Monday, March 12, 2012

Judged by John Martins




It's funny how being a mother to a twelve year old child leads to a lot of reminiscing and 'that reminds me of the time' conversations. These then lead, later on, to deeper ponderings and analyses of events long since past and dealt with.

As we were about to get into the car for the school run this morning, Sapphire said, "You're the same age as Madonna, aren't you Mum?"

Despite being unshowered, wearing polar fleece, tracksuit pants, ugg boots and holding Milly's lead and my Wellington boots, I stopped short in horror.

"NO NO NO NO NO NO NO Sapphire! She is TEN YEARS older than me."

Sapphire ignored my offended stance and waited patiently for me to open the doors. "Oh yeah, that's right. It's Kylie Minogue who's your age."

It was difficult to stay huffy at her when the rear vision mirror showed a new age spot on my left temple and two cornflake boogers in my eyes.

"Mum?"

"Mmmmmmm?" Reversing out is difficult, not just because I automatically crane my neck to look the wrong way. Space is challengingly tight, and other residents like to roar around the corner in their posher and much larger vehicles.

"Do you like Madonna?"

When we'd made it out onto the street where I now feel confident enough to drive on the wrong side of the road and hold an animated conversation, I had a think about this. "Well, she's had a very long career and her facelift treatments are one of the better ones out there but I do wish she'd perhaps try singing about something a little less twenty-something oriented. She's had two marriage breakdowns, got four children and lived a full life, so surely she could try wearing pants, singing about adult issues and pose with her legs crossed for a change."

"But looks matter, don't they Mum?"

Don't they indeed.

My daughter is beautiful. Truly beautiful, but she doesn't believe me and walks hunched up in anxiety and self consciousness across the tarmac to the school yard. She fails to see the appreciative glances that get thrown her way when we're out and about, and worries that she's not 'flat and thin' like the not-yet-developed, a full-year-younger, gymnastic queens of her class.

When she got home from school, we shared a diet coke on the balcony and I took her back to the summer of 1987. It had been buried and forgotten in my mind until reawakening, unwanted but timely, today.



Second year uni had finished and I was not looking forward to going back home to my fifth summer of cutting apricots whilst standing on a cement floor under a boiling hot corrugated iron fruit packing shed to earn money for the year ahead.

John Martin's - South Australia's most beloved department store - were advertising. They were looking for university students to work right up until the post-Christmas sales. No experience necessary. They wanted intelligence, hard work and the willingness to provide unceasingly friendly customer service. My best uni buddy Joanne and I decided to apply together. Neither of us had ever worked anywhere not involving fresh produce or small children. She grew up on a riverland orchard where picking grapes and oranges helped earn her pocket money and, apart from apricot cutting, I could only add babysitting to my slim resume.

We filled out the form and sat outside a dingy, fake wood-panelled room with plastic chairs for our turn to be briefly interviewed. Both of us got five minutes to answer a couple of short questions. Four hours later we walked back to college and went in search of a late dinner in the kitchen.

Jo was offered a job in the Manchester department the following day. I was rejected.

A week later, the local newspaper featured a small article revealing that the HR manager of John Martin's had been recorded admitting that there was an unwritten policy of selecting only good looking uni students for holiday work. I spent the night in bed curled up, sobbing.

I never told Jo about the article and she held that job beyond the post-Christmas sales, working Thursday nights and Saturday mornings for the next six years as she successfully completed her honours and PhD. She worked hard and deserved every dollar she got.

But yes, looks matter.

"But I think you're beautiful, Mum."

This, from a fresh faced, blue eyed angel, who can't see even a glimpse of it in herself. Instead of denying it as I'd normally do, I just hugged her and said, "Thanks love. So are you."
"And guess what - John Martin's is no longer in business."

36 comments:

drb said...

Yes, looks matter. The reason why I will not be go outside my house wearing trackies or face unwashed (unless it is an emergency but I suspect I'll still get changed and wash my face). The reason why my staff and students are good-looking. I didn't do it consciously but was asked,"Was it a criteria (sic) to be good-looking to be in your group?" Then I had a good look at my team and then realised it was (is) true - they were(are) all good-looking.
I believe everyone can be good-looking though. It is all about the effort in packaging - right hair, makeup, clothing etc. The most important accessory is Confidence.

drb said...

*going*

drb said...

I did go through a phase of feeling that 'I am the ugliest person' in senior high. Then during the 6-month break before uni, and decided to have a makeover. I went to expenisve salon instead of having my hair cut by my aunt, makeup classes, and lost weight, of course, bought a new wardrobe. I even learnt to smile, literally, stood in front of the mirror and tried to move different face muscles for the perfect smile. It worked, life became easier. My point is - EVERYONE can be good-looking, if one can be bothered.

