Emma: A Cross-Cultural Self-Portrait

From our young artist

A few weeks ago, Emma drew her first self-portrait.  Actually, I think it was her first attempt at drawing a person at all, and she chose herself.  I’m not sure where this falls on the list of developmental milestones or if she is on track, but up until now she hasn’t drawn many things.  She likes to color and stays in the lines well, and usually likes to use many colors on her pictures.  She is working on writing her letters and numbers and can draw shapes and such, but pictures of things have been few.

The other day I went to pick her up from a church nursery and she proudly showed me her picture (on left).  She pointed out that she had very long hair and flowers on her dress.  I think her friend, Emma, who was in the same class may have drawn a self portrait as well, so maybe that is where the idea came from.  Since then, I have seen her draw herself two more times.  The last time is pictured on the right.  There have been a couple variations, but some things remained the same.

One of my favorite aspects of these pictures is the arms.  I love how they come out of her head, and am curious to know why this is, and also when she may notice that coming out of the sides might be more accurate.  One of the variations between pictures is her dress.  In her first picture, she drew a flowery dress, which is a normal thing for her to wear, especially as she basically wears nothing but dresses these days.  Her second picture she colored her very favorite dress on herself, or so she told me.  It looks a little red to me, rather than the actual pink color of the dress, but its close enough.  I thought the colors on this last drawing were interesting as they reminded me of Egypt’s colors, but I don’t think that went through her mind.

The one constant through all three of her self-portraits was her long hair.  You’ll notice that her hair is incredibly long in these pictures, reaching way down below her feet even!  It’s not the same color in both pictures, but I don’t know if that is a conscious choice.  I do think, however, that her drawings of very long hair are reflective of a struggle she is having.  She really really really wants long hair, but at this point, it is only medium-length.  She has fine, slow-growing hair.  I did cut the back a few times, over a year ago, as I thought it looked better a little on the shorter side, rather than long and thin.  But she has said many times that she doesn’t want it cut, and wants it to be long.  Sometimes her desire is to be like me, which often takes me by surprise.  Some days she wants a ponytail because “mommy has a ponytail.”  She doesn’t realize I just do it to keep cool and it’s something I can do quickly in the morning.  It’s all about practicality.  She just looks at my long hair and wants hers to be the same.  I think, though, that this desire for long hair is coming more from the children around her.

We are in Egypt, and most Egyptian girls have lots of long, thick hair.  They are born with a full head of hair and it grows quickly after that.  Mine are born with just some hair, and then it seems to take forever to grow.  Hannah is three and I can barely get a ponytail out of her hair, and I’ve never cut the back.  Emma’s is growing, very slowly, but it is something she notices that is different between her and the girls at school.  It doesn’t help the situation when one of the girls said to her the other day that her hair was short.  She took a real offense at that since short hair is for boys!  She didn’t come home crying about it, but she did think to bring it up to me and was quite upset when she recounted the remark.  I comforted her as best I could telling her I was sorry that hurt her feelings, and that probably most of the girls she sees here have  a lot of hair!  I assured her that one day her hair would be longer, but regardless of hair length, she was a beautiful girl.

When I saw her self-portrait that she drew tonight, and noticed the hair reaching beyond the floor once again, I remembered this comment of the schoolmate, and saw this picture as a little white fair-haired American girl trying to fit into the picture of girls she sees around her … dark, long-haired Egyptians.  I’m sure there will be many such drawings, conversations, stories, and tears throughout the years of us living cross-culturally as our girls try to fit into a place where they want to belong.  God, give us wisdom and the right words to comfort and encourage our little girls.


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