Sunday, August 4, 2013

People Are People (No Matter Where They Shop)

It has taken me almost a year to be ready to write this post.

Last fall, we were all geared up for a high school football game with our cross-town rivals. Both teams were undefeated at that point and it promised to be a great game. I think I was more interested in high school football last year than I was when I was in high school myself. We pre-purchased our tickets because a sold out crowd was anticipated. I wore team colors -- purple and black -- to work that day, as I did every Friday, so that we could head straight to the game when I got home. I was psyched.

It was a rough day at work. My supervisor kept me after my shift was over to deliver a nasty blow. This was not only devastating personally and professionally, but it made me late getting home which made us late for this sold out game. Being late, of course, meant that we had to park farther away which made us have to walk farther which made us even later. Still stinging from my supervisor's words, I had barely spoken to my family throughout this -- fearful that words would lead, as they so often do when I am vulnerable and hurt, to tears.

There's no crying in football.

When we finally made it into the stadium -- still a few minutes shy of the pre-game show -- the stands were packed. There was absolutely not a single place to sit. The throngs of people standing on the sidelines were thick. As I am on the shorter side of tall, any glimpse I got of the field was stolen. Awesome. I listened to the pre-game show, then followed the game as well as  I could by listening to the announcer and watching the score board.

By half-time, my back was in as much pain as my ego. The arthritis in my knee was screaming louder than the pep squad. Feel free to throw in some other figures of speech of your choice to illustrate my physical and emotional misery and/or exhaustion. I was miserable. I was exhausted. You could've put a fork in me kids, 'cause I was done.

At this point, I just absolutely needed to give my back some relief. I knew it would look stupid, but I couldn't go another moment without stretching it out. As I bent over to touch my hands to the ground I heard a girl say, "Oh my God!" and mid bend I caught a glimpse of her nudging her boyfriend and pointing at me. As my fingertips grazed the track and I experienced a millisecond of relief, I saw a flash and heard a click.

She had taken my picture.

She. Had taken. My picture.

I know there are cultures that believe taking your picture steals your soul and in that moment I briefly grokked that notion. She had stolen something from me.

I rose to standing and narrowed my eyes at her. She caught my gaze then quickly dropped it, turning and walking away. She was pretty -- in a generic teenage girl sort of way. Not drop dead, head-turning, oh-my-God pretty, but pretty the way hoards of high school girls seem to be. Pretty because she was young and her hair was long and blonde and her jeans came from the smaller end of the juniors department. She was no different than dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of other girls there that night. She oozed a casual confidence that she would be young and pretty forever. 

I wasn't a person to her -- I was just a punchline. She didn't know what lead to me feeling compelled to bend over in what I knew was an unflattering manner -- nor do I imagine that she would have cared. A fat lady bent over. That was all she needed to know. That's funny stuff right there, kids, I'll tell you what.

People of Walmart are still people.

People who don't dress well, or who have the unmitigated balls to be fat in your presence, or who deviate in any other way from the arbitrary norms are still people. They deserve to go about their daily business as much as well-dressed people with perfect bodies do without being exploited for the amusement of the lowbrow masses. That we, as a society, find it so generally acceptable to shame and dehumanize those who don't fit into our personal aesthetic standards is deplorable.

A few months later a woman was in my office telling us a hilarious story about how she had been shopping with her teenaged daughter and they saw a transgendered person in the store. They -- this adult woman and her teenaged daughter -- nudged each other and giggled. Then the mother encouraged the daughter to snap a picture because her own phone was not charged. Her daughter refused, saying that she didn't want to be caught. Think about that. The mother was encouraging her daughter to dehumanize someone whose appearance she found bizarre. The daughter -- while amused -- refused to take it to the next level, and good on her for that, at least. Do we need a clearer example that this hateful behavior is taught?

Taught, and encouraged and widely accepted as harmless.

It is not harmless.

When someone I used to call a friend recently posted a picture of her neighbor -- a woman who clearly did not meet her standards of beauty -- getting the mail -- I was afraid to walk out of my door for days; fearful that one of my own neighbors might be lurking in the bushes, ready to expose my not-usually-exactly-carefully-polished mail-retrieving look to the world.  It was the football game all over again. (We won, by the way. So there was that.)

My heart broke for this woman whose adult (A very vocal Christian, by the way. WWJD - Who Would Jesus Dehumanize?) neighbor viewed her as nothing more than an opportunity to attempt to make a few of her friends giggle.

But I'll bet she has a story.

I have a story.

You have a story.

Every single person of Walmart has a story, too.


Anonymous said...

How horrible for you...and everyone should read this as a reminder everyone is a person with feelings.

StarTraci said...

Oh how sorry I am for that moment. To me there is little worse than casual cruelty. Rather than having the world expand in understanding with all of our new technology, we use it to hurt others. SO SAD!
You matter. No matter what you wear, blonde or brunette, skinny or not-so-skinny. And btw you are great without any ellipses.

Joanna Jenkins said...

There's a word for women and teenage girls like the ones you described-- Bitch (because that's what they are).

So sorry you had to endure such crap. I did a post about zipping my lip and taking the high road. I definitely would NOT have in this situation.


xo jj