This time it’s me writing over at Fit and Feminist:
Hating Gym, Scale Edition (discussion of body image, weight, and BMI) — I used to like gym, before ninth grade. Then some teacher-sanctioned body-shaming happened.
“You look so pretty!”
It’s the first day of my second year as a teacher at this school, and my principal is gushing at me. I wonder what I looked like on the first day the year before that the difference is so drastic.
From the bottom up:
On my feet are a pair of white Anne Klein sandals. They were an impulse purchase — because I imagined they would go perfectly with my dress and jacket, not because I could justify needing them. Simple and elegant with just the right hint of metallic accent, they made my feet scream by second period. They are still in pristine condition because, to date, that is the only time I have ever worn them.
Price tag $79.
Above that is a white suit jacket. First, let me say that there is no practical reason in the everloving brown desert for me to own a white suit jacket. It was purchased for aesthetics only.
This was the jacket that taught me that despite my measurements, the posted size chart, or the number of Xs, XL — or XXL — in any straight-size store does not mean me. This was the jacket that advised me of the “three button minimum” bust containment system and that led me to wonder why “curvy fit” isn’t a known option for upper body wear.
This was the jacket that reintroduced me to the phrase “football shoulders.”
Had it been a more practical color, I might have made better use of it and therefore appreciated it more. As it stands, it is a perfect match to the shoes — pristine white, worn once.
Price tag $168.00.
Beneath that is a dress, the dress, my dress. Teal, my color. I wore this dress to three interviews earlier in the year. Among my employment applications, I received three job offers. Yes, there is a correlation, at least part of which I attribute to confidence. I prefer not to attribute it to the fact that the dress makes my curves look great, though the latter might also be true.
Though I don’t want to ignore the curves bit because it matters. Because this dress cost me miles driven and walked, cost me hours and days in stores. Cost me the chagrin of asking for a larger size when I was damn near stuck in the smaller — only to discover that the store “must have sold out” of the size I wanted. Cost me laughs and gasps and tongue-clicks of disapproval from sales associates who never dreamed a “girl my size” would “dare” to wear something “so fitted” to an interview.
Because, totally, it makes sense to wear — to an interview — clothes that do not fit?
A dress that’s figure-flattering, available in my size, and appropriate for career situations?
Price tag $199.
Worn four times, would have been more if I didn’t require assistance to get in and out of it.
Beneath that, my lucky internet bra. Suffice it to say I can guarantee that bras my size are not available for sale in my city.
Price tag $77, not counting the shipping on various bras I have purchased and returned.
Above all that, my makeup. What’s catching my principal’s eye is my Sweet Libertine mineral eyeshadow in colors of awesomeness — that is to say, tasteful luminescent neutrals that match my glasses and complement my eyes — on me. In conventional attractiveness terms, it looks fabulous on me.
In intimate terms, it represents the minutes and hours I have spent poring over my pores, lamenting the fact that, well past adolescence, I still have acne. It represents the time I have spent analyzing how to make my face less cheeks and more cheekbones — more eyes and lips, less eyebrows and nose. It represents wanting people to look me in the face when speaking to me and being insecure with what they see once they do so.
The cost of tricking someone — me — into believing people want to look at me.
Price tag, about $25.
How much of that was money well spent?
Between working first as a writing tutor and then as a writing teacher — and, oh yeah, as a writer — I’ve seen a lot of personal narratives over the years. While each person’s story is their own, I’ve noticed trends among classes (within cohorts) over the years. I’m not sure if it’s shared experiences among students or if it’s commonalities in brainstorming suggestions or what. (It’s true that I read every paper that I’m remembering now at some point in the process. But I wasn’t necessarily involved in helping the students brainstorm each one.)
For instance, there was the year of the “How Football Changed My Life” essay.
Followed by that “My Boyfriend/Girlfriend Cheated on Me (That Loser), and Now I am Heartbroken” story.
Which, perhaps fittingly, was followed by the year of “Then I Found Jesus.”
Subsequently, there was a year I dubbed “Things with Cows” since the narratives ranged from 4-H projects to becoming vegetarian (where cows specifically had a role in this decision) to cow tipping.
And the year of student heroics, “Fleeing a War Zone,” which was intense, to say the least.
This year’s theme seems to be “That Time I Got Arrested,” which might be slightly disheartening were I not mentally comparing it to last year’s rendition of “How Facebook Changed My Life.”
