Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Girl with the Pink Hair

I read an upsetting story this morning. An old friend had shared it on Facebook from a local newspaper. It was about a girl of eleven in a school down south, whose teacher had singled her out for disobeying a non-existent rule. The girl was made to feel exposed and ridiculed in front of her classmates.

The picture with the story showed the girl in a crazy acrylic wig of bright pinkish purple. She was smiling. She had the prematurely aged features that come with the disease that gives a child the face of someone at the end rather than the start of their life. These kids have a life expectancy of fifteen years. They get a quick burst of a life with none of the experience and less of the actual living than they might reasonably expect. The faces of these kids are often striking because although the actual flesh is wrinkling and aged, it is still animated and lit by their intrinsic youthfulness. They can seem elfin - especially when they're sporting bright pink wigs.

On top of everything else this girl had alopecia. Her family couldn't afford to buy her a wig made of human hair, that would perhaps look more natural and lifelike and less conspicuous. they couldn't afford to help her fit in. All they could get her was this fluorescent number, and it was this that her teacher made her take off in class.

And it wasn't because there was a rule about not wearing colourful wigs in school. Later, after the mother went to the paper, the School Head and the Head of Inclusion were keen to point out that no such rule existed. The problem was that the girl just turned up one day wearing the offending article, with no warning, when she had seemed okay in the past with an almost bald head. It was too conspicuous, was the problem. It stood out too much. She should have sought special permission, and perhaps found something more appropriate.

Her teacher felt that the pink wig might cause mayhem. It might encourage all the other children to run riot and start wearing extravagant wigs. It might drive all the incipient rebels to dye their hair unnatural hues. And then what kind of anarchy might break out?

So what if they did all have pink and purple hair? What would be wrong with that? The little girl's world - and our whole world - might be better off if her fellow pupils took it upon themselves to colour their hair or don wigs en masse in solidarity with the girl who'd chosen pink hair.

How wonderful it would be if - rather than panicking over procedures, non-existent rules and the counter-productive angsting of the school authorities - the teacher had let herself act with more compassion and humanity, and let the girl carry on flaunting her space age, disco, fairy tale hairdo? And wouldn't it have been just smashing if the teacher had turned up the next day in a flashy, glittering wig of her own?

When did we become so conformist? When did the paperwork and admin and ad hoc regulations become more important than the actual people? When did it become a terrible thing to have people standing out in a crowd? When did it stop being the job of educators to encourage us to explore our individuality and not be scared of it?

The girl in the story had no choice about standing out and being conspicuous. She was bravely making the best of it. At the tender, tiny age of eleven she was courageous enough to choose to sport a wig that was fabulous and glam and the very opposite of humdrum conformity.

I want to write to her school board of governors. I want to write to her teacher, her school head, her head of inclusion. I want to write to her family, her mother. Most of all I want to tell her that I hope she knows that, if she wants to wear her pink wig day and night and wherever the hell she wants to, no one has the right to tell her she can't.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this story a little earlier because this is actually my home town, Burgess Hill. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest. This is an incredibly small-minded place, and the "rules is rules" attitude is very common (even when the rules don't actually exist).

    It's pretty bizarre considering that Brighton, with all its colourful eccentrics, is just down the road. That said, I doubt schools there would be any different. I think we should send all our kids to school in fluorescent wigs in protest.