After a short break, and many discarded drafts, I’m back at it. Temperatures have dropped back down to a comfortable range both inside and out, so I feel confident in my ability to operate a computer without a personal heat sink. This is the first of three? posts on appearance, self-perception, relationships, pseudoscience… and more!
The importance of appearance has always been a topic which floats dangerously close to the surface of my consciousness. Being 6’4″, I tend to stick out enough already, and I used to make a game of it. In my early twenties (which I’m starting to realize was actually my decade-postponed adolescence) I tended towards the outlandish to draw attention to myself. Yes, I’m tall. Yes, I have a green mohawk. Yes, I have written on this t-shirt with a sharpie. Some things were day-to-day, some were reserved for special occasions, but the message was more or less the same: I am done with being uncomfortable or embarrassed by my appearance, hey, I’m over here, have a look. Sure, it was a little childish, but I was working off the hangover from years thirteen through eighteen.
Now, quickly, let me generalize this before this degenerates into a body-image weep-a-thon. That was a simple cycle of self-perception affecting behaviour affecting self-perception. How you see yourself undoubtedly has an impact on any social interaction you may have, as does how others react to you.
I was doing some reading about phrenology. (the 19th century pseudoscience, not the Roots album) Itself a subset of physiognomy, the theory was that the skull conformed to the brain, certain aspects of the personality were localized to certain areas of the brain, and thus larger, more developed areas would produce more prominent behaviour associated with that area. As much as I love a good, old-timey pseudoscience, this is not how the brain works, nor how the skull develops. Physiognomy in general has earned itself a bad name over the centuries, not only because a lot of it is quackery (haha, quack), but due to the occasionally racist and, again, thoroughly incorrect findings. (ie, craniometry implicating brain volume differences causing intelligence variations among races; these results were almost entirely due to poor experimental design) But, I digress. While most of these failed attempts at science look for a direct mechanism appearance and various mental faculties, those highly structured, though flawed, inform the ways I’m addressing socially mediated interactions between the two.
Let’s say, for example, just choosing completely at random, that you’re a big guy; well over six feet tall, broad shouldered, and with a face that was lightly chewed on to an un-average degree of an average adolescent affliction. People are a little leery of you, so one possible reaction, to put people at ease, would be to become slightly socially awkward, and maybe a little too eager to please – perhaps, again theoretically, developing a good sense of humour to grease the gears of human interaction. On the other hand I suppose you could become a bouncer, or a professional wrestler, or just a generally combative dickhead and take it out on people. Or, let’s say you’re a pretty lady, driven to misandry and aloofness after one too many d-bags stared at your rack. Or a short guy is overly aggressive in a misguided attempt to make up for your stature. This is a gross oversimplification (what’s my experimental design?), maybe the lady has had a series of bad relationships, maybe the short guy used to get roughed up by four older brothers, maybe the tall guy feels bad about himself because of a long rambling blog post, but appearance, despite being literally superficial, must play an integral role in personality and social behaviour. This is where I would reference real research, but I’m really not in the mood for any noting, either of the foot- or end- variety.
Now that I’ve gotten that out, I think I need a breather before I launch into step two. Whatever it was.