When I asked Facebook what I should write about the first person to respond was Jon Colman. He said that I should talk about the strangeness of the universe, he was quickly followed by someone that wanted me to talk about my ancestry. To my mind these two have a clear crossover, because I can talk about them in the same story.
You Can’t Escape What You Look Like
No matter what you do you can never escape what you look like. You can change what you look like, but you can never escape the assumptions that come with your appearance. I have a beard and tattoos. Some people like that, some people don’t. I can shave my beard, and laser off my tattoos, but that won’t change the fact that some people will like it and some won’t.
You Don’t Actually Know What You Look Like
When I was in second grade I learned this lesson: you don’t know what you look like. As a young squirt I was bright, attentive, and gregarious, and to my teacher (Ms. Sullivan) the icing on theses qualities was that I was black. Because I am black, like her, she had quite a bit of affection for me and pride in having me in her class.
When it came time for parent/teach conferences she was excited to meet the rest of this bright, black family. The next day when Ms. Sullivan saw me I was no longer a black boy–I was a BROWN boy. Nothing had changed about me: I was still seven years-old, bright, attentive, and gregarious; hell, I was still the same color (two-parts burnt umber, one-part burnt sienna). From that point forward my attractive warm brown looked like mud in her eyes.
I was no longer medium-skinned black boy to my teacher, I was a half-white-mongrel. She didn’t really care what made up that half of me, it could have been Scottish, Swedish, it even could have been Brazilian, all she cared about was that it wasn’t acceptable.
In part this was the formative moment in why I have tattoos, piercings, and a beard. During what I like to think of as my quarter-life crisis I decided that my outside was going to look like my inside. I can’t ever change the fact that other people make assumptions, but I can make myself comfortable in my skin.
So, Where Do You Go From Here?
Always dress comfortably; you will make your best impression. One of my high school friends got most of her dates by going to the mall in sweatpants, because that is when she attracted the right kind of people. When you are comfortable you are confident, wear things that make you feel like the best version of you whether that is flats or heels, t-shirt or dress shirt. Don’t invest in accessories that you won’t maintain:
- Don’t grow a beard unless you are going to keep it trimmed.
- Don’t buy cheap eye-glasses.
- If you paint your nails keep them nice.
- Do one make-up trick well instead of several half-assed.
Learn to talk to people. I know that this is scary for introverts, but honestly the only way to escape the pandemic prejudice of other people caricature of you is to break the ice. Polite introductions are a good start:
- Tell strangers what your first name is when you ask them a question.
- Choose something about yourself that you are comfortable sharing with people, even strangers.
- Do your best to be appropriate to your venue.
Sadly, we all live under this weird tyranny of familiarity. That is one of the biggest factors in bigotry, not knowing anyone from a particular group. If you represent yourself authentically and offer to exchange familiarity (even small ones) you will make the universe a little less strange.