We’ve spoken bits and pieces about dressing for a job and presenting your home for your mates and your lovers. Truth is, presentation will be a big part of your life.
This is the ‘dress for the job you want’, ‘fake it till you make it’, social cliques, representation.
The basics are this: There is the physical person you were born as and the person you choose to present as.
The physical person is skin, eye, hair color, body shape, etc. There are a few social boxes these things will put you in as a guarantee. Race, classism, and disability are the three major ones. Race is easy to grasp. We see black and white and yellow and brown around the world. Classism is harder because it’s not something people want to admit they judge on. This is largely a phenotype issue, as in to say that your facial structure may relate you to that of being a certain class of people. A Brahmen may have a different facial structure than a Shudras. A Singaporian has a different facial structure than a Sri Lankin. A Guana has a different facial structure than Nigerian. A Swede has a different facial structure than the Brittish. We should, as a people, be blind to these things, but most of the time we attribute a certain level of physical prowis to a certain level of physical class. This means the healthier you are, taller, stronger, the more likely that you are descended from a class that was at one point wealthy. Disability, I think, is the easiest for people to grasp because it’s so obvious. Handicaps are just that and most people are great at seeing someone with a handicap as being less of a person.
These physical presenters can’t really be changed and shouldn’t hold a basis for judgement, and yet they do. These perspectives should be eliminated. For all that, they are still extremely relative in how people view each other. I had two friends who worked in a bar. They, to me, were both from India. To each other, they looked at each others phenotype, their bodies and facial structures, and explained to me that he was a descendant from a higher class of person than she was. I was mind blown. They book looked like attractive people to me. Neither of them, today, were rich or came from rich families. Still, the memory of classist history apparently lives in a lot of bone structure. It’s just interesting to note. Americans are incredibly good at hiding this. It not so subtly still exists in the way people look and judge each other around the world.
After the unchangeable physical social boxes such as above comes the choice of presentation, and this you have 100% control over. This is how you dress, your haircut, your body language, speech patterns. There is certainly what we are raised with, our culture and community which shape these things, but around high-school we tend to solidify this presentation by either agreeing with how we were raised and going with that flow, or changing it. Drastic changes are normal in teen years, as self identification leads to self acknowledgement.
This is an easier conversation, actually, for the queer or trans community. The idea of presenting as cis male when you are in fact queer is nothing new. Presenting as female because you are female, even though you weren’t born with that genitalia, is an easy subject to grasp. Its harder to understand that a rich kid may present as poor, from the other side of the tracks. It’s harder to understand that a natural born athlete may present as an artist even though they’ve never held a pencil or paintbrush. Another great example of presenting is the super smart kid who pretends to be a dumb football jock. He doesn’t want to be bullied, so he pretends to be like everyone else.
These examples largely steam from oppression. A since of rebellion that says, ‘I will not be what you tell me to be’.
How we present is often also created as a defense mechanism to help guarantee safety. Safety can mean a lot of different things. For the rich kid it may be safer to act as a poor kid – safer for their psyche, from abusive situations. It’s an escape. That old adage, ‘the tallest nail gets hammered down first,’ is a big reason which presentation exists. They (the adults of yesteryear) will say that you’ll always be safer in a crowd, and presenting as part of a crowd is something most learn to do very early to protect themselves. Blend in and no one will bother you.
Consider the statement: Dress for the job you want.
I find this one interesting because it both is and is not true. When we look in the mirror and we decide we want to be something we begin, subconsciously, to make ourselves into that thing. We choose a role, or a goal, and we start micro-altering ourselves to be that thing. It’s an interesting process. When I was 15 I wanted desperately to be liked, to have friends. But more importantly, I want to be noticed. I felt so invisible. I choose characters from shows and I started to build a character for myself. Truthfully, I didn’t really know what that meant. I was dressing to be noticed, and I was noticed… as a goth. I was noticed as someone to be aware of because I was fucked up and might be dangerous. That wasn’t what I wanted… not really. I wanted to be liked, seen. I just couldn’t figure out a better way to do it than to be extreme. I presented as extreme. In many ways it worked wonders. I made friends. And to a degree, part of my depression came out in a healthy way. That needed to be presented as well. But I also acquired bad attention. I didn’t present something good, per say. I dressed for the job I wanted, except I didn’t really know what that job was. I got the job, and something else as well. That’s what I mean by, ‘it both does and does not work’. Yes, it worked, but I wasn’t looking closely enough at what I really wanted, what the job actually was. Looking back, should I have chosen a different character? Maybe. It would have been a different life. I would have attracted different attention. Better attention? Hard to say. I should have considered what the real world thinks of people. TV shows and movies, characters, they aren’t real people. The way people respond is not formatted.
