life with an ostomy. candid, not sugar-coated. empowered, not embarrassed.

Apr 16, 2006

In the face of gendered clothing

In the summer of 2003, I hosted a travelling marketing tour for kids. Appearance, according to my boss, was everything. This guy, who I discovered seemed to only hire women who were all tits and teeth, also had some pretty firm ideas about how women should be dressed. He seemed to think that since I was slim with large breasts, it would be a foolish business-mistake to not use that to maximize our audience's size and attention span.

Before the tour started, my boss had t-shirts made for all of the hosts without any consultation. When I saw the shirts he'd ordered for all of the girls, I was a bit... you could say... hesitant. They were tiny and went down just past my belly button; and this was before they were washed. Since the job called for a lot of moving around on stage in front of an audience, I was starting to feel really uncomfortable about the prospect of being constantly paranoid that my bag could be poking out beneath the tiny tee at any point during a show.

The guys had regular t-shirts, which I looked at with envy.

Fortunately, my boss announced to everyone that he hadn't yet ordered enough for everyone to have a decent supply of shirts for the summer, so if we wanted any particular sizes, to speak up now. Thank god! I quietly requested some men's shirts. With the way he looked at me in front of everyone, I might as well have asked him to order me a strap-on dildo.

With all my co-workers in the room, only one of whom knew about my bag, I looked him in the eye in the sharpest way I could that might cause him to remember that I had an ostomy and said, "I don't feel comfortable wearing the smaller shirts." This time, I might as well have been speaking Yiddish. He was unbendable and oblivious, and it wasn't until I left the room with tears welled-up in my eyes that he clued into the fact that my request maybe wasn't just another one of my crazy liberated-woman ideas.

In the end, I got the shirts. I asked him the next day if he realized why I was so upset and he apologized saying he didn't realize until later that it was the ostomy that was the issue and that he felt like a jerk.

But what I didn't ask was this: ostomy-or not, does a woman really need a better reason than feeling uncomfortable to say no to wearing something that's too revealing for her?

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