I was applying for financial aid in my first year of college last year when I got a call saying I was a finalist and would very likely get it because of my grades and community service but they needed a face-to-face interview.
So I went shopping for something professional and “smart” looking to wear to the interview and I spent the day preparing for any answers thy might have had. I was as ready as anyone could have possibly been when I showed up at the financial aid offices.
The first thing the interviewer said was “that’s a very nice outfit you have there…what size is it?” That sort of threw me a little so I responded that I didn’t know because it was in European sizes and I wasn’t sure how to convert it. Even further to my surprise, she offered to look it up online if I could give her the size. I managed to steer the conversation away from this unprecedented (and frankly uncomfortable) topic and back to my application.
She pulled up my credentials on her computer and said “oh, actually, it says here that the department already decided to give it to you. We just wanted to see you in person.” I thought this was weird but I assumed it was just normal procedure. She didn’t seem to have anything else to add so I was just thanking her and getting my purse when she said “you know, the thing about these scholarships is that they come from outside sponsors and even though we’re the ones who decide whom to give them to, the sponsors usually like to meet the recipients in person.” I respond that I would love to meet the sponsors and that they won’t be disappointed. She says “yes, yes. Well, the thing is that you have to portray a certain…image, you understand? They need to see that you’re hardworking and dedicated and can accomplish anything.” I jokingly say “well, hopefully my resume reflects that, right? Because it’s too late to change that now.” She smiles condescendingly and tells me that perhaps there is something I can change with dedication. She asks if I’m aware the school has a gym. Not sure where she’s taking the conversation, I respond that I am and I’ve been there once or twice and it’s very lovely. She says well perhaps I could make time to go there more often because she would like to point me out at the sponsors dinner and say that I’m a person that is dedicated not only in my work but “look at her, she’s so skinny now! That’s dedication!”
At this point, I want nothing more than the flip her the bird and storm out of there, but I need the financial aid. So I spin her a line about how I’ll certainly think about it, but it might be hard if I’m studying so hard and working on my school work and extra-curricular activities in order to maintain my place in such a fine establishment. And then I make a hasty exit.
At the time, I thought that perhaps she was only looking out for my best interests, but then I met my scholarship sponsor (before the dinner and purely by accident) and we got along excellently and she commended me on my grades and so on. She never once mentioned my body or looked at me in any way implying she felt sorry or repulsed by my appearance.
And then I realized that I had almost lost the scholarship even with all the time I had put into becoming a model student, for the sole reason that I wasn’t skinny and the financial aid interviewer couldn’t deal with that. The sponsor certainly didn’t care what I looked like; it all came down to that awful small-minded, mean-spirited woman.