Kate Parker’s short, soccer-friendly haircut meant so much to her as a seven-year-old that she paid homage to it in her fabulous book, Strong Is The New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves.
“My main goals were to first, be exactly like my two older brothers and second, kick butt on the soccer field just like they did,” Parker writes. “I began to realise that the hair had to go. It was a time suck. I had games to play and goals to score.”
I thought of Parker when I read about Mili Hernandez, the 8-year-old girl from Omaha whose all-girls soccer team, the Azzurri Achurros, was disqualified from a tournament because someone thought she was a boy.
“I’ve always had short hair,” Mili told Nebraska NBC affiliate WOWT. “I didn’t like my hair long.”
But we cling hard to assumptions about appearance – even children’s appearance – and short hair, for a lot of folks, means male.
Complicating matters was that a typo on one registration form listed Mili as a boy, although other forms listed her as a girl.
To straighten things out, her dad, Gerardo Hernandez, brought Mili’s insurance card to the tournament site. But he said organisers weren’t budging.
“They didn’t even want to take it,” he told The Washington Post. “They told us the thing was decided.”
Decided, maybe. But far from over.
The Nebraska State Soccer Association said in a statement Tuesday it’s investigating the decision and working to ensure a similar error doesn’t happen again.
Meanwhile, Mili’s story caught the eye of retired US soccer gold medalist Mia Hamm, who tweeted an invitation for Mili to join her at Team First Soccer Academy Camp. Tennis legend Billie Jean King chimed in on Twitter too: “Mili, continue to be yourself, dream big and go for it. Take Mia up on her offer.”
Hey Mili, we would love to host you at one of our camps @TeamFirstSA . Be you!
— Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm) June 5, 2017
Abby Wambach, US Olympic soccer star, tweeted, “Mili, don’t EVER let anyone tell you that you aren’t perfect just as you are. i won championships with short hair.”
Actually can someone find me the numbers of this club? I am calling their president. Unreal. https://t.co/2klR3IeLWR
— Abby Wambach (@AbbyWambach) June 5, 2017
On Instagram, Wambach added: “Dear Mili Hernandez, you are amazing in every way. Thank you for teaching us how to be brave and shining a light on something so hurtful. … Let’s meet soon sister.”
Sometimes the beautiful, bighearted sides of humanity need a gentle nudge from the ugly, small-minded sides. Hey, kindness: You’re up. Hey, progress: We need you over here.
I hope Mili meets the stars who’ve shaped and forever changed the sport she loves. I hope she continues to wear her hair however she darn well pleases for as long as she lives.
And I hope a copy of Strong Is the New Pretty makes its way into her hands.
“The message,” Parker told me in April, “is just allowing girls to be who they are and know their worth and value are determined by what they do and how they act and how kind they are and the feeling they leave people with, rather than how they look.”