I just watched my 15 year old Gleek walk into the high school building for her orientation day. There was this moment when she walked past the pep squad sent to greet all the incoming sophomores, where the bottom dropped out of my stomach because I could see all the way my daughter was visibly different from what is standard dress and behavior in our community. We live in a place with a predominant religion. In our town 80% of the students she meets will be LDS (Mormon). Since we are too, this is a little bit comforting. We have at least a baseline expectation for what priorities and values the people around us hold, even though there is a lot of individual variation in how committed people are and how they interpret doctrine. My daughter is a walking, visual variation.
The norm in our community is short hair for boys, long hair for girls, conservative dress, natural hair colors. Even the teens who aren’t Mormon tend to follow this norm. Utah is very clean cut, Orem especially so. This morning my daughter walked into the school building with bright blue hair cut into an anime style pixie cut, short in the back, long near her face. She wore flowered cargo shorts and a black hat. Her arms were adorned with sharpie marker flowers and swirls reminiscent of tattoos. Her surface defies the norms of our community. Her heart embraces our religion. She loves church, and she consciously examines its doctrines. She studies scriptures on her own. She has developed her own relationship with God which is part of how she navigates her personal challenges.
Mostly she’s gotten positive reactions from people at church. I get lots of women telling me that they love her blue hair, that she’s adorable. Thus far I haven’t heard from people who think her blue hair is a sign that she is drifting, lost, or not committed. I assume those people are out there, and I’m grateful that thus far they are keeping their judgements to themselves. What I don’t know is how her surface appearance will affect her relations with peers at school. High school always sorts itself into groups. I worry that she’ll be pushed into groups where her appearance matches rather than being able to find places where her heart matches, no matter what she looks like. She enters the school with a group of established friends who have long accepted her for who she is. I hope that continues. I hope she finds people who celebrate both her internal strength and her enthusiastic creativity. I hope she finds friends who will be there and support her on the hard days, because high school always has hard days.
There are so many things I hope and fear. Mostly I try to not let those hopes and fears leak to where she can see them. My emotions are mine, she shouldn’t have to feel the weight of them. In a few hours I’ll go pick her up and I’ll get to hear how everything went. I would love for this year to be more aligned with hopes than with fears.