I am so ashamed. To have been humiliated like this is just too much to bear. I sat on my bed and, between sobs and through a veil of tears, I looked at the shelves of Mills and Boon novels and cursed at them for betraying me. Their idealized romance culminating in a lifetime of true happiness turned out to be lies. Real life romance was nothing like the expectation that M & B had prepared for me, it was hurtful, humiliating and degrading. I will never be able to face the world again.
I should have realized that my whole life was preparing me for this, but I thought that at last I was being blessed with happiness. I am, as I have always been, a very shy person. At school I shunned the popular group because I just knew that they would tease me about my clothes and my unruly curly hair and my sensible glasses that gave me a nerdish look. I compensated by being good at my studies, getting the highest grades in all subjects. I never went to the movies and at the youth dances at church I was the perennial wallflower. Oh I danced occasionally when one of the boys could be persuaded, I suspected that money may have been used, to ask me to dance with him. His shoes would nearly leave skid marks on the dance floor in his haste to leave me once his duty was done.
My parents were of no use to me, my mother was shy and my father overbearing, which made her even shyer. If I took a problem to my father his response was either to 'get over it', or pray to God for guidance. I didn't know how to get over it and I came to the conclusion that, because my prayers were never answered, that God didn't care either. I was suffering a conflict of faith but had no-one to turn to for help.
My saving grace during my last two years of high school was my part-time job. I began working in the store owned by Mr Hudson, who was the church's treasurer. My father approached him, being the Pastor he had some influence, with the view to him giving me a job in the hope that it would help me get over my shyness. It didn't work, if anything it made it worse until I was moved from the shop floor into the office. I was to help Celia Hudson, the boss's wife, with the bookkeeping. It was easy work and in no time at all I was able to do all of the work, after all it was simple double entry bookkeeping. I also looked after making up the wages for the staff and doing the banking.
The more I did the better I got, and the better I got the more confident I got and by the time I finished high school and was looking for a job Mister Hudson offered me full time work. Part of the deal was that I would be given time off for studies, so I enrolled in part-time University degree course in Business Administration.
Celia stayed on as the Chief Finance Officer but she had little to do and much of her time was spent walking around the store making sure that everything was running smoothly. I enjoyed working in the office and Mr Hudson remarked that my self confidence was getting better. One day he came over to my desk and sat on the edge of it. "Ruth, I hope that you don't mind me saying this, but you are a very attractive young woman,"
I could feel the blush rising from my neck and quickly covering my face. "Please don't tease me like this, I know that I'm plain and frumpish, I can't help that."
"But you can, you have amazing bone structure and your hair could look so stylish with a little work. What I think we should do is to give you a make-over, I'll pay for it, and you'll be surprised at how good you look in something other than your nerd clothes."
He took me to the beauty salon in the store and introduced me to the chief beautician, Juanita. "Doesn't she have great bone structure?"
"She surely does, I've seen her in the store and I say to myself, 'Girl, why are you afraid to shine? Let the world see how gorgeous you really are.' By the time I'm finished with her Hollywood will come calling."
"I don't want anything like that, I'm shy and if I looked like that people will expect me to act like that and I can't do that."
"You might think that, and when you first started working in here and Mr. Hudson had asked me to do this I would have said no way, I may be good but I'm not that good. But let me tell you girl, I've seen how you've changed into a confident young woman, and the only thing that is keeping you from the stars is the way you dress, and as for the make-up, I can't find words to describe how bad it is."
"I'll leave her in your capable hands then." Mr Hudson walked off.
"Sit yourself down and let's get started. Now let me look at that hair, my there's a lot of it isn't there?" She grabbed a handful and lifted it up." It must take you hours to comb that in the mornings."
"Yes it does, but I don't know what to do with it, it has a mind of its own, no matter what I do with it, it ends up looking like this."
"Leave it to us, first thing we'll do with it is to give it a thorough shampoo and conditioning and then I'll get the scissors to it. You'll wonder why you've never had this done before."