It’s important to look at the job you’re trying to dress for and contemplate if that’s really a job you want? Is it the best job for you? Is it going to get you what you really want? I think this is why, when rich kids dress and act like they are poor, that adults get confused. Why would you want to be poor? How is that job any good? Dressing to be a different class of person is a person trying to say that they need to experience something different than what they know, for better or worse. They aren’t thinking about it in terms of dressing for a job, though they should. They have no real idea what being poor entails. Yet, it’s those people trying to live that life, dressing for that job, that learn the most about people in general. They learn the value of what they have and can go back to their riches and affect change. The kid from a poor family, in the same way, can dress up, to impress, for the job of being rich, and they can make themselves into that. Both take hard work and attention. Both are rarely what they except they’re going to be – those jobs.
Today I present myself as a collage of my life experiences. I wear what I’ve experienced openly on my body. I travel, and so I dress in international clothes. I’ve been poor and rich, and so the way I dress and speak and move describes those things. I’m an artist, and so there is a quality of free thought to how I present myself. Largely, life experience has been learning to be kind, to myself and others, and that above all, is what I present to others. I’m not gullible, but I am kind. I walk down the street smiling, looking upward. I look approachable, have made myself that, and I also pay attention to my surroundings. Some of my life is written on my body, from real life experiences – joy and pain. All of that is readable on me. That I choose to focus on good things is also readable on me. I walk around smiling. I had to practice smiling for a long time, it was not natural for many years. Yet, one day I realized my family just smiled naturally again, like when I was a child and didn’t worry about any of this shit. It all boils down to choice.
For all that, I can also wear many hats.
If I’m going to a high-end business meeting I’ll dress for the part, and my personality will reflect quality and good etiquette. If I’m going to be metal show I’ll dress for that part and my personality will reflect fun, a good time, willingness.
I can speak many social languages, and presentation is the art of speaking social languages.
Presenting doesn’t have to be about clothing or haircuts either. Presenting can be answering the question ‘how are you?’ with ‘I’m great’ even though you are not. Presenting can be faking your emotions to not bother anyone, pretending things are alright when they are not. Presenting can be showing up to work every day and never complaining that your supervisor is mentally abusive. Presenting can be getting married and having kids because you were told by your family and Disney that you were supposed to. You may partially have wanted those things, but mostly you’re just keeping your head down, sticking with the program.
The real reason to consider presentation is to make sure you’re living the life that you want and need to be living. So often we just assume a role, or take one assigned to us, and never consider if that’s really what we want to be. We don’t realize that we’re presenting ourselves as being something less than real. Of course Janet works in HR and has that haircut. What else could a Janet be? Many many things.
Here’s a different example: You present as strong, capable, and intelligent. A baler. That’s your goal. You work out, dress the part, buy the kicks, romance the chicks. You’ve got Stephan Curry on the mind and that’s your shit. You wanna be cool like Stephan Curry. Here’s the thing though, you need to look that presentation full up and down, because though you may use Stephan Curry as a role model you may be missing that you also present as a know-it-all and a selfish prick. I’m not saying that’s the case, but have you considered that it might be? You may actually present as inaccessible, because you’re so fly, that enough people actually avoid you unless they think they can get something out of you. Being ‘the cool guy’ isn’t always a good thing – that’s not a real person. Stephan Curry is a good dude, as far as I understand. It’s not bad to use him as a role model, so long as you remember that you are also your own person, and it’s up to you to present yourself as the best version of yourself. Don’t try to be Stephan Curry, be like Stephan Curry – strong, considerate, hard working, genuine. He’s cool because his qualities as a person are awesome. He isn’t a ‘cool guy’… he’s a dude that loves his family, his community, and is damn good at basketball. He’s doing him, as best he knows how, and because he’s trying to do the best he can just being him, he’s become cool. Get it?
The neatest part about presentation is that you can change it on a whim. Most of us do, in fact, based on who we are talking too. We present differently to different people and frankly, every single person we meet sees us as someone different than the last person we spoke to. With contemplation you can present to make friends, get jobs, be met and seen. With contemplation you can present to show your real authentic self, unapologetically, because hey, you’re you and that’s great! Or you can present to bury yourself away and never have the real you see the light of day, under the mask of a caricature version of yourself. Present with closed body language. Walk down the street looking up with a small smile. Practice smiling.
Presentation is all a form of communication, one of the most finite, as your wear it all the time. The nuances of social interpretation can seem daunting, yet, for the better part, most of the time they are redundant. We hardly notice that we’re being a character today. We hardly notice that we change our personality just a bit for everyone we know. Think about it. It’s an interesting thought experiment. How do people see you? Does it change? Do you like that person? Is that the person you want people to see?