This is a question that I have asked my college students over the years. Inevitably, they will argue that it is absolutely “not fair!” and without my intervention, end up sharing countless examples of when they, themselves immediately judged by physical appearance. Therefore, determining that while “unfair”, it is unequivocally, indisputably, inevitable.
Recently, my 16 year old daughter and I were swimsuit shopping for spring break. She is a small, petite, clean cut girl with long strawberry blonde hair and a spunky spirit. When we approached the fitting room desk, my daughter asked the 50-something female attendant how many items my daughter could bring into the room. She cheerfully glanced at our mini mountain, totaling about 15 items, smiled, and said, “Go ahead, just bring everything out when you are done.” My daughter entered the room, and I sat down waiting for the fashion show to begin.
Four minutes later, a youthful looking grandma along with her granddaughter, surely my daughter’s age, and also quite petite, approached the same fitting room attendant with her pile of items and held it up to the woman. The woman curtly sniped, “you can only take in 6 at a time. How many do you have?” The young girl answered, “7”. The woman took the pile out of her hands, counted the clothes one by one out loud for all to hear, until reaching the number 8 with a huff. Handing her back only six of the items and practically tossing the girl a fitting room tag, she announced that the rest would be held at the desk.
The woman clearly showed preferential treatment to my daughter. Why? Not because I was with my daughter, as the other teenager had her grandma with her. My guess is the teen’s outer appearance. Multiple nose and earrings, jet black dyed hair, with wide sections dyed platinum, black nail polish, a sour frown, and Goth clothing greeted the fitting room lady.
I’m honest enough to tell you that I certainly judge on one’s exterior, most often when my children are involved. Evaluation in this depraved society is essential for our safety. By external appearance, we can draw countless conclusions about someone. Many will be accurate, and a few utterly wrong. Either way, the pre-vacation shopping experience left me humbled. As a woman who has judged wrongfully and endured judgment, I’m still training myself to be cautious before labeling and stereotyping. That doesn’t stop me from staring (hopefully, inconspicuously)! If someone has painfully decided to cover themselves in ink, piercings, and adorn their clothing with a variety of clinking, shiny chains – like a toddler, I’m mesmerized. Regardless, giving someone a chance to reveal who they really are through conversation is always my goal.
The dark-dressed girl slinked away into a fitting room, without a smile, and I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t want to be yet another person contributing to her already sad expression. Insecurities exist in all of us, whether or not they are concealed in neat, well-groomed packages. If teens experience enough unfair treatment, they have a natural tendency to believe they’re not worthy of good treatment.
The last thing I want to do is assume that a person’s black exterior is automatically the color of the heart residing on the inside.