“When one decides to move to a new country, there’s always a lot of hope and secondhand tales about jobs that pay better, and workers who are respected. So, when I found a job in a little cafe 10 minutes away from the little apartment I had just moved into with my boyfriend, I was over the moon. Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. And it does charity work? Jackpot.
I started my job hopeful and excited. The cafe and charity work was managed by Ramesh and Susan. Their dynamic was odd. ‘I’ll get used to it,’ I thought.
Early in, I got reprimanded for not doing my job properly. But that’s the way things are for everyone, right? I asked a lot of questions and took in as much information as possible. ‘The sooner the better,’ I told myself. At that point, I didn’t know Susan was a bit of an odd one.
You see, she did not like when questions were asked, because that questioned her authority. After all, when scolding me for something small once, she said, ‘I am above everyone here. Remember that.’ And so the mind games started.
She was hardly present but delivered her poison through Ramesh. I didn’t know this at first, so I resented him for a long time. Making her happy was beyond my means and, soon, it got personal.
‘You need to do something about your hair. It’s frizzy and unkept. Also, you please wear makeup like other girls. You need to look presentable.’ They were Susan’s orders, but I protested.
I have come to love my wavy, frizzy mane. I would not have it any other way. It’s been a process, and a steep learning curve, as it took me a quarter of a century to realize I should not brush it dry. But it wasn’t always like that, as my past pixie cuts (and buzz cut) will prove.
And make up? I used to cover my acne with layers of heavy makeup and claim I loved my skin.
It took me years to realize acne is a feature not a flaw. But I would be lying to you and to myself if I said I didn’t still struggle with it. And often. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I am at peace with it, and I tell myself it will get better. And sometimes I tell myself I look like my face has been dragged through the pavement.
I do treatments, spend money and time on it, and I still resent it even though I have a much healthier relationship with how my face looks without make up on. Sometimes I wear it because it’s fun. Some days I can’t be bothered and that’s ok too. But having my lack of makeup pointed out felt intentionally hurtful. Implying my face and my hair are not presentable as they are was a low blow. Is a skin condition not presentable? I thought, ‘Have I worked this hard to be told off because of my appearance?’
I was left wondering if requiring make up for work was legal, so I looked it up when I got home. If you are also wondering, it is. From there it just got worse. Coming in last minute and making a mess. Gossiping to other staff about me. Asking Ramesh to fire me daily, only for him to tell her I did nothing to deserve being fired. I could not understand how I could do my best and still be treated like this. So, I spoke to the other girls at work about it, who were also immigrants.
‘Don’t you see it? We’re immigrants. She’s xenophobic.’ None of the other staff members get treated like we do!’ And they were right. Everything just made sense, and I felt a little less crazy. One day, Ramesh was gone, no explanations, and no one to tell her I did not deserve to be fired. So, I quit before she could fire me.
On the day I quit, I felt 50 pounds lighter. But it always bothered me. Why did a woman her age behave like that? Why was she so resentful and petty? Why would a woman like her who was powerful, respected, and loved by the community want to undermine a young woman? Why attack a young woman’s look? What is it that fuels this animosity that some women feel against each other? I have many answers for that, but none of them make what she did okay. And who knows, maybe she was just jealous of my frizzy, unkept hair. Or maybe it was the fact that I paid her no mind, and still didn’t wear make up to work. Regardless, I’m happy I stood my ground. Be yourself, ladies. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
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