Thursday, June 23, 2011

It Shouldn't Matter ... But It Does

A few weeks ago, as I was walking my dog, I approached two young men who had recently moved onto my street. One had on a white tank top and a pair of long baggy shorts that hung low revealing the gray plaid boxers he wore beneath them.

I didn’t know if I should have recoiled in horror or laughed out loud at what happened next. As I approached them, the young man’s shorts begin to slowly slide down the sides of his skinny frame. They glided passed his butt and down his thighs. They went as far as his knees before he casually pulled them up.

I had never seen this kid before. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. Yet, he felt perfectly comfortable revealing his undergarments in their entirety right in front of me, a stranger, and anyone else who happened to be passing by.

To me, it wasn’t cool. It wasn’t cute and it definitely wasn’t sexy! In my eyes, he looked foolish and sad. While volunteering at a local job readiness program, I’d met countless men like him. Men in their teens and 20’s (sometimes older) who didn’t own a decent pair of pants and in some cases didn’t know what size they actually wore.

Unable to find work, the frustration these men feel is real. They would say to me, “What I wear shouldn’t matter.” Maybe it wouldn’t in a perfect world; but this is not a perfect world. We live on Earth and not in Utopia.

All of us are guilty of pre-judging someone … especially based on appearance. It might not be fair but it’s true. Until we as a people learn to judge people solely by the content of their character, we’ll have to deal with this unpleasant reality. How we look matters. How we carry ourselves makes a difference.

I’m not saying that we should all run out and get break the bank on designer clothes but we should take pride in our appearance and realize when it does play a role. If my new neighbor and those looking for work must wear their pants low and expose their underwear (and I personally wish they wouldn’t), they should recognize that there is a time and place for that outfit and it isn’t on the job or at a job interview. They will be pre-judged.

I’ll even take it a step further. Our outlook about ourselves change when our appearance changes. After battling a long illness, many female patients on the road to recovery will ask for a tube of lipstick. They start to care about their appearance again. Since they have begun to feel better, they want to look better too.

People who work from home are often advised to ‘dress’ for work. Maybe they don’t have to adhere to a strict dress code but they should at least get out of their PJs! Why? Appearance affects mood and dressing for work helps make a mental distinction between the personal and the professional, between work and home.

The outside doesn’t matter nearly as much as who we are on the inside; but that doesn’t mean that the outside doesn’t matter at all.

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