Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On customization, "appropriateness" and considering what others think

So I got this bar though my ear... Musing wrote to say she thought it cool and her daughter is planning on getting a ring on her face at some point. JT said that it reminded him to make sure that his earring hole was still open because he hadn't done it for some months. I hadn't noticed he had one until he pointed it out.

Recently Dress A Day (who is also some sort of Lexicographer) posted how she was appalled and upset by what people wear on airplanes. She dresses for comfort, but never below business casual. I wrote that I too had been dismayed by the dress on airplanes not only for the sensibilities of fellow travellers, but for safety as I had always heard that you should wear comfortable (and now easy on/easy off) but safe shoes that stay on your feet, clothing which does not restrict your movement but is not too flowing, etc. for safety reasons--as in escaping the plane. A staggering number of people wrote to add their two cents varying from support to outright hostility at the thought of a "dress-code" for airplanes when most/many of us merely want to board a plane and fall asleep. There was also the comment by an anonymous that it was a)shallow of us to judge others based on appearance and b) stupid of us to care what anyone thought of our appearance. Dress A Day responded by saying that all of us judge by appearances and that it is courtesy towards others which causes us to worry about what they think of us.

I would definitely agree with both of those statements. There was also a recent column in some free Boston mag. which is written by a young lesbian woman and she spoke of how unhappy she is with her lover's recent weight gain and how it's being reflected in the bedroom. I said to my husband that it was refreshing to hear a lesbian talk about appearance, because when I was in college it was a popular myth that lesbians were beyond such shallow (read male) responses. I knew it was crap then and I know it's crap now. Unless you are truly able to practice complete Christlike or Buddha like principles, you will make assumptions about people based on their appearance, their clothes, their language skills, etc. You may revise those responses--in fact, I would say that most of us are continuously revising those responses as we move through the day and our relationships with people--but we make them nevertheless. The brain makes sense of the world and the continuous bombardment of information by finding patterns, and assumptions based on appearance are part of those patterns. Can you imagine if you started every encounter with anything completely fresh--as if you had never seen anything like it before?

I know that I am fairly judgemental. Probably more than my husband. Partially because I have a fashion background to analyze clothes. We have a joke when we see guys with scraggly facial hair, and white, pasty skin, and big black coats. "Smells like Gamers!" Of course, several of our close friends are gamers (and IT guys) so is it a prejudice or just a recognition?

On the courtesy side of--that is dressing for others comfort as well as our own... I've been semi-goth, but I've never been hugely goth and there are things I've put back on the shelf because I know that I will never have the nerve/arrogance to wear them. I'd like to think that this is because I know that I live in a real world where people will evaluate my clothing for jobs, promotions, friendship, etc. If I look scary then I'm pushing some people away that I might otherwise want to know or who might otherwise want to know me.

And yet, I've gotten a bar through my ear.

Like I said, I can cover it up. I can wear smaller earrings when it heals. I can take it out altogether, and because of where it is, I doubt anyone would ever see that I had extra holes in my ears. (If they were that close, I'd probably have more of a problem with them than they with me). But at the same time, it's not completely hidden. I generally tuck my hair behind my ears. Now I'm wearing it up. When I got the first one in the right ear I was sad that more people couldn't see it because my hair covered it. Clothing I only wear at home (other than nightwear) or tattoos that can only be seen by myself and my husband don't interest me. Why would I spend money on it? What we do to ourselves and what we wear is, to a greater or lesser extent a comment on how we wish to be perceived. I would like to be seen as a little edgier, more artsy. I like the contrast between my hair in a bun and this bar in my ear. JT is unwilling to give up his earring entirely, but he knows that it may not be the best attire to get clients as a financial planner. My husband stopped wearing make-up (to my sorrow) and took out his earrings around 30 with the attitude that a) he didn't want to look like an aging queen (his words) and b) he'd been there, done that.

Sometimes I think that I've gotten the earring now because I couldn't when I was a teenager. My mother was always deeply worried about how people perceived me and how they perceived her. She was the daughter of a minister and had been lectured repeatedly about how her behavior was seen by the whole community. I would have long fights with her when I was young about why she thought we were SOOOO important that everyone would be looking at us. She would stop me to press my clothes before I went out. We lived in an edgy compromise where I was not as goth as I wanted to be, but not nearly as conservative as she wanted me to be.
And yet... I do find myself judging people. I made assumptions about the preppy girls as they made them about me. Even now you couldn't pay me to shop in Abercrombie & Fitch. One of my big pet peeves is people who don't dress for their weight. Women who have 4 breasts because they're wearing a bra that's too small. People who are rolling over the tops of their low rise jeans. The current rage to show off non-flat and non-toned belly's makes me a little nauseous. I've always had bigger thigh and hips than I wanted--even when I was very thin. I've always dressed to pull the focus to my small waist and away from my hips. Now I think I looked like a super-model compared to many of the women who clearly think they are hot in their skimpy clothes. At the same time I know that people think I'm thinner than I am now because I dress for disguise. Are these women simply more comfortable with themselves? Happier in their bodies than I have ever been in mine at any weight? Or am I the more sensible one--acknowledging my bodies limitations.

I look at the pink haired, pierced and tattooed of Harvard Square and I find myself thinking--have some respect for people around you.

But I have a bar in my ear.

Yeah, but when I do it it's got elan!

I am reminded (as I often am) of the British comedy Red Dwarf. The crew ends up in a parallel world where they meet their "female" alter egos. They are disgusted. Discussing it later one says, "She tried to impress me by belching The Star Spangled Banner." Rimmer: "Isn't that your party piece?" Lister: "Yeah, but when I do it's got class."

Do we simply think of ourselves as pulling it off better than someone else because we cannot see what we really look like?

This has gotten away from me, but I wanted to tie it to the concept of customization. We can alter our phones, our computers, even to a certain extent, our cars. Each time--making a statement, or sorts, about who we are. What our values are. The problem being of course, that you cannot control what will be perceived by the people viewing.

I'm back at a company where I can change the desktop display on my computer, and I debated long and hard about it. Do I put up Hyde and have people ask (bizarrely) if it's me (yeah, and I'm that hot, and that vain only you didn't know it), or even more popular, who the hot chick is. Then I have to explain--even in the briefest form--it's a Japanese guy, lead singer of a band I like. Do I put up cartoons and have them ask about my children. No, I hate children, but I like cartoons. Etc. At them moment I've compromised with a picture from the Smile booklet. I think it's Tetsu in the Smile box scratching his imaginary ear with a pen.

I have my new funky purse and I've put some pins on it, Smile, chibi Hyde, Totoro, Gaz (Invader Zim), Cheese (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends), Puccca kissing Garu, Heen (Howl's Moving Castle) and Guinness (my actual, living dog). So clearly, I do want to be asked about it. It's a dilemma. And one that will only get worse as the customization generation grows up--we expect now to be able to modify our surroundings to suit us exactly, and to modify ourselves in any way we see fit.

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