It doesn’t really matter what her patients think of her hair

A few years ago, I worked at a resort in Pensacola. Really nice place on Pensacola Beach (if you’ve never been to Pensacola Beach, you should go. It’s really quite beautiful if you like beaches). The resort had five ginormous towers with hundreds of rooms. They had an activity center with two restaurants, two bars, two tennis courts, three swimming pools (two outdoor and one indoor), a spa, a gym, boat rentals, and all manner of planned activities for families and children. The place was also not what I’d call cheap. It wasn’t pricey like you’d see in larger cities, but for Pensacola, it was pricey. To go along with the image the owner wanted to maintain at the resort, no employee could have visible tattoos, exotic or unnatural hair colors, or visible piercings (aside from women being allowed to have one earring in one ear). This always bugged me bc I had a feeling I knew what the owner was saying without him saying it. He was saying there was something wrong with tattoos, piercings, and alternate hair colors. I think he felt that these expressions of individuality clashed with the environment and experience he wanted his guests to partake of. IOW, I believe on some level, that he was of the mindset that having tats, piercings, or alternate hair colors wasn’t “classy”. There’s an association in the minds of many that people with tattoos, piercings, and “unnatural” hair colors are lower class, unsavory individuals. And tattoos are often viewed as a sign of immorality or criminality by many people. To me, the owner wanted to keep such elements out of the resort so that his guests wouldn’t run screaming and never return bc they saw a tattoo of a heart on a scantily clad lifeguard or an eye-piercing on the tennis instructor (thinking about this makes me realize that he was probably trying to maintain a ‘safe space’ for his guests; ironic, as I’m pretty sure he was a conservative). I remember being at the resort shortly after I got hired and hearing the above guidelines on appearance, and thinking how all of that was so damned judgemental and superficial. As if having a tattoo has any bearing on your character. The ability to do one’s job is not hindered in any way by having  a piercing in your tongue or ear. And hair color? Lawdy. It is so damn hard to pour drinks with red hair (though what would I know, since I shave my head). Now, obviously, he’s the owner of the place and can do whatever he pleases. He is free to run the resort in the manner he likes, to please the guests in the way that he feels is best. I’m not criticizing that. No, I’m criticizing what I think is the mindset behind “no visible tattoos”, “no piercings”, and “no alternate hair colors”. It’s the same type of mindset that is apparent in this story of a nurse being shamed by a cashier all because she dyed her hair in an array of colors:

Nurse Mary Walls Penney rocking her rainbow hair. (Photo: Facebook/Mary Walls Penney)

Walls Penney, who specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment, was picking up a few things at a convenience store after work on July 9 when the cashier decided to confront her about her appearance. Walls Penney posted about the encounter on Facebook, which has been shared more than 140,000 times, along with a selfie in which her rainbow hair looks quite fetching with her pink stethoscope.

She explained that while checking out, the cashier looked at her name tag and asked, “So what do you do there?” Walls Penney replied she was a nurse. The cashier responded, “I’m surprised they let you work there like that. What do your patients think about your hair?” The cashier then proceeded to ask the next woman in line to weigh in on Walls Penny’s appearance, adding that they didn’t allow “that sort of thing,” even when she had worked fast food.

She’s a nurse. Relevant concerns on the part of her patients might be her level of knowledge, her compassion for the people under her care, her experience, or her sense of ethics. But her hair color? Why the hell does it matter what her patients think of that? How does her hair color affect her ability to do her job? That’s like asking a guest at my bar what they think about me having a shaved head. Completely and wholly irrelevant to my ability to do my job. Now, I could throw out a lovely profanity-laden response directed at the cashier, but really, Wall Penney said all that was needed:

“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.”

What she said. I’d also add, that her hair color is not some indictment on her character. She isn’t an immoral person because she has tattoos. She isn’t unethical bc she has a tongue piercing. There are countless people in the world who have all of those and more, and who are incredibly moral people, with strong ethical centers. And there are people out there with their natural hair color, without a single piercing, or a single tattoo who are thieves, rapists, or murderers.

We judge others all the time over the course of our lives. We judge people to determine if we do or do not want to have sex with them. We judge those whom we do or don’t want to be friends with. We judge the people we work with to determine whether we like them or not. Need to pick a sitter for your child? You’re likely to judge the sitter at some point. Do you harbor anger or resentment toward a family member bc of a childhood experience and thus you don’t want to be around them? That’s judging. I don’t have a problem with judging (many do, especially religious folks who spout the bullshit line about how only god should judge people or the other one about judge not lest ye be blahdy blah blah). I think it helps us figure out who we want in our personal, occupational, or love lives. It’s actually pretty important. But what I don’t like is the idea of judging the worth of an individual based on their appearance, or being disdainful of another bc they don’t fit into bigoted classist expectations, or using someone’s appearance to judge their ability to do their job.

To all the people who would look at someone like Wall Penney for having colorful hair or piercings and think either has any relevance to her ability to perform her job or to the people who think tattoos are somehow “low class” (or even an indication of criminality), I know someone you need to see. They can teach you an easy three step process on how to properly go fuck yourselves.

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It doesn’t really matter what her patients think of her hair
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