Kath said...

The thing is, drb, I was very focused on how I looked - I was nineteen years old, into the latest fashions, wore makeup, got my hair styled, kept fit and was friendly.

It was hurtful (very hurtful) that it clearly wasn't enough for JM's hiring guy.

Pandora Behr said...

Kath, your reasoning is flawed somewhere on this - I say this because I, like Jo - was employed at JOhn Martins for many years too. I like to think that they saw in you an independent thinker who was up for much greater and better things, unwilling to compromise and would have been bored in to minutes flat. Seriously - a great escape. (And as somebody who at the time had been badly beaten by the ugly stick - how did I get a job there?)

IT's dreadful how stuff like this taints us for life. I'll tell you my "Hunt a Grunt" story one day.

xx

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

I'll post a photo of me when I was 19 - I looked like the back end of a deformed Afghan Hound.

Mrs PM actually said "If I'd met you then, I would never have gone out with you."

Her eyesight has clearly failed her over the years.

:0)

Cheers

PM

Elisabeth said...

What a trip down memory lane, Kath. In 500 words here's my recollection in short story form: I call it 'The factory'

They were looking for workers at a small transistor factory in Moorabbin. Sixteen year olds could apply and no education or prior experience was necessary. A friend had told me about the position. I could apply with her if I wanted.
I took the train from Cheltenham on the first morning of the school holidays. If I could get this job and earn money every week I could buy everyone in my family a proper Christmas present and I could buy myself new clothes instead of having to rely on my sister for hand me downs. The train rattled as it slipped through the three stations from Cheltenham to Moorabbin and to my friend.
We walked together down Chesterville Road alongside the factories and offices that lined the main road and spread into each side street. The transistor factory was tucked into a cul de sac behind a paint distributor and a coat hanger manufacturer. The woman in the tiny office out front took our names and introduced us to the foreman who led us to the back of the store and to the manager who would decide our fate.
‘We only need one worker,’ he told us. ‘I’ll take you,’ he said pointing to me. I did not see the look on my friend’s face, but I felt her shame. I knew instantly why the manager had chosen me. My friend was smart, the smartest girl in our class. She even studied maths and chemistry, but her hair stood on top of her head like a dried out mop and there were large wet patches under her arms from the perspiration that soaked into her clothes, irrespective of the weather. She had a moon face, white with freckles, and wore wire rimmed glasses. I was not a beauty but I was better looking than my friend. I watched her back as she walked through the factory into the sunlight that shone through the front door. Her silhouette passed into the street and she was gone.
‘You can start straight away’, the manager said. ‘I’ll fix the paperwork later.’

Elisabeth said...

Continuing:
Several women sat in two lines on opposite ends of a long rectangular table that took up the entire factory floor. The foreman stood at one end and passed down transistor parts to the two women at the front. They tweaked at the small metal plates with tweezers and pulled through wires and then sent them along to the next women who performed their set tasks, on and on down the line until the parts came to me. The foreman showed me how to pull two thick wires through holes set at the base of each panel. Then I had to twist the wires together on the back to hold them in place.
It seemed simple enough but when it came my turn I became all thumbs. My fingers froze and I found it almost impossible first to thread the wires through the right holes and next to twist them into a tight plait.
‘You’ll get the hang of it soon,’ the foreman said and then went back to his place at the other head of the table. There was a pile of panels waiting for my attention beside me. I took up the first and fiddled with it. By the time I had finished my first panel five minutes had passed and another four panels sat on top of my yet to be completed pile. I tried not to panic. I tried to ignore the buzz of voices from the women along the table who chatted to one another as they worked. The woman opposite, who sat waiting patiently for me to hand over the next panel, took to helping me with mine.

Elisabeth said...