One very optimistic fact is that I got a roughly 83% on-time turn-in rate from ninth graders. This is even before parents and coaches have seen progress report grades.
In this world, there is hope yet.
From late last week.
Yes, I sat for my school picture today
barefaced. Because let’s be honest
when was the last time you saw me in
make-up? Second, even by second
period my whirlwind of teaching
has made my hair escape its style
sprouting a silhouette of improbable
angles. The smudge on my glasses
maybe my face too is visible.
I meant to do that.
The ink on my hand you can’t see
but know it’s there. Mostly
that smile, equal parts
exasperation and amusement.
Years from now
this is how you will know me.
Reconstructed conversation I had with a coworker — let’s call her Nicole — the other day. The words are paraphrases, but I have attempted to accurately convey the overall sentiment.
I decided it would be awesome to try to wear a black casual work dress with my bumblebee running shoes. While one could make the argument that it’s not the most professional look I’ve ever constructed, in the grand scheme of all clothes ever, sneakers and skirts probably do not make too many people gasp in horror.
Nicole noticed as I approached our lunch table. “Nice shoes.”
“Thanks,” I replied, sitting next to her. Nicole’s own shoes included three inch wedge heels. “Either I’m getting old, or my feet are still readjusting to teaching. But they definitely do not like it when I try to wear my dress shoes.”
“Have you tried smaller heels?” Nicole asked, poking at the mystery cheese (?) concoction on her tray. “Ew. Anyway, sometimes that’s what I do when my feet need a break.” She took a bite, made a face. “Not flats, though. I’m too short for flats.”
I don’t know about this “too short for flats” thing, but as someone who’s nearing five-eight, it’s not a frame of reference I know that much about, so I decide to keep my mouth shut. Except for the tomato wedge: it is still lunch, after all.
And except for my own shoe woes. “Most of my work shoes are already low heels. I was never too much in love with them to begin with — for actual wearing, even though they look good — but for some reason this year, my feet are just completely rebelling. I think it’s all the yoga and the running.”
“Eek!” Nicole exclaimed in mock horror. “That gives me a reason to stop running. I love my shoes too much!”
I shook my head and took a drink of my water. “I honestly don’t know how you do it.”
Because somehow, Nicole manages to wear high-heeled dress shoes to work every day. Sometimes thicker heels or wedges instead of stilettos, but from my perspective, that doesn’t matter so much. Seeing a coworker doing my same job in anything other than a walking shoe (or running shoe, trail hiking shoe, or similar) leaves me awed and befuddled. Because the status quo on my campus is largely that women will wear traditionally feminine women’s dress shoes, bearing heels or not. Sure there are a few of us in the Dansko Flats Support Group, but we’re considered an anomaly.
Though I understand the mechanics of why my feet (knees, hips, low back) don’t like these shoes, part of me feels like my body is failing me and/or societal expectations by objecting to wearing them. It feels like I’m failing at performing femininity (which, in this particular work context, is sometimes considered interchangeable with “professional dress”) by wanting and requiring shoes that don’t impair my ability to move.
That movement thing. Turns out, there might be more to it than I originally thought.
Nicole giggled. “Maybe I don’t walk as much as you do. Sometimes, I let my students come to me.”
Which, indeed, might be a key difference. While I do establish classroom norms and procedures that facilitate student movement and contact, one of my strengths as a teacher is my ability to work the room. During class, I am everywhere; it’s like a superpower. Students know they can’t engage in off-task behaviors because I will be right there to call them on it. Similarly, students know they can receive one-on-one attention because I will be right there to answer the question they were too nervous to ask in front of the whole class.
I’m not willing to give that up. Not that there aren’t other quality teaching styles, but this one is mine. It fits naturally, and it works for my students and me. Good learning happens when I can be Teacher Ninja.
At the same time, I’m no longer willing to live in discomfort in order to perform femininity (pardon me, professional dress) correctly. Because I think that’s what I’ve been doing for a number of years. Even when my work shoes haven’t caused outright pain, they have caused discomfort — multiplied by many hours, many miles, and many days. I’m tired of sneaking in days of sneakers, hoping no one will notice, and resigning myself to days of kitten heels and unsupportive flats as penance. I’m tired of looking for excuses to be comfortable in my body.
If that means I fail at performing femininity, so be it. But it is not a failure of either professionalism or professional dress. And if it means I need stealth Ninja Teacher Shoes to do it, then stealth Ninja Teacher Shoes I shall have.