“Mothers would snatch their children away from me,” said sophomore Amber Finefrock of going to the mall with her own mother last year. “[That was] the first time I really became aware of my appearance. I had pink hair back then. I used to dress bizarrely.”
Since then, Finefrock has taken an interest in appearances and their effects on social interaction. She took that interest a step further this year and decided to conduct an experiment, albeit one different from the kind studied in Biology.
The question was a simple one: Do people at school treat others differently based on their appearances? How would they look at you and treat you in the hallways? How would her own friends react?
The foundation of Finefrock’s hypothesis was what she believed was common knowledge that select groups of friends all dress similarly—either because they started dressing the same naturally due to their friendship or they became friends because they look alike.
“There’s definitely a specific set of dress here,” said Finefrock.
Plimsoll shoes like Vans and Converse, Polo shirts, Michael Kors watches and “all the girls with extreme parts in their hair all the way to the side.” Are they all conscious style choices or safe uniforms that help us identify friends and strangers? Finefrock couldn’t get the answers she wanted by measuring chemicals in a beaker and recording the subsequent reactions. Her study was more akin to Jane Goodall embedding herself among chimps in the jungle.
Finefrock dressed as a different stereotype and archetypal high schooler every day for four days and gauged the way people around school treated her.
The first day would be her control, the way dressed regularly from day to day. Scrutinizing oneself under a microscope long enough could be nerve-racking or even unhealthy.
“Would people even notice?” said Finefrock. “Some people may treat me badly without knowing that I could be a really nice person or have a bad home life.”
It was the second day when the tide of commentary about her appearance rolled in. Finefrock came to school in simple getup of a white tee shirt and jeans, but her face was pocked with bruises, her eyes heavy with bags and her throat given a hollow look with makeup.
“It looked like I was basically dying,” said Finefrock. She was hoping people would notice the bruised, abused and exhausted girl, the kind of person she believes often gets overlooked and swept under the radar. “People came up to me and asked me, ‘Are you okay?’” The concern for her health from complete strangers was uplifting. The next day, the goth, fared on the opposite end of the spectrum of kindness.
“I expected mean comments, and I got them,” said Finefrock. “People were saying ‘girls shouldn’t dress like that,’ and a girl I didn’t even know told me that I looked disgusting.” Finefrock’s own friends and acquaintances—“people who I thought were my friends”—wouldn’t speak to her in class while others whispered insults under their breaths.
Finefrock has no problems dressing up and putting on disguises. She frequently attends comic book conventions dressed as video game and Japanese comic book characters in costumes she makes herself. Her penchant for transformation runs in the family, too. Her father is a professional make-up artist who publishes his own magazine (Finefrock has graced its pages more than once) and has worked on the zombies at Busch Gardens’s Howl-O-Scream.
The skills she’s learned from her father have come in handy for her experiment, and things were looking up on the final day when she displayed her more fashionable, hipster persona.
“I actually got compliments that day,” said Finefrock. “People really change when you do, even those who already know you’re a good person. I guess that’s what I had hoped to find out with this experiment.”
Kyle Dunn / Editor in Chief