One of the girls took over, and my hair was washed and conditioned, and then it was blow-dried and combed out. When that was finished, it seemed to take hours, it was straightened. I couldn't believe how long it really was once the curls were straightened, it was almost down to my waist. Juanita walked around me, looking closely at my face and neck before getting to work with her scissors. By the time she had finished there was a huge pile of brown hair at my feet. She held a mirror up so that I could see the result. I didn't recognise the image at first. I was staring at a totally different person.
"Now we are going to change you colour. First we will bleach it and then add highlights."
"I don't want to be a blonde."
"You won't be a dumb blonde, believe me." She went to the shelf full of different colours and selected two packs that she handed to the girl who'd washed my hair. "Sophie here is the best colourist in the salon, she will transform you, believe me."
I reserved judgement on that, I was beginning to lose my confidence, everything had been taken out of my control and I didn't like that. I don't know what chemicals were used on my hair but it smelled terrible and I had visions of it falling out in clumps but after several hours, part of which was spent with pieces of foil stuck to my hair, I emerged a different person, not one that I was comfortable with, just different. Then it was the makeup artiste's turn, first a facial scrub to exfoliate my skin and then it was layer upon layer of powders and pastes. I was afraid to smile lest my face cracked. While this was happening the manicurist was working on my nails. "My we have let these go haven't we?" they were clipped and filed and the talons were stuck on them which were then clipped and filed before nail polish was applied followed by a clear coat to protect them.
"Ugh, wherever did you get that bra?" Davina undid the clasp and, holding the offending garment between thumb and forefinger she advanced on the rubbish bin and dropped it in. "You have wonderful breasts my dear, a little petite maybe, but nothing that a Wonder bra won't fix." She ran a tape around my body just under the breasts and selected a bra to fit. It did make my breasts look bigger and perkier and it felt a lot more comfortable than my old one, I'll give it that. Next came my panties, my sensible cotton tails that Mum bought for me last Christmas. Yet another look of utter disgust as she took them off me, and deposited them with my old bra, in the bin. I drew the line at a thong, settling instead for brief panties.
It was on to the dresses. I was to choose two for the time being and would be able to buy more at the regular staff discount later. The two I chose were put aside and another two were presented to me. I had to admit that they made me look much better, but they weren't me. I was beginning to feel that the image that I would have to maintain was beyond my capabilities, but I was told over and over again that I was a confident professional woman and should dress appropriately. I gave in to them and they packed the one that I wasn't wearing and bundled the other for me to take home to wear around the house on weekends.
Any feeling of euphoria that I might have had disappeared the moment I stepped into my house. My father called me all sorts of horrible names. "Whore! How dare you come into this house looking like a painted harlot! Go at once and remove that war-paint from your face. I didn't bring you up to cheapen yourself like this. What have you done to your beautiful hair, it was your crowning glory and now you look like a cheap whore. Look at you, that dress leaves little to the imagination, I can see far too much of your titties. Go to your room and don't come out until you look decent."
"Yes Father." I stumbled to my room and threw myself onto my bed.
There was a tap on my door and Mother came in and sat beside me. She took my hand and squeezed it. "I think you look lovely, but I have to go along with your father on this. Come I'll help you get changed."
"Why do you have to go along with him, Can't you support my choices for a change?"
"I would love to Ruthie, but I have to live with your father and that means keeping up appearances."
"If the truth be known, I'm not entirely happy with what they've done to me and I've decided to tone it down a little, but let me tell you right now, I'm not going back to the way that I looked before and if he can't live with that then I'll just have to leave home. For years I have lived as a freak, different from other girls and not in a nice way and as for my hair, a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, or should I say head. For years I have wondered why I've been getting headaches and today I found the reason, it's been the weight of my hair that has caused them. Another thing, I have gained in confidence with my work, I have been appreciated for the work that I do and that makes me feel great, but Father's reaction when I walked in tonight has eroded that confidence and I'm back to being the shy and subservient little mouse that he wants me to be. I've had a taste of what it's like to be normal and I'm not going to allow his Puritanic attitudes to take that away from me and if father wants me to stay like that, then I have enough money now to rent a small apartment on my own."
