Monday, August 17, 2015

Let's Hear It for the Girl!

You know who's overweight? Nearly every person I know. You know who hates their body? Nearly every woman I know. The men may have the same ten or forty or seventy-five pounds they ought to lose for their health, but they do not wake each morning determined to starve themselves into looking different, detesting the way they look now, their self-confidence utterly undermined.

No, that seems to be a woman's purview. And it's sad.

I'm a member of a weight-loss organization which works for many, but not all. It's a cult, it's a miracle, it's learning how to eat with health in mind--no matter how much of you there is.

One thing I've learned by attending its meetings is that heavy women often fall into two groups. There are large women who make the most of what they have--pretty faces, green eyes that pop with the right makeup, a sense of style, great posture, great taste in shoes or glasses, a mix-and-match wardrobe in a small number of flattering colors, bras that cost more than good shoes--and those who have given up, characterized by unflattering knit pants with elastic waists, tops which hug every bulge, cheap bras, hair in a "practical" style, and little or no makeup.

While it's lovely to see those who are losing weight rediscover that they can feel good about how they look, it's just as lovely to see those who are not losing weight see that they, too, can feel good about how they look. It takes some effort, but a big woman with access to a thrift store or a sewing machine can do great things for her appearance and confidence.

So let's embrace the lovely women and girls that we are, including our bodies, and wear clothes that make us feel good. Let's wear large plaids, bright colors, lateral stripes, tight knits, and short skirts. Let's bare our arms in warm weather and wear shorts and swimsuits. Let's go to good department and clothing stores, try on, and not blame or hate ourselves when a garment doesn't work for us. Instead, let's figure out what's not right about it and find something else to try on which doesn't have the same mismatch with who we are, what we like, and how we're shaped.

Let's remind ourselves there's no size limit on great makeup, hairstyles, nail polish, jewelry, accessories, and shoes. Let's shop with our large friends and help them find wardrobes that make them smile. Let's not get discouraged when something proves so tight it won't zip or we can't pull it past our hips. Let's not invest our emotions in a numerical size but be pleased at how we look in whatever size fits us. Let's reward stores which offer many choices for us by buying there, giving favorable online reviews, and recommending them to friends.

And let's remember that women in our communities and online know how to sew and will gladly share that knowledge with others. (You wouldn't believe how easy a skirt can be, especially if it doesn't have to zip.) Let's remember we are entitled to try on without buying, then make one like it ourselves at a fifth of the cost and in a color and print we adore. Let's make ourselves the simpler pieces of a wardrobe and save our hard-earned money for those beyond our abilities.

Let us all celebrate who we are, refusing to wear fabric sacks in dark colors instead of fashionable clothes. And please, let's all remember to compliment one another when we look especially good, because we can and we do--unless we've given up.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Those People Just Want Handouts

On a recent trip, I watched workmen erecting a large white wedding tent on a beautiful white-sand beach. The canvas tent had multiple peaks on tent poles and clear plastic-paned windows with rounded tops on all four sides.

Beaches are often windy, and the foreman had his crew driving three-foot metal stakes at an angle into the sand to anchor the tent. The foreman was in his forties and overweight, but the crew appeared to be in their early twenties at the most. The closest one was classic white trash, skinny with his shirt off, with a thin chin-beard, a cigarette dangling most of the time, and bad tattoos, and he worked hard. He raised that sledge hammer high and brought it down awkward, driving his spike a few inches deeper with each blow. He always hit the spike's head, but not always straight on. His spike's angle started out right but gradually shifted to straight down. The foreman came to talk to him about it. Anyone could tell the young man was angry but held it in. He struck the spike from the side, changing its angle in the sand, and finished the job. Although the day was cool and breezy, he was red-faced and sweating.

The other worker I could see was Hispanic, small and slender. He worked with such grace, moving his sledge hammer in a looping figure eight, his entire body in a dance with its own rhythm and careful moves. He expended less energy and drove two stakes for every one the other young man seated. He wasn't sweating after four stakes. It was a pleasure to watch him work. The foreman came up to him to talk, apparently including some praise, in Spanish.

Three days later, we visited that beach again. Someone had added a sand sculpture of a large heart near the wedding tent. The side of the tent facing the water had been rolled up and secured so those inside could see the arch, now covered with white tulle. The tent stake which had been straightened had lifted half its length from the sand, but all the others were holding.