Continuing:
‘You’ll get the hang of it soon,’ she said, but my fingers were beginning to ache with the effort. I had managed to puncture my skin with the sharp wires in the process of trying to thread them through. Drips of blood fell onto the table. After what seemed hours an alarm rang out to announce morning tea. The women put down their pieces and moved through a door into a room on the side, which I assumed was the tea room. I stayed behind. A back door at the end of the factory stood wide open. I could see out and across a stubby carpet of couch grass onto the back fence with its wire gate which stood ajar. I knew then I could not stay in this place. I took myself out into the yard as if I were looking for fresh air and made my way through the gate and out onto the street beyond. I cut through several side streets until I found Chesterville Road again and could work out my direction home.
It was a long walk but I took as many side streets as I could find that led away from the factory. I feared turning back. All the way along I could feel the manager at my heels. I could imagine him enraged and indignant. How dare you, he would say, how dare you walk out on me like this? Why do you think I gave you the job. I need a worker, not a wimp.
The sky ahead was crystal blue. Every step I took led me further away from the factory and the manager and foreman. Every step I took drew me closer to the safety of my home.
When I arrived I telephoned my friend. I heard the surprise in her voice. ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t get the job,’ I said. ‘It was terrible.’ I told her about my bloodied fingers and the pile of panels unfinished at my side. ‘I just couldn’t stay.’ My friend was silent on the other end of the phone I did not want to hear what she was thinking and she did not say a word. That was the way with my friend . She kept herself to herself and so I could only imagine that she might feel as I would have felt resentful and bitter that her opportunity had been taken from her by the likes of me. I stole it from her and then threw it away

‘I’ll have to go,’ my friend said. ‘I start work at the newsagency down the road. I saw an ad in the window on my way home from the factory and applied. They want me to start today.
Now it was my turn to feel bitter. How did she do it? Without me? ‘I’m so pleased for you,’ I said, holding back the bile of my jealousy. ‘I knew you’d get a job sooner or later.’ I did not tell her about the nagging fear in the back of my mind that had the manager chosen her, she might have managed and proved me a failure. And so I turned it round in my mind.
That will teach that man, I thought after I put down the phone. That will teach him not to choose looks over brains. And I went back to the classifieds.

Kath said...

Oh Pandora....you are very, very kind. I could have done with that sort of reassurance 25 years ago, but at nineteen, that stuff hurts.

PlasMan, I'm DYING to see a photo of you at nineteen. Your Afghan hound hair is what I was literally paying big bucks to achieve with my own thin threads of hair!

Kath said...

Elisabeth, thank you for sharing this with me (and other readers of this humble blog). Victories can turn out to be anything but and we all experience pain, envy and rejection in some form or other.

You should write this reminiscence (yours I mean, not mine) on your wonderful blog too.

Jilly said...

Kath - you were (and are) gorgeous. Remember, people used to copy your 'look' at the time, and you had plenty of boys lining up. Jo was gorgeous too, but no more so than you - there was surely another reason (probably random). I too was fraught with feeling mostly fat and ugly as well... but I'm getting over it ...xx Jilly

Andrew said...

Elisabeth's story was interesting. The joys of raising children hey. I'll just think aloud. How do you tell them that beauty does not matter, when it clearly does? How do you tell them that they are beautiful and so they are worthy of admiration and they should feel good about themselves? How do you tell them beauty is only skin deep and it is what is on the inside that matters? So many conflicts. I supposed you can only teach them to make the best of what they have and instil in them the confidence to walk tall and proud.

Re Pandora's comment, more likely that he thought 'this one looks like trouble and will not be the yes sir, no sir person we want'.

drb said...

Then, I agree with Pandora Behr that you were not chosen because they saw you as independent thinker.

Hannah said...

Sometimes it's the strangest thing to read your posts, Kath, for so much of you and Sapphire I think has been the same for my mum and me, yet I get to see what we've been through through her eyes rather than mine. Thank you for that. And I hope Sapphire sees every fantastic part of herself soon - the beauty but also that her worth goes beyond that. xo

franzy said...

FACT: 100% of the kids who were popular because of their looks in high school turned out to be funny/weird looking adults.

FACT: 100% of the kids who were popular because they were genuinely beautiful on the inside too turned out to be attractive, happy adults.

Kath said...

Jilly, you too are a gorgeous diamond and far, far too kind. Believe me, I don't remember any boys lining up!

Well, maybe to have a chuckle....!

But Andrew, I was such a GOOD GIRL! I sooooo wanted the job, wanted to please them, win them over. As for how we go about instilling confidence in Sapphire when the world is screaming at her that you need to look and act like a pole dancer if you want fame as a singer and pretty much do the same in high school, I don't know. So far it's just by giving her lots of hugs and sharing my stories. The age-old 'thank god I'm not as bad as she was' approach if you like.

Thank you, drb. Maybe I was and just didn't know it at the time.....

Hannah, your comment is lovely. When she went to bed last night, Sapphire said, 'Thanks Mum. You make me feel a lot better.' Of course I then had to ruin the moment by farting....!

Franzy, I might not have spoken using stats and dot points as you have here, but the information I gave Sapphire was the same. "the cool kids that we pretended to like but were terrified of were the ones that NOBODY kept in touch with after school ended."

