If you believe popular opinion and the self-help columns, we shouldn’t let other people’s thoughts on our appearance bother us. ‘If someone judges you unfairly for the way you look, that’s their problem,’ we say, shaking our fists indignantly.
We judge on appearances. To pretend otherwise would be, to quote Mia Wallace, “an exercise in futility.”
The Tribal Mentality
The onus is on the viewer to be open-minded and not judge a book by its cover. But is this asking too much? We are hard-wired to make snap decisions about a person solely based on looks; it harkens back to the days when deciding if someone was friend or foe was a matter of life and death. Even in the modern world, human beings have a tribal mentality, and are wary of people, ‘not like us.’
I think we have to take responsibility for the ‘cover’ we present to the world, and the inevitable prejudices that come with it. I accept the fact that if I go out without makeup, concerned passerby may assume I’m fighting an unsuccessful battle with meth addiction. I also accept that if I go out with too much makeup on, I could be mistaken for a man in drag (a fabulous one, mind).
But seriously, in an ideal world, no one would form an opinion on another person until they’ve gotten to know them. Everyone would be accepting and open-minded and we’d all get along. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In the absence of obligatory bonding sessions between total strangers we have to make do with first impressions.
For example, I love tattoos and have a few fairly subtle ones that provoke the odd comment from strangers, but I know for a fact that if I had the full-colour sleeve of my dreams I would get a lot more attention, not all of it positive. People would definitely look at me differently and make assumptions about my character – whether it’s, “she can sit in the tattooist’s chair for hours, she must be hard as nails” or “she looks like an ex-con.” I know that a full sleeve would be an extreme look for me.
I’ve also had pretty much every hair colour going – from peroxide pixie cut to long, wavy brunette, to blonde with orange ends. You can bet your last biscuit that people’s first impression of me differed wildly depending on the brightness of my barnet. Right now, my hair colour is so inoffensive/boring due to sheer laziness on my part that no one ever comments on it (apart from hairdressers who love the fact that it’s natural and uncoloured.)
To Each Their Own*
Don’t get me wrong. I admire people that present themselves in extreme ways and to hell with what others think – piercings, multi-coloured hair, waist-length beard, scruffy, dolled up to the nines ignoring the ‘cleavage or legs’ rule. Fair play to you. And by all means, prove the world wrong. Be the CEO in a hoodie like Zuckerberg. Be the accountant covering a collection of tattoos under his suit. Be a surgically-enhanced human rights’ lawyer with 5 inch heels.
*But don’t be surprised when people take you at face value.