Dear Abby: The Pink Badge of Courage
Something significant happened yesterday morning.
It happened on a Tuesday morning, the most ordinary of all the week days, but you will learn this is how all great moments happen—when you are not looking for it.
This is what happened: You grew just a little bit braver right before my eyes.
Here’s how it went: I was sitting at my writing desk and you were lolling around on my bed as you usually do in the morning. I told you to go get dressed for theater camp.
Wear anything you want! I said. It’s going to be hot, so one of your sundresses might feel good.
Abby, I know just how much you love to wear dresses. Your pants hang in your closet neglected. Usually your face lights up when I give you permission to wear a dress, but this day, your face clouded instead.
What’s wrong? I asked, surprised. And then you told me something that broke my heart just a little. You were sitting down to lunch the day before. You were wearing a purple cotton maxi dress with a little black sweater over it. You had a purple flower barrette in your hair. I had picked out that outfit for you in honor of the first day; I knew you felt shy and scared and I wanted you to feel good, to feel pretty. Some girls came to sit by you, a little group. But one girl, you didn’t know her name, so we’ll call her Bully Girl looked you over and said, “Let’s go sit somewhere else.” And she led the little group away from you.
One girl came back to sit by you; her name was Ashley, you said. I don’t know why she chose to do that, Abby, but I suspect it had something to do with all the prayers we prayed for you. But that girl also told you what the bully-girl said after they walked away. She said that she didn’t want to sit by you because you were too dressed up. She always dresses up, the snotty girl said, which is of course, ridiculous because she had never seen you before.
This is why your face was clouded, Abby. Because of what the snotty girl said, you didn’t know what to wear. She made you doubt your choices, your preference for dresses, and at six years old, to doubt your very self. Even though it’s just a dress, it’s more than that, Abby.
You see, all of us secretly wonder inside (yes, even adults) Am I ok? Am I strange? Are my preferences acceptable? Is it ok to be me? Bully girl was sending you the message that it is not ok to be you. You are too dressed up for bully-girl’s liking.
Abby, there is nothing to do with these people but walk away and find better company. Bully girl is most certainly hurting on the inside herself. I feel for her, I really do, when she’s not hurting my baby girl. But you don’t have to be the victim of that pain.
So there we were on the bed together and you had a choice to make: to wear a dress or to wear shorts and a t-shirt. You had permission from me and negative feedback from Bully Girl. You were conflicted, Abby.
So I drew a picture. I am not a skilled artist, it was only stick figures and it made you laugh because it was such poor art. I drew an unhappy person (Bully girl) and above her head, I drew shorts and a tank top. Then I drew a bigger, smiling person (Me) and above her head, a dress. In the middle, I drew you. And I told you that the choice was yours. You should wear what you want to wear today. But in making the choice, you should think about whether you want to listen to an unhappy person who doesn’t love you, or someone who loves you very much. But, I told you, the choice is absolutely yours and I will not say anything else about it.
Sometimes, Abby, we listen to the critics just because they’re there. This is not good. Yet, to make the choice to ignore them is difficult and brave. You smiled at the picture and you left the room. You came back in wearing your most favorite pink sundress. You were radiant. You made the choice to be who you are, to like what you like, in the face of criticism.
To anyone else who saw you that day, it looked like you were just wearing a breezy summer sundress. But I knew what that sundress really was: a pink badge of courage.