Mary Walls Penney is a nurse who specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment. Oh, and she also has tattoos, body piercings and very colorful hair — pink, purple, blue and green. CONTRIBUTED

The Pink, Purple, Blue and Green Letter: Why shaming is our shame

Shaming, it seems, has replaced baseball as the great American pastime. It’s become the 21st Century equivalent of The Scarlet Letter. If you haven’t been shamed in one way or another recently, maybe you need to get out more.

There’s body-shaming, parent-shaming and teen-shaming. Web sites for dog-shaming and passenger-shaming. There’s even an all-purpose Web site called Public Shaming, where you can post messages to pass judgment on just about anything or anyone whose appearance or actions you don’t happen to like.

For Mary Walls Penney, it was a case of hair-shaming.

According to a report this week on Yahoo! News, Walls Penney is a nurse who specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment. Oh, and she also has tattoos, body piercings and very colorful hair — pink, purple, blue and green.

Earlier this month, the story said, she stopped at a convenience store, where a clerk spotted the employee name tag she wore and asked, “So what do you do there?”

When Walls Penney replied that she was a nurse, the clerk responded, “I’m surprised they let you work there like that. What do your patients think about your hair?” After asking the next woman in line to weigh in on Walls Penny’s appearance, the cashier declared she was shocked that a nursing facility would condone her appearance, adding that they didn’t allow “that sort of thing,” even when she had worked fast food.

Wells Penney, in other words, had been hair-shamed.

But if shaming has become the 21st Century equivalent of The Scarlet Letter, her reaction was every bit as 21st Century. She posted her account of the incident on Facebook. And then she wrote:

“I can’t recall a time that my hair color has prevented me from providing lifesaving treatment to one of my patients. My tattoos have never kept them from holding my hand … as they lay frightened and crying because Alzheimer’s has stolen their mind. My multiple ear piercings have never interfered with me hearing them reminisce about their better days or listening to them as they express their last wishes. My tongue piercing has never kept me from speaking words of encouragement to a newly diagnosed patient or from comforting a family that is grieving.

“So, please explain to me how my appearance, while being paired with my cheerful disposition, servant’s heart, and smiling face, has made me unfit to provide nursing care and unable to do my job!”

The explanation, of course, is that we all too often are quick to judge others based on their external features – weight, height, clothing, color – rather than wondering about their internal qualities. Too righteously-insistent on making our standards their standards.

And that’s our shame.

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