"Don't do anything rash, I'll try to talk to him and see if he'll soften his attitude."
My confidence returned the next day at work. So many of the staff complemented me on my transformation, the ugly duckling was now a swan. "You look amazing." Mr Hudson said as I walked into his office with some papers for him to go over. "I would not have recognised you as the same girl that came to work here a couple of years ago. Yesterday your looks didn't fit your new found confidence, now it does and the transformation is complete. Now I feel confident about offering you a greater role within the company, a greater level of responsibility, are you up to it?"
"Yes Sir." And I meant it, today I felt ready to take on the world.
"First thing, you must stop calling me 'Sir', at least while we are in private. My name is Andrew."
"Very well Sir, I mean Andrew. This feels strange to me, you have been Mr Hudson for as long as I can remember. You will still be Mr Hudson at church."
"Yes I think that will be best, I don't think that your father will approve of our being that familiar."
"No he won't. He's none too happy with my new look, he was quite angry when I got home last night."
"I'll have a word with him and explain that it was my idea and it was work related."
"Would you? I'd appreciate that."
"Consider it done. Now to work, what have we here?"
I explained the papers and, as he read them he commented on the effort that I had put into them. I felt wanted and important.
If I thought that Mother and Mr Hudson talking to my father would change things then I was wrong. He seemed to single me out as he delivered his talk to the church. It wasn't a talk as such, more like a diatribe, delivered at the top of his voice.
"Beauty is not skin deep! True beauty comes from within, from beneath our skin. God made us as we are and to try and improve on His creation is show Him that we are not satisfied with what He has done. All the trappings of the cosmetician's art cannot disguise the ugliness within us. All the fancy clothes cannot disguise the fact that we are trying to be someone that we are not and that is a betrayal of God's plan for us. To be obedient to God we must remain as he made us. We are encouraged by man to strive for perfection, perfection in what? We can spend thousands of dollars having cosmetic surgery to improve out appearance, to stave off the inevitable process of aging, for what? Do you think that all of this will make you a better person? No! Who you are is within you, and your true beauty cannot be hidden by any amount of wafer thin artificial beauty."
"I hear people say 'I am proud of the way that I look.' But looks can be deceiving, looks can hide something of which they cannot be proud. There are people here today who, to look at, you would be forgiven for thinking that they are beautiful people, but they are proud people, they are vain people, and pride and vanity are not pleasing in the eyes of God. They place too much importance in outer beauty at the expense of inner beauty. It was once said that photographs never lie. That is so very wrong today. The photographs that you see in the glossy magazines are lying to you, the images have been 'Photo shopped', the air brush has been liberally applied to hide the imperfections. God did not make man to be perfect so why should man try to hide his imperfections, why can't man be satisfied with what God gave him? Why can't we look at ourselves in the mirror and be satisfied? I tell you why, it's because we seek to find favour in our fellow man at the expense of seeking the favour of God."
"Not all successful men are handsome just as not all successful women are pretty. Not all successful men and women have an inner beauty and do you know why? It is because to be successful in the eyes of your fellow man, you have to do things that are hurtful to your fellow man, that are ugly in the sight of your fellow man and certainly will be looked on with disfavour by God. In this world one cannot be successful without harming someone else and commercial success is not something that was all that important to Jesus when he told the rich young man that he would not get to Heaven unless he gave away all his money. What does ill-gotten benefit you in this life? Is whatever it is worth risking the benefits of admission to paradise? No it is not! You can't take your money with you, God has no use for your money in Heaven, He would want you to use your wealth for His benefit in this life. Be we do not devote our wealth to Him, we use it to preserve the image that we think will bring us favour in this life. What folly is this! Do unto other as you have them do unto you, help your friends and even those that you don't know and that help will be returned to you many times over. But if you do harm to your friends and those that you don't know, that harm will be returned to your many times over."
