Getting ready for work in the morning, I decide to take the time to look “nice”. Usually, I just throw on whatever clothes I see first, wash my face, put up my hair and go. I deserve to feel good about myself though, right? So I put on a nice shirt and pants that make me feel comfortable, yet confident about my curves. I put in my contacts and slap on some eye makeup and foundation. I take the time to straighten my hair and wear it down. There! I look at myself in the bathroom mirror and smile, proud at having taken the time to look and feel good about myself.
When I get to work at one of the local public libraries, I see everything in a positive light. I’m confident I look nice and in turn it makes me happy and eager to help patrons doing the best job I can. I find myself bouncing around the front desk helping everyone who comes to the desk instead of trying to hide in the background hoping one of my co-workers will help them. Maybe, I should do this more often!
And then after a few hours of feeling like I’m on top of the world, I remember why I don’t try to look nice for work. Still on the high of feeling confident, I walk up to a male patron standing at the counter and ask if he needs help. Instead of looking me in the eyes, his eyes are honed in on my chest. He starts by asking to use a computer, so I remain pleasant and hand him a form to fill out. Then he continues to talk, telling me I’m really pretty while still zeroed in on my chest. I feel my face begin to flush from embarrassment and reply, “Thank you,” continuing to work on getting him situated with a computer. He goes on asking if I’m single, and being recently engaged I show him my ring and respond, “No,” pleasantly, even though at this point I would like to walk away and hide. He swears loudly at this but continues, asking me to call him if my relationship status changes suddenly and tells me that he gets “turned on” all the time. Extremely uncomfortable now, I raise my eyebrows and nod, handing him the slip of paper giving him access to a computer.
My bubble is immediately burst and I head to the back room. Instead of feeling proud of the way I look, I want to pull a paper bag over my head and put on a huge shapeless sweater. My curves, long hair, and highlighted eyes are now the enemy. I feel dirty and want to hide them all. Holding back tears, I force myself not to go to the bathroom wash my makeup off, put up my hair, and throw on a large sweater from my locker.
Is it my fault for trying to look nice that he did what he did? Does he have the right to talk to me like that because I looked good? I look down at what I’m wearing; a cream shirt with lace embellishment and a scoop neck which covers my chest completely. Maybe I’m drawing too much attention to my chest or the shirt is too low and he had a right to do and say what he did? It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have dressed this way. I shouldn’t have worn my hair down, and put makeup on trying to look good. It’s my fault.
Then it hits me. He didn’t have a right to talk to me this way. It is not my fault he was inappropriate. I should be able to dress nicely and feel good about myself without having to feel guilty. My hair and makeup did not invite him to make sexual comments. My shirt is not too low or inappropriate and it certainly did not make it okay for him to stare unashamedly at my chest. I tell my boss what happened and it is agreed that he will be talked to for inappropriate behavior.
The next morning I contemplate what to wear; oversized clothes, no makeup and glasses seem to be calling my name. No one will give me a second glance and I can hide in the background again. But then I smile to myself and make the decision to look “nice” again. I deserve to feel about good myself and I won’t let him win.