A couple of days ago, I saw a video on Facebook that truly changed my perspective, and I didn’t know that I needed to be re-adjusted.
I watched a video of a little girl unwrapping her American Girl doll.
This doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal, right? The Girl has four American Girl dolls and has barely played with them in the last couple of years. She’s getting too old for them but I refuse to put them in the attic for fear that extreme heat will destroy them.
I know that people can order special American Girl dolls that will resemble the girls who are supposed to own them. For a while, the Girl and I thought about getting her a special doll, we had even chosen what we thought was the right doll which was kind of cool because the doll’s id number was the same as my birth year.
It was meant to be.
And it didn’t happen. Oh well. Not that big of a deal.
In the last decade, I keep on hearing about the mystique of Disney princesses and dolls that look like the girls in the target audience range. I remember hearing NPR’s articles about the little girls thrilled about The Princess and the Frog. I smiled as I listened to little girls enthusiastically talking about a Disney princess with whom they could associate. Their excitement was wonderful.
But I really didn’t get it.
I’m not trying to be ugly….I’m really not.
But I guess that since I have sort of resembled Barbies (blue eyes, blond hair when I was a child…never that slender) or the Disney princesses, I never felt like I had an absent beauty role model. If anything, I lived in areas where I was nothing more than just another white pebble on a beach covered in pale rocks.
I have never felt isolated due to my appearance. I am so status-quo that I am downright ordinary. I guess that’s why my personality quirks and emotional extremities make me unique.
This last week, though, I wept when I watched this little girl open her American Girl doll.
After peeling back the paper, the girl opened the box, saw the doll.
Nothing amazing. Her parents handed her a letter and the girl flipped open the paper, read the first couple of lines.
Stunned, she flipped down the piece of cardboard that was covering the doll’s lower half.
And the girl shrieked and started sobbing.
In an almost panicked rush, the girl pulled the doll out of the box and held it in a tight embrace, almost like she was trying to pull the doll into her body. The girl sobbed and sobbed, her joy apparent in every hiccuped breath, in every tremble of her shoulders.
The doll had a pink prosthetic leg, barely visible beneath the x of the girl’s arms.
The girl was coaxed to read the letter completely. And in doing so, it was revealed that the doll had undergone a special “surgery” and that she was ready to live with the girl for the rest of her life.
And, once more, the girl sobbed as her joy, her….I don’t know….relief??? was released.
“She looks just like me,” the girl cried over and over.
She looks just like me.
I have to hesitate there. Think for a moment.
I am used to being the one hiding in the shadows, blending into the wall space so that I am unnoticed. Many times, it is because the suffocating social awkwardness with which I am plagued pulls me into the walls so that I can hide and not make a fool of myself. Other times, especially when I was much younger, the walls were a shield against mockery.
Social awkwardness means that I say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. Social awkwardness seems to entail not being able to eat cleanly (I spill everything…usually down my front). Social awkwardness means that compliments end up sounding like insults and the attempt to make someone understand that I wasn’t trying to be rude or hurtful makes it just worse.
I hid from the world because I was scared of the world. I wasn’t the epitome of target practice. I will never be the subject of the bullying documentary and be the voice of the oppressed and the victimized. I am so status quo that I am completely unremarkable.
I don’t know what it means to stand out because of my appearance, other than having thigh-length hair. But, again, that was really nothing. Nothing in comparison to a little girl with a pink prosthetic, feeling isolated and completely outside the world because one of her legs is pink and made from a combination of metal and plastic.
She is such a lovely girl with such a beautiful heart. At least, in the two minutes that I saw of her, I saw someone whom I would love to teach and help propel further into the world.
And it made me ache to see her sob with relief that someone or something looked like her, that she wasn’t alone anymore.
I don’t know that it means to feel like that. I know loneliness. I know isolation. But this child’s loneliness had a totally different texture from anything I had ever experienced. I can slip in and out of crowds and no one will notice me.
I’m not certain about her.
I had a student last year who wrote her college entry essay about her prosthetic leg. I loved it because she courageously talked about something everyone else likely steered around and hid from. Her essay was saturated with dignity and humor. She understood that she had experienced something everyone would want to avoid at all costs. She understood that the audience would be uncomfortable with how forthright she confronted her physical differences.
But as I laughed with her over the jokes she had deliberately planted into her essay, I felt any sense of unease fall away. She removed from me any emotion related to her prosthetic other than humor.
It was just another part of her, much like my hands and feet are a part of me. Different? Yes.
But we were still really nothing more than just the same…just with some different atoms.
Even as I was writing this post, I had forgotten about that moment until a couple of paragraphs ago. And then I remembered. Because she made me not see it.
And the little girl in the video? I actually hadn’t noticed her special leg as well because she was sitting down. But the honesty of her emotional response to the doll?
I could see that. And it made me pause. And, for this, I am grateful.