06 February, 2008

Image and Acceptance

As a person who is constantly aware of the impression I may potentially be making on the people around me, it is unsurprising that I put a lot of importance on image, and acceptance. I am terrified by the notion of disapproval. There are two sides to me - the inner me which reflects who I really am, and the outer me which is the person that everyone else sees. The inner me is far more important, but for some reason I place way too much importance on that outer shell. I am far too concerned with how other people think about me, because I want to do everything within (or without) my power to make sure that people like me (or, at least, don't dislike me). I require the approval of others, and so, many aspects of my true personality, which I keep to myself out of fear of potential negative reactions, I become ashamed of. Because I feel like I can't tell people about them, I feel like there's something wrong with me for having those aspects. And my self-esteem drops enormously. I should be able to be proud of who I am, regardless of whether other people like me or not, but that's not how my thinking works. I need people to say, "oh, you are like this or that, that's interesting, and I respect you for it." Or else I'll just assume that it's something to be ashamed of.

Example: nudism. I'm totally excited about my recent explorations into nudism. And yet, despite my own personal beliefs that it is a completely worthwhile interest to have, I still feel embarrassed to admit that doing certain things naked is fun, because I can't shake the idea in my head that mainstream society wouldn't accept me for having that interest. That most people would think I am weird, if not downright immoral. And the very idea of other people thinking like that about me is crippling. And I start to feel ashamed of something that, from a logical (as opposed to emotional) standpoint,  I understand I *should* feel nothing but pride for. I feel like I need people to say, "you're a nudist and that's great!" in order to counter the thoughts in my head about people who say, "you're a nudist? Are you serious?", with a less-than-approving look on their face.

That's the main principle that makes it hard for me to open up to people and let them know who I really am. It's ridiculous, from a purely logical standpoint. I mean, just because someone might disapprove of me, why should that have any effect on how I feel about myself? And yet it's precisely the reason I'm afraid to open up to people. I rely too much on the feedback (real or perceived) that people give me to determine my own self-worth. If you think about it, it's true that it reflects feelings of wanting to be accepted, wanting to belong, wanting to be loved, and avoiding the pain of disapproval, separation, becoming an outcast. You have to accept that some people are gonna like you for who you are, and some people won't, and that shouldn't affect how you feel about yourself. But I place way too much emphasis on the feelings of the people who don't (or won't) like me. And that's ridiculous. But it's true.

I've always been highly concerned with my image, in certain ways. That doesn't mean I'm a snazzy dresser, or anything. It just means that I'm highly concerned with the way that others perceive me. This is a natural extension of the desire to be accepted. I want people to admire me, and furthermore I want to have a certain amount of control over the way that people think about me. Ultimately, so that I can make sure their thoughts are always positive. It's a futile struggle, but I remain determined to hold myself to a certain self-standard. Perfectionism comes in here, to some extent. When I'm writing something, I want it to be free of errors, and I want it to be interesting and engaging. If I'm talking about myself, I want to present myself in an admirable light. I carefully monitor the opinions and interests that other people are aware that I have, so that I have a better way of knowing how they might characterize me. I don't like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, so I make a point to emphasize good examples of who I want other people to see me as, while brushing the bad examples under the rug, to keep people from getting confused, or from getting mixed signals. Obviously, I can never have the kind of control I'd need, so again, it's a futile struggle. I just want to be able to be me, and let everything else work out, let people figure it out for themselves. But of course, the trouble with that is that some people will mix it up and end up disapproving, while others will disapprove even after getting it right. Giving up control means accepting those possibilities, and that's hard to accept.

When I like something, I feel a strong desire to find someone who shares my opinions about it, and I also feel a strong desire to share my opinion about it, provided an interested audience. For example, I might be watching a movie I really like. Because I like it, that means it expresses certain things about my personality or simply my taste. So, sometimes I feel better if I imagine that I was showing the movie to somebody else. When the good scenes come up, I imagine people being impressed with them just as I am. It's weird, but I guess it's that feeling of wanting to be accepted, to find people who are on your wavelength, someone to instruct, that will value your lessons highly. Another example, the transmitter I put up to run the playlist on my computer onto local radio waves. Something inside of me is greatly fascinated by the idea of having somebody else listening to the music I'm listening to, enjoying it (but not criticizing it!), and most of all, learning the things I know about it. Like, if there was another me, inexperienced in music, but with the same taste (albeit undiscovered). To be able to play for that person all of this music, knowing how much they'll appreciate it (because this is me we're talking about now). I think about the other people in this house, and I want badly for them to listen to this music too, and not just listen, but to really dig it, but I have to be realistic and understand that though we might like a lot of the same music, all of our tastes are different in different ways, and the song that's really awesome to me, just might not come across so well to someone else. And that's a little depressing. I want to share my enjoyment of this music, and the other things in life that interest me, with other people who will also be interested as I am.

