Friday, February 1, 2008

offensive ugliness frumpiness

I am taking a non-writing seminar for my major, because my department suffers from a complete lack of sense. Bitter as I may sound (I don't understand why I can't just take workshops and you know, writing seminars, especially since I'm also concentrating in English), I sort of understand their logic, and more importantly, I understand that since my major is new, they haven't gotten themselves together yet. So I forgive them.

The professor had to cut some people from the class, because at my university, most seminars are capped (but the administration is a little dodgy, and so sometimes forgets to put an enrollment cap) but she did her best to take as many as possible and as a result we are packed quite tightly around the table. This is actually also fine, I much prefer it to another seminar-style class I am taking in which the ten or so of us spread out as though at least five of us suffer from a highly contagious and/or disgusting disease, like leprosy or bad breath.

Anyway, being tightly packed around the table is great, because it facilitates communication, and it keeps everyone awake (hey, two hours one hour and fifty minutes is a long time) and it makes the class feel like the hippy dippy kind of thing you might do at a small liberal arts college. Which is appropriate, because the professor is actually a professor at a very very liberal, hippy dippy kind of college outside of the city, and only visits to teach this seminar.

The downside, however, is that whenever in this class, you are close to others. Like, Listerine close. Did I remember antiperspirant close. Did someone have a bacon, egg and cheese for breakfast close (actually, you totally don't need to be in a tightly packed seminar room for that, first year I took a three-hundred person lecture and this one student would always bring a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the nearby deli and the room would smell all cheesy-bacon-y-sweaty).

Recently, I was minding my business, taking notes and so on when I was unfortunate enough to turn and notice that someone near me had exceptionally large, dirty pores, dirty glasses, frizzy hair, etc. Now, I have been a frumpy student once or twice, and the usual excuses are pretty obvious (early classes, no one notices, I'm too much of an academic to care) but none of them impress me. Seriously. I am an extremely hard working student who has pushed myself to the limit many, many times. But I care to much about my body and the way I present myself to others to just abandon reasonable health and beauty measures. 

Now, I know Mona Lisa Smile was a so-so movie (and the tie in book was much, much worse), but I'm using it as an example. Yes, the attitude of these fictional mid-century women is deplorable by modern standards (I only know one or two people who are legitimately seeking affectionately titled Mrs. degrees these days), but for the most part the portrayal in the movie is one of women who are diligent about school and appearance. These women are ladies, and they would skip neither their homework nor a thank you note to an annoying but lovable aunt. Yes, Hollywood magic is at work and I doubt anyone was ever the perfect fifties housewife or the perfect forties co-ed, and I wouldn't ask anyone trying to meet the demands of a top-tier education to set their standards this high.

But, when you know you're going to class, and sitting around a table, would it hurt to put on something decent and wash your face? Clean your glasses, brush your hair and floss? I don't think so. It takes about twenty minutes to do all those things, and unless you're deathly ill, I bet you can afford to cut sleep by twenty minutes. This goes right along with wearing something respectable to class (which Meg over at All About Appearances covers really excellently in this post). Maybe it sounds rude to criticize others for their appearance, but it's rude to the professor and rude to your fellow students to show up looking like you couldn't care less about being there.

Rant over.


Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...

Thanks so much for the link! I've started reading your blog and am quite impressed. I've added it to my RSS subscribe list and will be adding it to my site's blogroll in a bit.

I couldn't agree more with what you said. It doesn't take much effort to look put together and at the very least, not offensive. Sometimes I marvel at how inconsiderate some students are. Some take phone calls in class, a girl sitting next to me proceeded to give herself a manicure complete with noisy emery board and smelly nail polish, and don't even get me started on the smells.

I know that some people do have legitimate body odor issues, so I try not to judge, but some people really just don't know how bad they smell. I know this because I had a friend who just didn't wear deodorant until his girlfriend told him to. And I knew this one guy who had swiss cheese for teeth because he just never brushed and his mom had just given up on it (while spoiling him like crazy and trying to buy him friends).

On the flip side, though, I knew a couple kids in high school who always smelled and were brutally picked on. One day I saw the trailer where they lived. There were huge gaps in the floor where you could see the ground and had to walk down the hall way on a 2x4 stretch out across the chasm. They smelled because they didn't even have running water.

But I don't think it's bad to nicely say "Clean yourself up for class" for fear of offending a few people with legitimate excuses.

anastasia said...


Thanks for responding so insightfully. I wish I could say that the girl giving herself a manicure was a shock to me, but I have seen similarly disturbing action. Also, although it is much more common, I always wonder a bit about the people eating in class. Not a snack or even something simple and non-loud, but the student with a gigantic platter of Pad Thai wielding chopsticks. Ditto on the phone conversations.

The smell thing--you make and incredibly good point, and I probably would wonder about that if I went to a different school. Because I go to a moderately-sized, ultra expensive/exclusive school (where it is ridiculously overpriced to take classes if you are aren't an enrolled student/don't work for the school--so ridiculous, in fact, that most enrolled students won't take summer courses because the fee is prohibitive), most classes are populated by those who actually live in the university's dorms. In a given seminar of twenty people, I would guess at least fifteen live on campus, quite possibly more. So while it might be a case of people just not knowing what they smell like, I doubt many of the student's are living, at least during the academic year, in awful conditions.

Even while writing this, I feared I would come off as incredibly insensitive (people have skin problems, body odor problems, are hapless), and I still think the post toes the line. Either way, you really got me thinking about this question more, which is why I started the blog. So, again, thank you.

Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances said...

You're very welcome! I'm really happy that you are writing about this issue because it needs to be discussed more.

While I consider myself very easygoing, very open-minded and very willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, there are a lot of people who just go too far, or not far enough.

But no one seems to care anything for basic etiquette any more! Everyone is too scared of offending others or sounding like a prude.

I remember kids back in K-12 school saying, "I should be free to wear what I want to school because America is the land of the free and I have freedom of speech..." And even though I could maybe understand them citing the Constitution to wear a politically incorrect shirt, these were generally the kids who wanted to wear skanky clothes with their butts and breasts were hanging out.

I think it's still that same mentality! Some people just never mature to the point where they realize that there is a *huge* difference between "can" and "should", and it's not all about them and what they want.