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Princess Hair

April 11, 2011

When my daughter was four, she came home from school in tears one day.

“Nasty Little Girl said I can’t be a princess because princess can’t have curly hair!” My daughter didn’t even get hair until she was two, and by the time she was four, she had a short crop of cute curls. Not your stereotypical princess hair, but liberal social thinkers are always getting their knickers in a knot over the pervasive stereotypes of princesses because the majority of little girls who do not fit into that narrow mold get their feelings hurt, and my daughter was no exception.

She’s eight and her feelings are still hurt.

I used the episode as a launching point for the life lesson that some people are jerks, and you can’t avoid them, but you can learn to identify them and not care. I’m putting this particular little girl in the “jerk” category, as opposed to the “clueless” category because of something that happened at a birthday party during that year. The moms were all standing around chatting, and I was making a herculean effort to stand around with them chatting. It was the first time since I had finished cancer treatment that I even appeared in public. I had almost no hair and only one breast, and I couldn’t wear a breast prosthesis because I also had no skin on my chest wall, and I wasn’t going to stick a bra and fake breast over an oozing sore that went from above my collarbone to the bottom of my ribcage just so that people who looked at me could pretend to forget that I only had one breast.

I wore a red vest all the time, a quilted one that had enough substance to obscure the fact of my cyclopean cleavage enough that I felt comfortable leaving the house.

So there I was, at this lady’s house trying to make conversation with a bunch of women I barely knew, and who barely knew me except that they all knew I had breast cancer, so that my daughter could be happy that I finally accompanied her to a birthday party. The moms were all griping about their baby weight. Most of them had had babies, and the mom in question had a three-month-old, and she still wasn’t in her pre-pregnancy jeans, and she thought she should be, after three months of diet pills. There are a lot of reasons not to breastfeed, but it is my opinion that if you plan to feed your baby formula so that you can take diet pills, you might want to rethink motherhood and go get some therapy about your body image issues. And talking about them in front of someone with one breast is insensitive at best. I said so, at the time although not directly. I said the only thing I said all during that party: “I’ve lost all of my baby weight and I can fit into the jeans I wore in high school.”

“Lucky,” said Nasty Little Girl’s Nasty Mom, and she meant it. I know she meant it, because I checked later on with another mom, one who had taken the trouble to become my friend despite my pricklishness.

“Well, being thin is very important to Nasty Mom,” my friend tried to justify the comment and not say anything bad about someone else behind her back. Nasty mom also had waist-length blond hair, the kind that only comes from going to the hair salon every three weeks, which is fine, and something many of my friends do, but they never made me feel bad about my own cancer hair the way Nasty Mom did whenever I caught her staring at me.

When the princess hair episode happened, I told my daughter that Nasty Girl was only repeating what her Nasty Mom had taught her, and wasn’t it sad that a mom would teach her daughter to be so narrow minded and judgmental.

“There are only two little girls in that whole class who have princess hair,” I said to her. “What do the other little girls do.”

“Nasty Little Girl makes us be ladies-in-waiting.”

“So two girls with long straight hair dominate the other six of you whose hair is not long and straight.”

“Chinese Girl has long straight hair,” said my daughter.

“So it’s three versus three? That doesn’t sound like much fun,” I said.

“They also said Chinese girls can’t be princesses.”

“Aha!” I thought, but I said, “Well, that’s not true for a fact. They made a movie called Mulan about one Chinese girl who was a princess, and besides, there are not ONE but TWO REAL LIFE princesses from Asia, who look a lot like Chinese Girl. One is in Thailand and one is in Japan, and they are part of royal families who have been kings and queens for thousands of years, far longer than anyone who has been a king or queen in Europe.”

“Well, she can’t be a princess in the game we play.”

“So why don’t you four girls go play your own game?”

Silence.

“Because the two girls with princess hair control things by excluding the rest of you?”

“Yes,” in a whisper.

“Do you really want to be like that?”

“No!”

“Well then. When someone says something mean to you, then walk away and just don’t even try to be their friend. Some people are just mean. You can’t change them, so just let them do their thing, and you go do yours.”

I thought about this episode today when a good friend stopped by. He and I got to talking, as we do, nonstop. He’s one of my favorite people, and his wife is one of the few people who I feel comfortable talking to about all of my feelings about this whole cancer thing. When I say I am lucky in my friends, I’m talking specifically about friends like the guy who stopped by this morning.

He’s got an illness that makes mine look like a walk in the park on a sunny morning with kittens and butterflies, and maybe a Broadway score, and I know it, and he knows  I know it, and whenever I hang out with my friend, we talk about a lot of things including living with illness and disability.

“Everyone’s got a story,” I said, and he said the exact same thing at the exact same time.

It’s hard, trying to be normal, pretending be normal,  but not being normal, when the things other people take for granted are the things that lie so far beyond our reach.

“We spend so much time and effort trying to get there,” he said. “But when we finally get there, we don’t want it, with the pressure to be perfect, and to perform all the time, and never slip up, and the unforgivingness and the body image issues and the self-loathing.”

I told him the story about the princess hair.

“All things considered,” he said, “Cancer hair is better.”

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6 Comments
  1. gale permenter permalink

    Poor Georgia. I love her hair. I was thinking how pretty it was last time we were over there. Especially in your Christmas pics. Girls with straight hair always want curly hair. It’s fun and bounces when you walk. It can be a pain to manage, but we want it anyway. :0) Too bad there are going to be plenty more mean, nasty girls in her life.
    Tell Georgia to write her own princess story with tons of curly hair.

  2. Mary Knapp permalink

    When I was four, princesses had long wavy hair. Of course, mine was short.

  3. Aunt Lee permalink

    If Georgia and you poked around the internet, it might help her to see what real princesses and real queens look, and have looked, like. Elizabeth Rex II never had long hair, as I recall, and her daughter, Princess Ann, didn’t either. Fergie was fat. Diana’s hair was short. Etc. (And in any case, it’s a lousy job.)

    But Georgia needs ammunition that will work with the Mean Girls. I really like the idea of the four of them forming their own group and just ignoring the mean girls. Maybe, with enough talk, she might try this out.

    Being a princess, like being overly rich, should allow one to look however the hell is most comfortable. Usually, this only takes hold at the granddaughter-of-the-founder or great-granddaughter generation, and even then, it’s harder for women than for men. Because presentability for women is crafted within a frame designed by, mostly, gay men and nouveau riche climbers.

    None of that, however, helps Georgia with the mean girls. Let us know how this saga continues to unfold.

    Especially since Georgia KNOWS that a mother can be beautiful with ratty hair and one breast.

  4. Rachel permalink

    Small class sizes are great for educational purposes, but I’m not so sure they’re great on a social basis. If there are 10 or 15 girls in the class, it’s easier (though never easy) to find your own group and separate from the Mean Girls. When there are only 6 girls, it’s a lot harder. My 3rd grade class only had 6 girls in it. That’s the year I started therapy for the first time.

    • Aunt Lee permalink

      Rachel, Good point. Isn’t there a way for the majority of 4 girls just to shun the 2 mean girls? I realize majority rule doesn’t work exactly, but isn’t there a way?

  5. You knocked this one out of the park. 🙂

    Love to you and Georgia, “OUR Princess”!

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