I sort of stopped listening to him but I wouldn't take my eyes of his, I wouldn't let him see the fear and hatred that were in me right now, I would not bow to his abuse. He paused for breath after about thirty minutes of this and his voice dropped several decibels and he took on a more considerate tone.
"We in this church are beautiful people! We in this church are a family and as a family we look out for and love our fellow man as if they were all a part of our extended family, and we do this without asking for or even expecting that love to be returned because, as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, those with plenty should give more so that those who have little do not have to give as much, and if you do this when you find yourself in need, those to whom you gave when you had much will give to you in return. I want each and every one of you to look deeply at yourself and take stock of your priorities, do you strive for inner beauty, or are you more interested in seeking outer beauty to cover up your inner imperfections? Are you happy with God's handiwork, or are led by society to think that you can improve on what He has given you? Let us pray."
I had tried to stare him down as he spoke but his blazing eyes pierced my heart, and I felt so humiliated that, as soon as the service was over, I ran out and caught the bus home. I didn't want to ride in his car with him, and I didn't want to face him when he got home, so I changed and left the house.
I stood looking in the Lease section of a Real Estate Agent's shop. I was looking for a house or flat that I could rent so that I could move out of home, away from my hypocritical father. Inner beauty! What rubbish! His hard attitude to me was anything but beautiful and I wasn't going to stay in that house and be subjected to his rules a moment longer than I had to. I saw a couple of places that I liked the look of and resolved to ask Mr Hudson for time off on Monday morning to go and look at them.
When I got home Father was even more furious than before. "I looked for you after the service only to find that you'd left without telling your Mother or me that you weren't coming home with us. I had people running around looking for you and it wasn't until much later that I discovered that you'd left straight after the service. This made me look bad, as if I had no control over my family."
"What was the most important part of this, were you worried about my not being there or how it made you look?"
"You impertinent, selfish girl, go to your room and ponder your actions."
"You've answered my question, don't worry I won't stay in your presence any longer than I have to." I left him there with his mouth open. I had never stood up to him before.
I didn't have dinner with them that night, I was so angry that I didn't even feel hungry, so I lay on my bed reading one of my romance books in an effort to take my mind off what I was about to do. Mother came in around 10:00 and asked if I wanted a mug of hot chocolate. Now normally I would have walked over coals for one, but tonight I declined.
"You are really upset with your father, aren't you?"
"I have never been this angry with anyone in my whole life. He was staring at me the whole time he was delivering his tirade this morning. He especially singled me out for criticism and do you know what? I think he is the greatest hypocrite, to him appearance is paramount. I can't stay here any longer, as soon as I find a place I'm moving out."
"I wish that you'd rethink that. I know that Mr Hudson has encouraged you improve your appearance and I think that this has done you the world of good. I know that he has spoken to your father and told him of his encouragement and they had words. There's an uneasy truce between them and if you leave, your father will blame Mr Hudson, he certainly won't blame himself."
"But it was him that has encouraged me to take this step. I wish that I didn't have to do it, but the more that I look back over my life, the more that I realise that he's been behind everything that I've had to endure. He dictated what clothes I wore and made me the laughing stock at school and at church. He insisted that I didn't get my hair cut and it caused me to have headaches. He even went as far as to bribe boys to dance with me at the church Youth Dances. You have no idea how hurt that made me feel. The one thing that I do thank him for was to convince Mr Hudson to give me a job. At first I hated him for that, but once I was moved from the humiliating experience of the shop floor to the office I was able to build up my confidence and self esteem. Now, just when I have reached that place where I want to be, he has to publicly humiliate me like this. I hate the man."