Last week, I witnessed a powerful act of self-advocacy from a child who looked about ten years old.
Yesterday in a public restroom, I met an adorable girl with a pretty pink-bow headband who was well-spoken and courteous. She also had a lovely speaking voice. I went into a stall, only to hear someone new enter the room and ask with a laugh, “What happened, did you buzz off all your hair?” The girl said in an admirably respectful tone, “I have alopecia, and it made me lose my hair.”
It didn’t stop there. The woman continued, “Oh, yes, well [name of someone famous] had that problem, too. He wore wigs, though. You should get a wig.” I was horrified and wanted to defend her, but I wasn’t out yet.
Her aunt (I’m guessing, or else a very young mom) came out of her stall and said, “She is beautiful exactly the way she is.” (She was!)
By the time I got out, the little girl was already leaving. I really wanted to say to her, “You are beautiful, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” But I was chicken. I didn’t know if I would come across as patronizing or interfering. Still, I hope she went home and looked in the mirror to see a smiley, bright-eyed, sweet girl who made me wonder what her parents had done to teach her such nice manners.
If I’d been able to get out of the stall faster I would have said something, but by the time I got out the moment was over. My jaw dropped as Ms. Ignorant could not shut her mouth. I couldn’t believe someone could say something that cruel. I was actually thinking to myself when I first met the girl, “Wow, she is so pretty!”
I wish I could have said something like, “It’s a heat index of 111 today. Why would anyone wear a wig who doesn’t need one?”
But really, if I had said anything at all it would have been a quiet undertone to the girl. “I’m sorry she was so thoughtless. You can’t fix stupid! I hope you grow up into a powerful, famous adult who will tell this story as an anecdote while you’re campaigning for US president.”
September is Alopecia Areata Awareness Month, and there are great resources available such as the Children’s Alopecia Project. You can find a small list of books on hair loss at Salon Revive.
Olivia Rusk has written a book about alopecia and appeared on the Today show. You can watch her interview here. I cringe at using “brave” to describe a confident and competent adolescent, but she comes across as a wonderful advocate for herself and others.
But while this particular story is about alopecia, I learned a greater lesson that day. A little girl answered calmly, clearly, and factually when she was inappropriately targeted by a stranger for unwanted attention. I don’t know how the little girl felt as she walked away, but she left at least one admirer behind.
How do you respond when people call you out for unwanted attention? How do you straighten out people who objectify you and intrude on your personal space? It’s easy to get hostile or disengage from the situation completely, but this little girl scored a victory.