair first began to show, in my twenties, after being blonde my whole life, I opted to color my hair red for awhile. It wasn’t intended to be a social experiment, but it became one: people treated me differently as a redhead than as a blonde. My request were taken more seriously, and some even acted as if they feared I’d get mad at the drop of a hat. The dumb blonde/fiery redhead stereotypes influenced people’s actions.
As the parent of two children with visible disabilities, I have seen the same dynamic play out, particularly with Sarah Kate, because she often blends in with the crowd at first glance, but eventually people notice her disability. People don’t always react negatively – often, just the opposite – but they do react differently to her than to her typical peers. Nathan’s disability, on the other hand, is written – literally – all over his face, so blending in will be more of a challenge for him, particularly as he grows older.
When I was growing up, a family in our church had a son a little older than me with intellectual disability – I’ve mentioned him before, and my parents still go to church with him today. I was always fond of him and, as an adult, I have always been a bit pleased with myself that I was kind and friendly to him when I was a shamelessly self-absorbed adolescent. Pleased might not even be the best word – relieved is probably a better one, because how awful the guilt would be today if I had not been kind, now that I have a son of my own with intellectual disability (yes, it pains me to reveal the depth of my shallowness to you).
But it occurred to me recently, after reading this post, that maybe the way I treated him had much less to do with me and much more to do with him. As far back as I can remember, he was always neat and fashionable – nothing too trendy, just khakis, colorful golf shirts, a good haircut, and so on. I don’t know if his appearance was influenced by his parents or if he simply likes the “preppy” look, but the fact is he always looked nice (and, per my mom, still does), like he was about to head out for a sail or a few rounds of golf.
But he didn’t just look nice. He looked like he fit in.
Nathan will never be just like everyone else, and I don’t want him to be. Conformity is highly overrated. But I also don’t want him to live his life on the fringe of society, and the reality is that oddity encourages isolation. Because of their disabilities, my children will never perfectly fit into a society that is not built for them, and, knowing that, I want them to embrace their unique and original selves. In a perfect world, that would be enough.
But I also know that they must deal with the world not as we hope it will one day be, but as it is right here, right now. If Nathan is more likely to be accepted by wearing his hair a certain way, or dressing in a particular style of clothing, then that’s how I’ll guide him. If that’s what it takes to level the playing field – even just a little bit – then that’s what we’ll do.
But for now, his hair stays. 🙂
What do you think? Has the way someone looked ever influenced your actions – particularly in a way you learned later may not have been accurate to the situation? If you have a disability or are the parent of a child with a disability, does first impression figure into your decision making with regard to hair and dress?