2.17.2011

A Problem of Uniformity...

I recently got a job at Meijer, a Midwest one-stop shopping chain. The editing business is going through its slow period and I've been looking for a reason to get out of the house and make a little bit of side money, so a retail gig seemed like the best option. The job pays very little (like most retail gigs), but it's high energy and keeps me from getting bored. Seems like a win-win. Not only that, the store is right up the street and convenient to get to and I'd be working in the garden department, which is something that sounded like a lot of fun when offered the position.

However, the training process for Meijer is, to put it lightly, tedious bordering on joy-killing. I have worked in a number of retail environments, and this one is the most intensely dissatisfying. There is no hands-on learning going on here. It's all sitting behind a computer screen for hours listening to one dry lecture after another, learning nothing. For a job that's all about thinking on one's feet and being engaging, the training program couldn't possibly be more antithetical to those things. And it's not just one day. I've spent nearly a week in training classes. Even the cashier class has been in a classroom. And not even on the computer. You have to sit there and flip through a thick binder, struggling to stay awake, while someone monotonously rattles off how to scan coupons, do lane returns, and enter PLU numbers for produce and other items. In other words, stuff that would have been much more easily retained if taught in the actual cashiering environment rather than in a dry lecture. Oh, but the training isn't exactly over yet. Apparently hands-on training begins Saturday, where we get to put to use all of the stuff (most of it) that didn't stick in my brain on Tuesday.

The company also has a very Big Brother attitude that I find off-putting. The two-minute grace period for clocking in (the computer dings you for disciplinary action if you're more than two minutes late) is a bit much even for my ultra-punctual ass. Two minutes in my universe is like no time at all. Someone's watch could be off by 120 seconds, easy. Why two and not five? Isn't that a bit more fair or reasonable? Already, I'm feeling less than enthusiastic about this company.

All that being said, these things would be acceptable to me if not for one seemingly small (but not) caveat: the uniform.

You're provided with two red polo shirts and are asked to furnish either black or khaki pants. Heck, even denim is totally acceptable. That's a bonus. It's not much different than the Target uniform, or so I thought. There is one key difference: you are required to tuck in your shirt. No exceptions. And it is with that (again seemingly) small demand that I find a stumbling block.

To some (or perhaps even most), the requirement to tuck in a shirt seems like a no-brainer. But it has never been for me. I never tuck in a shirt. Nev-er. To do so runs counter to a lifetime of strategic body camouflage that has made it possible for me to walk out of my house every day with my head held up. I can look strangers in the eye with a smile because I feel secure that the parts of myself that I don't want them to see are safely hidden behind a panel (or two) of fabric. Asking me to tuck in my shirt is, on an emotional level, not wholly unlike asking me to expose my breasts. It would be easier if I could wear an apron or a vest of some sort, but no.

You might think this is hyperbole and you're allowed to think that, I guess. You don't live in my head or in my body. I've gone through life with an overly-long torso and a stomach that has never been flat. The struggle to find shirts that are even long enough to cover what I want to cover has been never-ending. Let's just say that the word "tunic" is the most prominent word in my clothing language and if shopping in a catalogue, I seek out shirts that are, on average 30-32" long.

Still, I didn't want to be a baby and punk out on my first day in the Meijer uniform just because I'm self-conscious about my body. I was determined to see if I would look or feel as bad as I imagined I might when told the uniform requirements during training. When I had asked the lady if I absolutely must tuck in my shirt, she nodded (with a touch of sympathy because she too is not a small girl) and said, "I just get a size bigger and blouse it out. The shirts are really long."). So I was willing to give it a go. After all, the shirts were indeed long. In fact, too long to wear untucked without looking pregnant or stupid (see, there is such a thing as too long of a shirt, and I think they designed them this way for easier tucking).

So I tucked the shirt into my black slacks (the most flattering and slimming pair I own) and bloused it out as far as I could and looked in the mirror. A feeling of panic set in not unlike what happens in that dream where you suddenly appear naked in front of a crowd. Everything I'd hidden my whole life was "out there" for the world to see. Every step I'd made in learning to appreciate my body a little more was erased and I was thrust right back onto square one again. I wasn't ready for this. Even the most confident of us have some sort of comfort threshold, and mine was being violated ten times over. I wanted to rip off the shirt and tell Meijer to suck it. I wasn't going to do this to myself for $7.50 an hour. If my job is to be open and engaging and able to sell something, I can't do it when I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable in my own skin.

But I didn't quit right there. I didn't tell Meijer to suck it. I went to work. And spent the next several hours carefully examining the eyes of others to see if they were glancing down at my bulging belly and feeling my cheeks burn as I walked away, terrified that they were looking at my fully-exposed ginormous ass.

I've only begun my battle on attaining a positive self-image, even in light of my "flaws," but that fight is still in its infancy and this is not the way I'd intended to go about it. This is the self-esteem equivalent of being tossed into shark infested waters, covered in reeking chum, and told to swim.

No, it doesn't help that I see women and men of all shapes and sizes walking around in their tucked in shirts. It doesn't make me feel better that I can purchase a Meijer-sanctioned fleece cover-up. For one thing, it'll be Spring in a month and we're enjoying a spate of 60-degree weather as I write this. For another, I'll be working outside. The fleece will be a temporary security blanket at best and what then?

I have left a message with my manager asking if there is any possible way the company will work with employees who can't abide by the dress code, but I already know the answer and it makes sense that they wouldn't cater to me specifically. If they do, then they will likely have a whole legion of Meijer employees ripping their shirts out of their pants. Besides, if I want the freedom of wearing a uniform top that actually flatters me and makes me feel like a professional, I can always go work at Target again, where untucked shirts are welcome with opened arms.

So I'm still in the middle of this quandary. Nothing has yet been decided. I'm weighing between biting my tongue and just seeing if I can get used to it and telling them that making myself feel this way is not worth $7.50 an hour and that I'll keep looking for work that better suits me. Bottom line, I feel guilty for letting people down because of my insecurities. But if I can't feel comfortable in my own skin, what good will I be? If I can't wear the uniform with pride, isn't it best to open the spot up for someone who can?

3 comments:

  1. Wow, that sucks! I totally get your concern, because I NEVER tuck for the exact same reason. The only difference is I've always wished for a longer torso. My waist is so high that if I tuck my shirt in I look like all breasts and kangaroo pouch from the front. I feel for you.

    Is it possible you'll relax once you see people aren't treating you any differently?

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  2. I'm not sure. I almost feel like a company that would force its employees to humiliate themselves via the dress code is a company I'd hate working for.

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  3. Allison,

    As you know by now I have body image issues-hell, you could even call it 'Body dysmorphia disorder' but in any case, I'd be traumatized by tucking my shirt in, too. I never do it either. I used to wear men's sizes 2XLT just for the length. I don't do that anymore but I am pretty much always in a 'tunic' or something that makes me feel less obsessed with my stomach. I'm all about learning how to love my body too, but I feel for you in this situation. I literally would have a freakin' panic attack. I get why you would write this and wish I had read it earlier.
    God, I almost feel like telling you to quit the f'n job because the emotional duress may not be worth it. Honestly, I don't think any of the customers would even NOTICE that you have your shirt tucked in but your own personal comfort/sanity is important regardless. I totally get this.
    Jody

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