On the first day of sophomore year of high school, I walked into my new classes with hot pink hair. I was fairly notorious for wearing odd things, and changing my hairstyles and colors frequently. I found joy in this, and thought it was pretty great to not take myself too seriously. I dyed my hair by myself and for myself, and honestly did not have a care in the world about what anyone else thought of it.
A week or so into that school year, I found myself being bullied in a “social justice” class, ironically enough. I was the only white person and only girl in the room, and literally got death threats and people telling me they would “kick my ass after class” because I was “only a stupid white girl.” Because I was extremely shy and introverted, I didn’t ever speak out during that class, and instead sat silently and did my work. I was hated for the parts about myself that I was born with.
The teacher of that class said nothing to the boys threatening me; instead, she acted like it wasn’t happening. I approached her about it, and she told me to “deal with it.” After a few weeks of enduring torturous class sessions and feeling afraid of coming to school, a couple of my favorite teachers suggested I go talk to the school counselor to get me switched out of the class. They even wrote her to tell her what had been going on, and they wanted me to have a better experience than I was having.
The afternoon that I finally went to the school counselor, I remember walking into her dimly-lit room, and sitting across from her at her cold, metal desk. She pushed her glasses down the end of her nose, and in a horrifically mechanical voice asked me to describe what had been going on in my own words. I repeated my story to her, sure that if she understood my safety was in danger, she would change something. When I was done, she stood up, as if to literally look down on me, and said, “Well, you DO realize you have pink hair. Obviously you’re looking for attention, and are asking for it.”
I wish this were a joke, but no, she honestly told me that I was “asking to be bullied” because my hair was different.
I was livid. Who was she to judge my appearance, and tell me that, because of it, I deserved to be threatened? No one deserves threats, and no one deserves to feel uncomfortable in his or her schooling situation. Not to mention, the threats and bullying that I had been receiving had nothing to do with the color of my hair at all; not a single person said anything about my hair.
I was just remembering this situation because one of my hausmates recently shared an article with me entitled, “Girls with Short Hair are Damaged.” The article proposed that, the only reason a girl would cut her hair was because she was trying to break away from a man that had “damaged” her. Again, this really pissed me off, as I am a girl with short hair.
For me, the way I look has always been for myself. I change my hair colors and styles frequently because I get bored, and want to try something new. I get tattoos and piercings because they make me feel sexy, and I dress the way I do because it makes me happy. I look the way I do to impress myself and no one else; I don’t care what anyone thinks of the things I chose to do to my hair and body. When I got my hair cut into a pixie cut, I had a boyfriend, and didn’t consult him first: Of course I wanted him to like it, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t his business. The same was true when I had my hair dyed pink; it didn’t matter what my boyfriend at the time thought, because I liked it.
My parents, being the wonderful people that they are, let me experiment with different looks in my youth. My mum would say to the adults around her who would tell her she made a mistake for letting me have pink hair, “It is just hair. It will grow back. Meg deserves a say in what she looks like.” Now that I’m 22 and have multiple tattoos and piercings, mum might regret saying that a bit, but she still supports that statement: now she says to me, “I don’t like your tattoos, but it is your body, and if they make you happy, I can’t stop you.” Why does society assume that everything we do is for other people? Why can’t our passions, our appearances, and our lives be for us and our own satisfaction and happiness? I find myself wondering this frequently.
I know that there are plenty of people out there who do try desperately to impress others, and that is okay too. Not everyone is the same, and that is life. That is what is great about life, and what should be valued: everyone has differences. I’ve only recently come to realize this. For a very long time after my incident with the school counselor, I felt very self-conscious, and in fact never dyed my hair an unnatural color again. I was afraid that people thought I was trying to convey a message with my appearance instead of simply being myself. I toned down my bright colored clothing for a while, became even more introverted, and tried my best to blend in.
I eventually realized that there is something powerful in valuing yourself, and in doing things because you want to. The school counselor was trying to put me in a box by calling me “abnormal,” and she got her way for a short time. There was nothing quite as dreadful as the times I tried to be “normal.” I strongly believe there is no such thing as truly normal, and that no one should feel ashamed for how they look, act, or dress. If someone does something for his or herself, then so be it.