I hope I was able to get my point across, there. Language is one thing I've always had trouble with. Not so much the language itself, but just the process of chaining thoughts into cages of words. I don't have a lot of faith in the ability of words to capture thoughts and feelings accurately, and it's rather disheartening. It doesn't help that sometimes I myself don't even feel like the words I've conjured do a good job of imitating the thoughts or feelings I was trying to convey...


  1. The title made me think of that guy who saw you when we were walking in Lewisburg... you know, the one that asked you where he could find some good stuff. His perception of your image resulted in a weird situation.

    Kind of like mine, when I met you in a dark room covered with esoteric tapestries, then went into the dark cave you had under the bed, and you whipped out a coffee can, asking if I wanted some brownies. "They're home-made!"

    Kwai Chang Caine, unsurprisingly, had a bit of insight about this kind of situation (in the second series) with an "ancient Chinese proverb" that I don't remember completely. It was something like "a man has three faces: the one he shows, the one people see, and his true face".

    But if you look at it in terms of fighting other peoples' thoughts and opinions, then I can't believe you ever managed to grow your hair out, considering how many people seem to disapprove of it or get the "dirty hippie"/"druggie" image from it. Score one for Scott?

  2. The second half of this post sounds like something I might've written. Except the image I try to project is the person I want to be, and hopefully everyone else will buy it long enough for the "real me" to catch up. I'm happy with who I am, though, and I make no apologies for my identity...but I do make an effort to show only the sides of my personality that are most suitable for the audiences I'm with, which involves reading people. I might hint at my geeky tendencies when introducing myself to someone, for example, but I spare them the stories of conventions and 15-hour marathons until they're accepting enough of me as a whole person, and not simply judging me on the few things they have to go by.

    Sharing my excitement about things has been the driving factor behind all the blogging and recording I've done. My wife and I even enjoy watching terrible movies together sometimes, because it gives us an opportunity to analyze WHY it was so bad and add another running joke to the ever-growing list.

    Perhaps more than anything else, taste in music is what I most love to share; like you were saying, the things we like express a lot about us, and I think there's something especially profound about what music says of us.

  3. Your comment reminds me of the old adage "fake it till you make it", which seems to have some level of practical use.

    I think a lot of what I do actually does involve clamming up and not volunteering any information about myself for fear that it will be received less than positively. It's probably a natural social instinct, but with the anxiety I have, I'm sure I take it to unhealthy extremes.

    It's great when your opinion on a piece of media or popular culture meshes with that of another, whether good or bad, but when your opinions diverge, that has the potential to easily drive a wedge between people. Like, when we watched my copy of The Dagger of Kamui in anime club. To this day, I think it's a serious, epic piece of master animated cinema, but the majority of the club seemed to enjoy it more as a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of offering. And I've certainly experienced my share of divergent opinions on songs and bands that I really like.

    I know that diversity is an important and valuable thing in human civilization, but it makes me kind of a little sad when not all of my friends (sometimes including the really close ones) understand - really *get* - what I like about a song or a movie or what have you - because that, as you said, explains something about who we are as a person, and it's like this other person is admitting that they don't understand a part of you (and much as I'd love the opportunity to explain it to them, sometimes they just plain don't like it, and don't want to be tortured with it).

    Of course, that goes back to the importance of being independent, and having the strength to like yourself without the approval (or understanding) of others. But, then, that was the trouble in the first place...

  4. Indeed.

    Oof, Dagger of Kamui...that was the one with, "Hello. I'm Mark Twain", right? I confess I went along with the group for that one.

    I'm of the mind that as long as you can explain and justify your opinion in a way that helps me to understand WHY you think that way, I'm usually fine with differing opinions. It's the people who shout, "THAT SUCKS!" that make me angry. The people who are supposedly using the same criteria as I am but who come up with completely different results are the ones who just annoy me.

    I'm still formulating a response to the last bit, but I'm being called away.

  5. Okay, so the story might have been a little convoluted, with some weird stereotypes thrown in. But it *was* an epic story, and the music and animation were both top notch (notwithstanding all the male panty shots, but I can overlook - er, underlook? - those), so at least from a superficial perspective, I thought it was an artistic masterpiece. But then you've got themes of vengeance, grand adventure, an arch nemesis, epic battles, a pirate's ransom in gold... What more could you ask for!

    On the other hand, laughter is usually associated with mirth, so maybe it's the case that I just demonstrate my appreciation in a different sort of way than other people do. I could believe that.