This is one of the posts — and moments — that keeps haunting me. When I saw Markesha in that big black t-shirt, I was so fed up with the strange Beauty U culture that is really our whole culture, when it comes to attitudes towards larger people, especially larger women, especially larger women of color. But the goal of this whole project was to be a fly on the wall. And sometimes that meant keeping my mouth shut unless someone else was already speaking up.
This time, nobody did that.
So I didn’t either. I still don’t feel right about that.
Have I told you guys about the Beauty U dress code? It’s not too draconian: Black shirt, black pants or skirt, black Beauty U apron. The list of what we can’t wear is longer: No open-toed shoes (a state health code), no shirts with writing or prints, no jewelry besides a watch and a wedding ring, no dresses, no jeans (though you can earn jean privileges if you get a good grade on a test or sell the most products in a given week), and no tank tops.
Some parts of the code are super strictly enforced. O the first warm day, two students were sent home for breaking out the flip flops. If you wear jeans, you best have a jean pass ready to display when a teacher asks. And if you forget your apron, you have to rent one from the office for $2 — with a $20 deposit that is returned to you at the end of the night when you return the apron.
Other parts tend to get ignored. Necklaces and earrings are frequently on display. Dresses are fine as long as they aren’t what Miss Barb describes as “Club Gear.” Layering a colored tee under your black cardigan usually passes inspection.
But we enter murky territory one night a month, when Beauty U hosts a themed Spirit Day: 80s Night, Mardi Gras, Pastel Day, and this week, of course, Cinco de Mayo.
The night before, Miss Susan reminds us that we need to dress up for Cinco De Mayo. “You can wear jeans if it’s part of your costume, but otherwise all the usual rules are enforced,” she says somberly. “If you are not dressed for Cinco De Mayo and you are wearing jeans, you will be sent home.”
Which is totally the kind of announcement that puts you in a school spirit state of mind. But I understand why she feels the need to hammer that home — at this point, spirit is so generally non-existent that getting to wear jeans is the only reason people bother to dress up.
Not owning a sombrero or any traditional Mexican peasant blouses, I’m at a bit of a loss for how to demonstrate my Cinco De Mayo spirit, so I settle on jeans, gold (closed-toe) flats, and a bright, tropical-ish patterned cap-sleeved top similar to the one you see above. (It’s a few years old so I can’t find a picture of it on the interweb, sorry! But what a good excuse to look at pretty spring tops. Sigh. No wonder I’m late getting this post up today.)
Traditionally Mexican? Not so much. Festive enough to let me get away with wearing jeans after weeks of all-black boredom? I’m hoping so.
But after attendance, Miss Lisa calls me up to the front of the room. “I don’t agree with it, but the other teachers are mad you’re wearing a sleeveless top,” she says. “I know it sort of has sleeves, but the issue is we can see your armpits when you raise your arms.”
I had assumed that the no tank top rule was to prevent students from wearing the spaghetti strap type of top that leaves bra straps and cleavage out for all the world to see. Which is not something I have a problem with, but I can see why it isn’t considered “professional attire.” But armpit discomfort is a new one for me. And is anyone else finding it to be a bit of a disconnect that I can’t display my armpits, but I can spend four hours a night waxing the hair off other people’s? (Not to mention the many other parts of the female body that we’re viewing on the regular.)
Hilariously, Miss Lisa decides that my outfit is so cute, she’s going to let the armpit thing slide this one time.
Less hilarious: When she says, “I mean, did you see Markesha?”
Markesha is one of the cosmetology students. She’s black. I’d put her weight at around 300 pounds. Most days, she walks with a cane. Today she has chosen to wear a pink tank top covered in sequins. And a sombrero.
With Miss Lisa’s blessing, I go about my business, armpits still visible. (I mean, if I were to walk around with my arms raised, which I don’t so much do.) But a little later, as I’m carrying a load of laundry through the hair salon, I see that Markesha is still sporting her sombrero, but has changed into a giant black t-shirt with sleeves that nearly reach her elbows. One of the other cos students tells me that the head cos teacher, Miss Tabitha, made her go get another shirt out of her car.
So for the record, you could chalk up the difference in dress code enforcement to the fact that different teachers were calling the shots. I do catch Miss Tabitha giving my bare arms a stern look.
But I can’t shake the feeling that if I were black, 300 pounds, and covered in sequins (instead of white, half that weight, and wearing a top from J. Crew), I probably would have been digging through my trunk for something else to wear, too.