Prejudice and Pride
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Prejudice and Pride
Because I am shabbily dressed on the outside, people think I'm not worth respect or attention, but really I am well dressed on the inside, which is what matters to me. I used to be the perfectly coiffed woman, almost to a fault. My clothes, chosen the night before and freshly starched, matched my earrings, shoes and nails daily. I indulged in expensive perfume smelling of floral, leather and woods, never of chemical extracts. I took such arrogant pride in my own spectacle that I couldn't imagine others did not see me the same way I did.
However, the journey of my appearance took a rebellious turn when I met him. He oozed a polished charm and confidence. His appearance was impeccable. Even as I felt his attention completely focused on me, my peripheral vision allowed me the favor of seeing that everyone was watching us. Most of them were women and I knew just what they were thinking. I could feel the dense, instinctive nature of jealousy and envy in the air. Simultaneously, I smugly soaked it all in and began to fear what would happen if he looked beyond my appearance.
The relationship between us intensified. However, so did his addictive behavior. He was a hard drinker and a drug-user. His drug addiction quickly added severe violence to the picture. I became a punching bag. But worse, I was now a victim of endless verbal abuse. Yet, I somehow managed to go through four pregnancies and to work full-time in a fog. My appearance, like my relationship and self-esteem, deteriorated. Constant verbal bashing tends to do that to a person. The almost daily slap in the face stung less than the ceaseless assault of words I endured minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day for years on end. The ensuing decline of my appearance was a statement of what those that knew me best or didn't know me at all thought of me. They knew that I was ugly, incompetent, a bad mother and just plain stupid. My attire mirrored what everybody, including myself, thought about me. At this time, my appearance was one of the few areas of my life I still felt I had control of. I attracted little or no attention from men, which lessened the threat of violence. Second, I subconsciously rebelled against his preconceived idea of me. Lastly, although I thought no one knew the hell I was going through, I believed that the world perceived me as unqualified to belong to anything beautiful.
When I had reached my lowest point, I left. Now, all the years of abuse still cling, hovering somewhere between my heart and my brain. I have been to years of therapy and have started the healing process. However, I still wear clothes as if they were a coat or armor. The deep-seated, unconscious dislike of self has lessened, but the perception from others has not. Usually I am dressed in sweats, my hair pulled back in a ponytail, with not a trace of makeup. As I approach retail cashiers or bank tellers, I am inevitably faced with a cool indifference or fiery arrogance. Even as I begin to speak politely, the indifference and arrogance only seem to heighten, as both are stuck in the rigidity of a generalization that allows for no exception.
I am patient at this point in my life. I refuse to dress the way people want me to dress in order to command a little respect or gain some attention. I do, however, speak in a manner that allows strangers to consider me as a possible exception to their rule.