I Changed My Appearance For My Job And What I Learned Really Disappointed Me

via Flickr - Lieven Van Melckebeke
via Flickr – Lieven Van Melckebeke

Let’s start this off by saying I don’t have the most conventional look. I have piercings (most removable) and tattoos (all coverable) and have always had short, odd-colored hair. Currently it’s a light purple à la Kelly Osborne. Needless to say, I get judged quite a bit while being a waiter. It seems like every older, white male is entitled to comment on my appearance and how he disapproves of it. “What happened to your hair?!” One midwestern 60-something said. “Nothing. What happened to your face?” I mumbled crouching down at the hostess stand.

Determined to not let my individuality die, I just slogged on with the motto ‘they are the ones with the problem.’ My creepy and sexual-harassy boss at the western steak house where I worked mentioned he had a problem with my hair. After that I decided to prove to him that my hair made little to no difference in the tips I made or the sales I produced for the restaurant. That’s when I remembered my red wig. I figured I would just wear that for a shift or two to make a point. Hell! I’d even wear it to both my jobs to make a double point! So here starts the experiment:

Premise

Cover my short purple hair with a mid-length, red wig to make myself conventionally attractive and see if it makes any difference in (a) how people treat me and (b) the amount of tips, on average, I make.

Settings

Job #1 Montana style steak house with a country feel. Dinners only.
Average tip percentage with purple hair: 20%

Job #2 Mall restaurant with a trendy vibe. Lunches only.
Average tip percentage with purple hair: 18%

Let’s just say the night of August 1st was one of the most nerve-wracking nights ever. After leaving my house, wig in place, I couldn’t help but to have butterflies. I don’t like being the center of attention, so changes to my appearance make me dread the sheer number of comments that will come with it. On my way to work at the steak house that night, I stopped by McDonalds to grab some dinner since I carelessly forgot to eat with all the new stress. There was a much older man in front of me in line when I arrived. After ordering I stood near him and fiddled with my phone.

I then hear, “I’m going to be famous because of you some day.” I look up to see the old man staring at me an smiling. I immediately have some Texas Chainsaw Massacre shit run through my head but I smile back and say, “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“I wrote a song about you. Called Auburn.” At that point I almost couldn’t hold back my laughter. The man started singing his song to me and I wanted so desperately to just rip off my wig.

Work was everything I expected. The passive-aggressive coworkers made snide comments behind my back. They were all young, insecure girls so I didn’t put much stock in what they had to say. My boss didn’t recognize me. My own father stood next to me for two minutes before he realized it was me. It was ridiculous. As my tables progressed through the night, I noticed something very strange happening. Everyone was substantially nicer to me. If I or the kitchen made a mistake, the table apologized to me. The older men commented on how beautiful I was (which pissed me off just as much as them commenting on my purple hair). It really upset me but I didn’t notice any change in sales or tip average. So at least there was that.

The next morning, I wore my wig again to the mall restaurant where I work lunches. I put on my uniform and pulled it back into the same low ponytail I had the night before, and braced myself for more comments. The staff was much larger, so I knew I would have to hear it from everyone who walked through the kitchen. I stopped at Subway for breakfast (don’t judge, I hate cooking), and the middle-aged man in front of me couldn’t stop staring. Luckily the staff there knew me and rushed me through.

Finally at work, I started to settle down for our pre-shift meeting. This time, three coworkers thought I was a new girl. One thought I was the new hostess that started the week before. One actually had a full conversation with me before she realized it was me she was talking to. The older lady who worked at the casino next door told me she disapproved. “You aren’t being yourself, and I don’t like that,” she said to me in a motherly tone.

Again, I noticed every table being nicer to me. But, for some reason, it got even weirder. I started to notice a huge difference in my tips. I know my service wasn’t any different. If anything, it was slightly worse because I didn’t want my wig to fall off. Men, it seemed, tipped me way better than usual. They were averaging closer to 25% that day. Older women talked to me more and felt more comfortable sharing their stories with me, and again, I saw an improvement in tips. The only area I saw a drop was women who were roughly my age, typically with young families. Their average dropped down to about 15%.

The whole experience of wearing my wig to work has really opened my eyes to how judgmental people really can be. I changed nothing about myself other than my hair, and suddenly my life became noticeably easier. Everyone commented on how great the color was with my skin tone, how beautiful I was with long hair. I think they thought they were being nice, but all this change kind of hurt my feelings. I don’t feel like I should be thought of as a bad person, or as someone who can’t make good choices just because of my hair. I also don’t think I am less attractive for not fitting into a conventional form of beauty. So next time you see someone who looks a little different and you find yourself judging them, just imagine what they would look like with less tattoos, or expensive clothes, or long hair, and see if you would still be passing that judgment. TC mark

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