River said...

Yes, sadly, looks do matter. I don't think you're ugly and I'm not either, but I'm sure I got rejected for many "front line" jobs because when I smiled my bad teeth were on show, also I was short and over 40. I well remember applying to do a course in tourism reception, to be the lady at the desk who says "hi! what can I help you with today?"and being told that I could do the course if I wanted, but she didn't recommend it because I'd never get such a job.

I knew it was something I could do easily so asked her straight out why and was told they want perky young things with bright smiles on the desk.

Luckily a few years later, Coles weren't so fussy.

Sapphire is gorgeous, but most girls do the "hunch" thing until they're more comfortable with their breast development. A year from now, she'll be tall and proud.

Red Nomad OZ said...

Well, I never knew why JM's went out of business, but now I do it serves them right!!!

It's amazing how many of us have these stories to tell - and important to remember that only 0.008 of 1% of people in the world look like supermodels (according to a postcard that I carried around with me for years ...)

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh the memories. I had a weekend/holidays/Friday nights job at Waltons. In the underwear section. Good looking girls were in cosmetics, slightly less good looking in clothing and ....
I like every other woman whose opinion I value thought I was fat and ugly. Old photo prove I was wrong then. Probably right now.
And you - judging by your photos here are beautiful. Alert, intelligent and interesting looking. All winners.

Ann O'Dyne said...

WONDERFUL post dear beautiful Kath.
Sapphire may have Stand-up Comedy in her future though.
X X X

Cathy said...

Believe me Kath, I'd rather have your kind of beauty - a beautiful person rather than a Beautiful Person - any day. I liked the comment too about the best-looking kids at school being the worst-off as adults. I remember being tormented by the two coolest girls in the class - one has had four kids by four different dads and is currently in prison, and the other married young, had a swathe of kids (nothing wrong with that) but lives in the Outback on hubby's station, never gets to go anywhere, and in the last photo I saw looked a good 15 years older than she is. I was never a beauty and am still not but I'm mostly happy with myself these days and am much happier being a friend than a beauty queen. THAT'S the message for our kids - be yourself, and be proud to be.

Kath said...

RedNomadOz, I'm not sure if JM's went out of business for that reason - more due to struggling to survive the early nineties - but it still gives me some satisfaction.

I hope you're right, River. I want Sapphire to stand tall and proud. She does at home....

Thank you, E-Child. Maybe I shouldn't point out that lovely Jo was in the basement selling Manchester...?

Ms O'Dyne, if she gets over her nerves, you could be right. Like her father, she is utterly hilarious when she wants to be.

You're right Cathy. Sapphire once said to me, "I love it when you crack up laughing, Mum and nobody else does. You're having a good time without worrying about how you look." I chose to take that as a compliment!

Jackie K said...

Beautiful, brave post
And very timely for me, because though my daughter at six is so much younger she is also struggling with anxiety and low self esteem about her looks, even though she is physically beautiful.
She used the same words as Sapphire, that she is not "flat and thin". She is not fat or even chubby, she is just not "flat and thin."
I think too that most women have some horrible story from their teens or twenties where someone made them feel they were not pretty enough. Even the good looking ones.
Whether or not the comment or event was intended as we took it, it scarred us for life.
Bloody looks.
Sigh.
Also - I recently found this which I am going to trawl through for some ideas for my daughter:

https://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/Body-Image/194472477324704

Jackie K said...

Also, I know this is not really the point, but from the pictures you post here Sapphire is indeed a very pretty girl - and tall and slim too. :-)

mele said...

I went through a tough time in highschool. I was extremely thin, had a huge nose that my face was yet to grow into and was constantly taunted by boys on the bus for being an 'ugly hairy wog' and to 'get a nose job'(yep, apparently looking Italian and having a roman nose was unattractive). None of the boys took any notice of me because I was not the blonde model beach bunny type in magazines.
Then when I turned 18 suddenly boys became interested in me. I grew into my face and suddenly was described as 'ethnic and exotic'. The taunts I had to hear on the bus still haunt me. I went to a highschool reunion and someone was rude enough to say 'wow, you're not ugly anymore' ! I looked over at her (the most popular girl at school) and suddenly realised it had all been about self confidence, and getting through tough years of puberty and racism had distorted my image.
Sapphire will realise one day how beautiful she is. It takes a while.Puberty blues!
I'm not the most gorgeous woman out there, but confidence and charisma is what makes me attracted to Franzy. I love funny, quirky guys and I don't care much for looks. Not that he's any ugly bugger, but a good man that makes you laugh is key to my heart. Most girls are wise enough to realise this in time.
That being said, people are now nicer to me because my looks have improved. And that's just wrong really.