It makes me angry when someone says a particular ethnic or racial group is lazy and doesn't want to work hard. The young man I watched defied that ugly stereotype, working hard, well, and with literal beauty. I imagine he'll be running a crew when he's still a young man--and that the sweating white guy with the dangling cigarette will resent the hell out of it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Going Pro

Today I read a tweet from Elizabeth Bentivegna of Oberlin, Ohio (where one of my daughters went to college), who was denied a computer programming job in Cleveland based on how she looked. The company said she looked more like she was dressed for clubbing than an interview, and that she did not look "put together and professional."

While part of me wanted to agree with the many who supported her, with remarks about it being outrageous that women were still judged on appearance rather than skills, part of me sided with the company.

Why? Because, by her own description, she wore a lot of makeup and was "mildly sexual" in a black tee shirt ("a little booby, but what shirt isn't on me?"), red skater skirt (a flared skirt which reaches the tops of the thighs, the style an ice dancer might wear), black tights, cardigan, and heels. She carried a purse. She was outraged at the double standard, since the men working there wear tee shirts and jeans.

I cannot share Ms. Bentivegna's indignation. This is not how a young woman presents herself at a job interview. This look says, I'm young and smokin' much louder than it says, I'm a competent professional.

"We try to present ourselves how we want, express ourselves how we like, try to show the world who we are," Ms. Bentivegna said, "and we are STILL put into these tiny boxes where we can't fucking breathe. The way we look can make us or break us in ways that just don't exist for men."

While presenting yourself how you want to is vital for your personal life, it doesn't fly at a job interview for either men or women. When a man presents himself for an interview in a tight shirt unbuttoned to the nipple line, wearing a few pounds of bling, with heavy facial tats and piercings, or in a jacket and trousers in two different plaids, he is most certainly judged harshly. The way he looks can indeed make him or break him, just as Ms. Bentivegna's did.

Ms. Bentivegna, I promise there's a way to be both yourself and professional in appearance. A tight tee shirt and skater skirt isn't it. After graduation, my daughter the Obie put together a really nice work wardrobe from area thrift stores which was true to her goth self. She had knee-length and longer skirts, tailored trousers, blouses and knit tops which did not hug but were shaped, and a few sweaters, wraps, and blazers, all of it in black and purple. I'd be surprised if she spent more than $150 for all of it.

If I lived near Oberlin, I'd be happy to shop with you to assemble a mix-and-match wardrobe that's both you and professional, too.

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Only Three Dollars

I know working retail sucks because I've done it. They pay is lousy and goes up very, very slowly. Your hours are at the mercy of the manager, who can make sure you get the worst ones if you displease him, or just because he gave his girlfriend the best shift plus the first shot at overtime. You're on your feet all day. Customers are demanding and sometimes unpleasant. Too often there's more work than all of you together could possibly do, even if everybody worked hard--and there are always some who coast. And corporate, those greedy bastards in their offices with ergonomic desk chairs, demands that you greet every customer with some perky store catchphrase. Ugh, just ugh.

So I get why store employees seem exhausted, act they they could give a rat's ass about my shopping experience, and are clearly just marking the hours until they can get the hell out of there. (Which makes a store where they're not like that all the more amazing.)

This is why, for most of my adult life, I've tried hard to personalize every transaction. It doesn't take any longer to ring up my stuff if I say, "How's your day going?" then listen and respond to the answer. I keep it light and attempt to be mildly funny, the general idea being that I'd like to be a customer the employee doesn't mind, maybe even enjoys. Do it long enough at the same store, and you get small bits of favoritism--they take your word on the shelf price of an unmarked item, remember that you like double bags, like that, nothing unfair to other shoppers.

Today my friendly question met with silence. Everybody has bad days; who knows what else she's got going on in her life? I would respect her preference for just doing her job. The woman rang up my purchases, a total of five items. I handed her my store membership card, which got me a discount on some of the items, and three coupons. Two went through without a problem, reducing my total. The third did not.

"It says you didn't buy the product."

"I did, though." I dug into the bag and pulled it out.

"Oh, right." She reread the coupon. "That qualifies."

"Can you override the computer saying I didn't buy it, then?"

She didn't answer, just punched buttons. After what seemed like several minutes but was probably less than three, it turned out she could not. "I have to get the manager, I guess."

"Okay." I shrugged my helplessness to the short line behind me.

"Where's Steve?" she called to the cashier closest to her.

"Lunch, I think. He's late."

"Figures." To me, she said, "It's only three dollars."

