Sticks & Stones…

I have a confession to make. I don’t walk around in my day-to-day life “camera ready.” I only dress up for you. If I’m meeting with a client in person, going to an event, or shooting a video, sure – I’ll curl my hair and put on some makeup. Otherwise, I knock around in my comfy Pilates clothes with my hair pulled back and a clean face.

Living my life in these two opposing “looks” affords me some very interesting observations. We all know that we’re generally treated a bit differently by sales people when we’re dressed up. (If you don’t know this, simply walk into a department store in your dress down, play clothes and then get dressed to the nines and go back…it’s fascinating.) But the things I notice have nothing at all to do with some preconceived notion about how much cash I might be able to drop – and everything to do with a different type of preconceived currency – calories.

Just the other day I stopped into a mini-market to grab a Diet Coke. I’d met a friend for a walk around Greenlake and of course, was wearing my favorite purple Pilates pants. In an effort to make small talk, the cashier asked if I was headed for a workout. I said no – that I just took a walk around the lake, and he replied with, “you earned it then.”

I earned it?? In what world does a walk around a park constitute earning a Diet Coke? Oh yeah…this one.

I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence, but it’s not. Very often, when I’m in my Pilates clothes, peoples’ small talk remarks are about my “strength” and “discipline” and “how good I am.” Funny, because wearing my “cozies” is not an accurate indication of whether or not I happened to be on the way to or from a workout.

But it’s not the assumption of my workout habits that concerns me. It’s the content of the small talk, reflecting and perpetuating deep, habitual cultural assumptions that I’m earning my food and drink through my exercise.

So what happens when I’m not wearing my workout clothes? When I’ve actually curled my hair and put on makeup?  A change of ownership occurs. The comments continue, but they are no longer about me – they are about the sales person.

If I’m trying on clothes in a department store, the sales lady will offer up her weakness for those Girl Scout Samoa cookies – but they have coconut in them – and coconut is a type of nut – and nuts are supposed to be “healthy,” right?

Again, I realize these situations represent superficial small talk and these comments are most likely intended to be light-hearted fun. But too often an innocent remark that’s not intended to be taken seriously is an indication of a deeper belief system that’s all too real. And when we stay unconscious – and buy into – the deeper cultural beliefs perpetuated by innocent small talk, these words become far more dangerous and harmful than any stick or stone.