One could go on and on forever talking about anything, but I'll just touch on it here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Changing the Face of Normal

Social media brought an inspiring story into my news feed the other day. A mother and her daughter travel around to schools teaching students about kindness when encountering someone who looks or behaves differently than they do. The little girl in this story has a genetic disorder that caused deformities in her face, hands, and feet. In other words, she doesn't look "normal."

Normal. Ouch. What is that? Adults and kids have stared some unkind stares and said some thoughtless words to this little girl because she doesn't look normal in their eyes. Yes, she has a medical issue that her parents didn't want her to have. They were happily awaiting the birth of a healthy child. They don't want her to have trouble, multiple surgeries, a life of numerous challenges. But, they love their daughter regardless of all this. They quite probably don't see her as anything but normal because they know her. But reading this story got me to thinking about why differences—whether from difficulties or not— so often shock and scare us or cause us to respond without thinking about someone's feelings. Why do we immediately react that someone is not normal?

Are we hard-wired to want to see everyone as fitting the same mold? Or are we conditioned to believe that some people are weird or not normal because they are not like us?

These questions reminded me of the crayon skin-color fiasco. How long did it take the makers of crayons to do away with the flesh color? Have they even eliminated this name on the peachy stick? When you think about it, having only one color for flesh is like having one color crayon labeled "flower." Is peach the "normal" color for skin and all other colors are not normal? As a child I faithfully colored the faces of people in my coloring book with that flesh color. But I lived in an area where I never saw people with very dark skin. I doubt it occurred to me to use any other color unless the character in my book was Native American. I definitely had my own idea of normal.

Thinking about crayon color brought me to thoughts of commercials with babies in them. Yes, many commercials in our country use model babies with many shades of skin tone. Thankfully someone somewhere in the industry realized that not all babies are Caucasian. But haven't you noticed that there is something remarkably the same about how all these babies look? They look "normal," right? Don't you hear people say (haven't I thought it or said it), "Your baby's so beautiful; she should be in commercials!" ? Would diapers really stop selling if some of the models didn't look symmetrical?

There is a magazine that puts out issues of the most beautiful people in the world each year. Yeah, OK, we like to look at these "perfect" people. Yes, it sells. Yes, I've heard of the studies with babies who respond differently when shown pictures of these beautiful people and then shown pictures of average or ordinary faces. This is where I wonder about how we are maybe hard-wired for some of our appreciation of, and responses to, beauty. But, what if this magazine—what if those baby commercials—included more variety in their definition of beauty? What if simple changes like this helped change the face of normal? (Think Dove Beauty Campaign). Then, no matter how we might be hard-wired, what if we stopped being conditioned to stare and started responding to others who look different than we do with the same way we greet a friend? (What if we stopped passing around those people of Walmart clips?).

I know as a mother I really think about what I can do to raise my son to be compassionate and understand that normal is diversity. That starts with how I behave in and out of his presence. I hope that I keep learning daily to choose kindness even if my gut first wants to rebel. If normal is mean, then I really don't want anyone to call me normal.