Kath said...

She is, Jackie K, she is. I'd have envied her like mad in high school but are any of us ever happy with what we had at that age?

Mele, you made me cry first, then want to hunt down those arseholes and give them all a good shellacking for what they did to you! All I can say is that I hope 'the most popular girl in school' is any but that now. As for you and Franzy - like LC and me - the best thing in life is to love and be loved in return, isn't it?

nuttynoton said...

Well I echo Jillys thoughts, you are in many ways! As you know I have two daughters who both are like this, the older one particularly, lacks confidence, had her grade 5 music exam today and was a bag of nerves. But I was the same I had frizzy hair like a young michael jackson and as a young man was slim and no muscles and lacked confidence. I was fortunate that my first real job brought me confidence and I learned to relax, may be Saph will find something that helps her shine
Great post!

Christine said...

Looks do count - and I never risked it being the shy inarticulate soul that I was then. I had worn glasses since I was 10, run the gauntlet of snickering boys, in the early 70s when long straight hair parted down the middle, and wearing cheese-cloth shirts and indian skirts epitomised mother-earth, and hippydom, my hair was fair, curly and thick.` I wandered into a child-care centre and got my first job when I was 15 and then, being a Canberra kid, the next job was the public service. There is hope yet but I hope Sapphire does not have to go through these sorts of agonies.

Wally The Walrus said...

Well, I've read this and all the comments. When I was younger, of course looks counted. So did geekiness.

I was picked on for being the intellectual, not being a wog, not interested in cars... Looks never really entered into it. Some of the other taunts were far worse than what you endured. (How'd you like being called a homosexual every day for about 2 years?)

Getting over the childhood taunts is just plain difficult no matter what flavour they take.

In later life, its always easy to single out the attractive people - then have a chat and find just how shallow and dull most of them are. Looks = expectations, especially if they know they look good. As you move on, you come across some people who are pretty plain but who know their stuff... and they get respect for that. They get employed for it too.

When I was younger there were people who really were quite ugly. I find many years later they are married so they can't have been all bad :) And some of the attractive ones have terrible personal lives. Expectations?

Lesson: be who you are. Take the hits. Move on. Don't let the bastards grind you down. There is always something else, somewhere you will be appreciated for who you are or what you can do, not how you look. AND NEVER EVER EVER go to school reunions.

(and by the way, neither you nor Saph are ugly. Thats just your self-deprecating humour OR a lack of confidence shining through. Stop it!!)

Kath said...

Thanks nutty - I know that Sapphire will go through the same trials and tribulations that we all did and that there's precious little I can do to make it easier for her. Just listen, offer a cuddle and a can of diet coke and then share a funny story of my own inadequacies I suppose....

You're right, Wally. I didn't write this blog to get compliments and yet I do realise (and have told Sapph this) that no-one has yet, to my knowledge, ever run screaming at horror at the first glimpse of my visage. Not even first thing in the morning!

diane b said...

It is interesting how children can jog the memories. That must have ben so upsetting to read that only beautiful girls were given positions. That would be enough to drag self confidence down to the lowest level. However, you have bounced back now and can laugh at yourself,"corn flake eyes" It is sad how the media and society tell young girls how they should look to be successful/popular etc.
I always felt that I was ugly as a teenager, maybe because an ex boyfriend told me that I had a face like a duck's bum . Funny thing now that I am old and wrinkly and look back on old photos, I think that I wasn't that bad. I'm sure you think the same about your uni photo. You look pretty hot to me.

Kath said...

Thanks diane_b, you've made my day....

...especially after I said 'G'day' to the Fratman downstairs ("Bonjour Monsieur") and didn't realise that half of my lunch (leftover creamy leek risotto) was smeared down my t-shirt.....

Anji said...

Madonna is three years younger than me. Olivier assures me that her bum wobbles (apparently young bums don't wobble)

I thought that I was the ugly duckling of our family. I posted some pics of me at 17 a little while ago. I wish I'd have realised at the time.

We've got something, you and I Kath, that a lot of poeple haven't, including Madonna and my pretty sisters. Wonderful husbands and marriages that have lasted.

I wouldn't swap that.

Kymmie said...

That'll teach John Martins.

Two years ago I remember Virgin lost a case of unfair dismissal because they hadn't hired a very efficient Cabin Crew chick. Apparently, she wasn't pretty enough.

That'll learn all of 'em.

Kath said...

You're right, Anji.

Thanks, Kymmie!