This is a picture of my twins, from the back.
I know, gorgeous, aren’t they? If you met them, and we struck up a conversation, I know just what you’d say. “Well, goodness,” you’d say. “Look at that hair.” I know, because everyone says it, and has since they were born: family, friends, people at the park. Everyone, or close enough for it not to matter. Look at that hair, indeed. Yeah. LOOK AT IT.
If I have to hear about their (expletive) hair one more time, I (expletive) swear here and now, my loves. I’m going to shave both beautiful heads.
Why? Well, guess what the well-meaning strangers say about the one there to the right? Frankly, they generally either don’t notice her or ignore her. Her golden-streaked, sparrow-feather locks might as well be invisible. Her gigantic blue eyes are windows into a soul, a mind which is every bit as inquisitive and sensitive as mine, or yours. Trust me, she notices. They both notice.
I’m not sure which is more toxic. Would you rather be a twin who immediately gets noticed for how you look? Told, seven times before breakfast, it is your hair that makes you valuable? Or would you rather be standing, transparent beside her, and told that looks make you valuable, and sister, not THOSE looks.
Nature and nurture blend together to form our personalities, and it’s impossible for me to untangle them in my daughters. I don’t know which aspects of each girl are swirled into her DNA, and which are functions of navigating life with different pigment extruding from their follicles.
The ginger is out-going, confident. She loves to play dress-up, and then twirl in front of the mirror, saying things like, “Look at how BEAUTIFUL I am, mama!” She has “strong leadership tendencies,” by which I mean she’s got everyone wrapped around her finger. She sparkles.
The brunette is far more reserved with strangers, scowling at them as often as not. She likes to wear costumes everywhere, and especially loves masks. She is more classically introverted, more artistic, and will spend hours drawing. She loves “homework,” practicing her writing. She is obsessed with Batman, and has (totally independently) decorated her lower bunk bed to be her own bat cave, including cutting pictures from magazines and hanging them on her ceiling.
I recently read a great blog, which asked strangers to watch what they said around children, in this case, a toddler boy who loved pink. Part of me wanted to raise my fist in solidarity – YES! Please quit saying such crazy things to such very small children! – and part of me sadly shook my head with hopelessness.
Perhaps, if there were just one or two problematic messages a day, I could intercept them, shield my kids from their impact.
But, this isn’t a rainstorm we’re standing in, it’s a lake. It’s as common as the air we breathe, as the water we drink, as every song and every advertisement, reminding us that it’s what outside that counts. My only hope is not an umbrella, it’s swimming lessons. And I’m the one who has to teach them, even though I’m still learning how to swim, myself.
To my girls, should you ever read this: I am torn. I want to tell you, a thousand times, how beautiful you are. But somehow, I wish I could teach you that none of that matters. You are amazingly yourselves, and no one else. You are strong, flawed, and perfect. The world is messy, and sometimes will lie, and tell you your value lies where it doesn’t. Our only option, despite the hurt, is to hold each other’s hands and never let go.