It was hard not to snap at her. I had a coupon that applied to the product I bought. Why should I have to wait for Steve the Manager, and inconvenience other shoppers, because she either didn't know how to override the computer based on what she'd seen with her own eyes, or because she didn't have the authority to do that?

Just then Steve arrived--laughing his apology for being late again!--and he did the override without any trouble, deducting the three dollars. In a dead voice, the employee thanked me for shopping there.

But Steve and the greedy bastards at corporate should know that because they either did not adequately train or did not trust their employee, I'll think twice about shopping there again.

It was only three dollars, but those were my three dollars. I wish she'd pretended that mattered.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Poor, Poor Poor Man's Copyright

To my amazement, the Myth Which Will Not Die has again reared its head at one of the handful of writing sites I visit often.

Can't I just mail (or email) a copy of my novel/script/poem/essay as proof of when I created it, without going to the bother and expense of copyrighting it?

Sure you can, but in the United States this will not prove anything at all in a court of law. No US court at any level has recognized this so-called Poor Man's Copyright. The website of the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress even says so, yet people who should know better still pass this information around as if it has value.

The moment you save your writing to any fixed medium--your computer's hard drive, a CD or flash drive, a print-out, handwritten sheet of paper, a cocktail napkin--in the US, it is copyrighted. Registration of that copyright offers further protection and is not free, but it is not required for your work to be copyrighted.

For whatever it may be worth, violations of copyright for monetary gain are fairly rare. What's increasingly common is the theft of writing posted online for reposting elsewhere, without permission or acknowledgment. That's a pretty compelling argument against posting in an open public forum, whether you're in the US and that work is automatically copyrighted or not.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What Goes Around Comes Around

"What Goes Around Comes Around." When I was a kid and my mom would say this, I didn't get it. This folk wisdom only made sense if you were talking about colds or chicken pox. If it was going around, it would eventually come around to me. Yippee.

Now, of course, I see what the saying means: You get back something akin to what you give. Maybe not exactly what you gave, or immediately, but it does indeed come back.

If you know me, you know I struggle with my weight, especially in winter when all there is is the cursed treadmill and snow needing removal. I have a longstanding deal with myself that if I shovel snow, whether for fifteen minutes or two hours, I don't have to exercise that day in any other way. On the average, it works out, and we have the clearest driveway in the neighborhood, even though our neighbors all use plow services.

Once or twice each winter, some plow service driver will see me working with the heavy snow the town's big plow has thrown across the foot of the driveway. He'll gesture me to move back and he'll clear it in one or two passes. This is a lovely thing to do, saving me the worst part of the job and letting him feel good about himself for the day, because even though it took him literally two minutes, he really did do me a favor. And I'm genuinely grateful for it each time it happens.

Today, though, was different. I was at the end of the driveway, working it slow and steady, when a truck stopped and a big man in a sweatshirt got out.

I knew this guy. The spring and summer we had the dumpster in the driveway, he'd come to the door and gestured that he wanted to go in it, and once I understood, I'd let him. He returned several times, removing metal and anything else he could resell. He borrowed a broom the one time his taking something made a bit of a mess. If I saw him stop, I'd wave. Once on a really hot day when I saw him sweating profusely, I'd brought him a glass of cold water in a disposable cup. This was not exactly going to a lot of trouble.

Now he gestured for me to hand him the shovel, and I did. He cleared the base of the driveway with the ease of a big person who uses his weight to push. I thanked him--he seems to understand "Thank you!"--and he waved at me to step back.

He started to shovel the whole driveway. Two cars wide. Heavy snow, since it was over thirty degrees. I got the spare shovel and joined in the work. He gestured for me to hand him that shovel, and he worked one with each hand. In less than ten minutes, he'd cleared away the bulk of the snow, working up a good sweat. Could I pay him? I gestured. No, no. "Thank you. Thank you!"

"Thank you," he said, then returned to his car and drove away.

I tidied up the edges, thinking about him. I'd not gone out of my way much to be kind, but I'd certainly not been unkind, as I imagine some people are to trash pickers wanting a shot at their dumpsters. I thought he might be Turkish. Weren't they nearly all Muslims? Maybe he had his own agenda, showing Americans that people like him were good people, not terrorists. Or maybe he had the notion that women should not be doing such heavy physical labor, and shoveling was proving himself the man.

I suppose I'll never know. But I like to think he did it because he's a good man who remembers copper pipe, a medicine cabinet, and a glass of water.