How we look is such an important aspect of who and what we are. Just as we have a character and personality, so too, we have an appearance – a body, a shape, a way of talking and walking. We have colour. Our appearance matters very much to others – they judge us on how we look before they know anything else about us. Our appearance will affect everything in life – from how we attract sexual partners, to our ability to get chosen for the netball team, to how much we earn throughout our career.
Yet we feel so ambiguous about our appearance, reflecting our own love/hate relationship with ourselves.
At any one time I can feel both beautiful and ugly – I appreciate aspects of my appearance, but in other respects I am unhappy. I find it hard to accept the whole person of who I am (with all my attributes and imperfections).
Perhaps we all have an unbalanced opinion of ourselves. True self-knowledge is very rare. Many are needlessly self-critical; some of us are conceited and egotistical. And although we may worry about how we are on the inside – am I kind, self-satisfied, lazy or greedy? – somehow it is a debate we can have with ourselves alone. But how we look on the outside, is evident for all to see. How we look is how we meet the world, and make an impression on society.
It is odd that concern over appearance can be seen as vain and ridiculous. Vanity, or too much interest in our appearance, is widely condemned. It seems superficial and skin deep missing the real me. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” – but we do! We don’t have time to get to know every book, so we check out the covers and very quickly make a decision on what genre, publisher or writer appeals most. And what we don’t want.
Think of the effort that goes into designing a book cover, or a box of biscuits or a car. Those designers and marketeers know what they are doing. In a busy, noisy world they want to convey information fast to screen out those who won’t want the book or item, and focus on those who might bite. Your appearance is the same. It is how people perceive you and this makes it worth some serious attention surely? How you look, if you care about it or not, helps people work you out fast and decide how they feel about you.
Whether you like it or not your appearance conveys your values, your personality, your hangups, anxieties and history. I suggest it makes sense to spend some time considering how you want to look – in terms of dress, make up and hair – if only to make the world more beautiful and pleasant for others.
When I see someone who has thought about how they present themselves (I reckon about one in twenty people make much of an effort with their appearance) I feel a sense of pleasure. A vintage scarf, exceptional spectacles, more than two colours, well-chosen patterns – these details convey that you care about yourself and others. When I see someone with a sense of style, I feel happy. But when ten girls with long hair, skinny jeans, ballet flats – all in shades of grey and khaki – jump on the tube I feel a bit depressed. I particularly respond to originality and creativity. I have a little cheer when someone dresses vividly – puts colour and pattern together boldly. Although I am a sucker for cool neutrals too. My favourite looks include Art Student (we have lots around Kings Cross), Eccentric Ellder and Too Cool for School.
Personally I always applaud individuality and creativity over convention and co-ordination, even when it is a bit off. I hate the “occasion outfits” sold by department stories where the whole outfit matches. I don’t want my colleagues to wear cardboard cut out corporate outfits that someone has decreed is “office lady” wear. I love it when people, even little kids, express their feeling about themselves through their wardrobe choices.
What do you think?