When Walls Penney replied that she was a nurse, the clerk responded, “I’m surprised they let you work there like that. What do your patients think about your hair?” After asking the next woman in line to weigh in on Walls Penny’s appearance, the cashier declared she was shocked that a nursing facility would condone her appearance, adding that they didn’t allow “that sort of thing,” even when she had worked fast food.
Wells Penney, in other words, had been hair-shamed.
But if shaming has become the 21st Century equivalent of The Scarlet Letter, her reaction was every bit as 21st Century. She posted her account of the incident on Facebook. And then she wrote:
“I can’t recall a time that my hair color has prevented me from providing lifesaving treatment to one of my patients. My tattoos have never kept them from holding my hand … as they lay frightened and crying because Alzheimer’s has stolen their mind. My multiple ear piercings have never interfered with me hearing them reminisce about their better days or listening to them as they express their last wishes. My tongue piercing has never kept me from speaking words of encouragement to a newly diagnosed patient or from comforting a family that is grieving.
“So, please explain to me how my appearance, while being paired with my cheerful disposition, servant’s heart, and smiling face, has made me unfit to provide nursing care and unable to do my job!”
The explanation, of course, is that we all too often are quick to judge others based on their external features – weight, height, clothing, color – rather than wondering about their internal qualities. Too righteously-insistent on making our standards their standards.
And that’s our shame.