Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Don't Live in Bubbles and Other People Influence Us

I'd like you to HONESTLY answer these questions:

  1. When you are planning to stay home for the day do you put on your regular going-out make-up, do your hair, and put on your work, date, or going-out clothes? 
  2. If you are staying home do you dress differently if you know someone will be stopping by?
  3. Do you look different at home than when you are in public?
  4. When you go to work do you dress like the other people at your job or according to the dress code?
  5. When you go out for the evening for a date, party, or special event do you dress up more than you usually would?
  6. Do you dress in a way that is similar to your friends?
  7. Have you ever worn something or changed your clothes because your partner or friend said that outfit looked great/bad on you?
  8. If people tell you that you don't look good in something, after a while are you reluctant to wear it?
  9. Have you ever avoided wearing something because you thought other people would not like it?
  10. If people compliment something you wear are you more likely to wear it, will you keep it in your wardrobe longer, or wear it when you really want to look good?
  11. Have you ever worn something because you thought other people would like it?
  12. Have you ever seen someone wearing something and decided to buy something similar because you liked it?
  13. Have you ever started wearing something because you read about it in a magazine?
  14. Have you ever gone out to buy something because it was advertised (e.g., on sale)?
  15. Have you ever followed a fashion trend?
  16. Can you label your fashion style (e.g., casual, hipster, hip hop, boho chic, sporty, preppy etc.). 
  17. Do you only buy women's clothes and shop at women's stores?
If you answered 'yes' to even one of these questions then you, like most other people, have at some point dressed in a certain way because of other people! You are following social conventions just like everyone else. There are social conventions (unwritten rules) about what to wear in public, at work, at school, on a date, at a party, to get attention, to scare people, to appear non-conformist, to look like you don't care about fashion, to not attract attention, to be approachable, to be attractive to men, to be stylish and fashionable, to be unique, to be feminine, to be androgynous, to be sporty, to be comfortable yet acceptable, to be thrifty and so on. You may only conform to some conventions while others conform to the rest. Other people influenced your choice of what to wear and when, and what you purchased. 

You do not always dress in a certain way just because you like it and the "I only dress for me not for other people" thing is a fallacy. In this case I would say it's a false dichotomy (black or white thinking) where you assume people either dress for themselves or for others when I think that most people, at times, actually dress for others! There is nothing new under the sun and unless you make your own clothes then someone else influenced you to wear what you have chosen to wear in public. You are wearing the clothes fashion designers have decided to make and market in a given year and you are following the crowd by buying those things. If your clothes can be labeled as a certain style then you are following the fashion rules someone else created. If you look different at home compared to when you go out then you are dressing differently because other people are around (and the weather I'll admit that). If you only shop in women's stores or buy women's clothes then once again you are following a social convention and shopping and buying only what others have designated for you. If you purchased or wore anything after seeing it on someone else, in an advertisement, or after a sale was announced then someone else (e.g., the media) prompted you to do something that you may have never done otherwise. 

Yes it makes people feel good and independent to say "I wear things ONLY because I want to not because of person A, B, or C" (e.g., men) but there are so many factors that influence us in a consumer society that it is highly unlikely that other people did not influence your decision. For instance, most fashion designers are men so if you like designer clothes you are choosing to look the way these men dictate and they sometimes design clothes that are horribly uncomfortable yet appealing to men. I would say that most fashion magazines consider men's views when choosing clothes and advertisements so men are influencing these magazines. That fashion icon you emulate may dress to attract men if it wasn't your reason. Even people who have decided to not follow trends are actually following the trend of not caring about such things. Perhaps the exceptions to the rules would be hermits who don't interact with anyone and certain mentally ill people who don't think before they put something on. I am willing to admit that I answered yes to all of the questions above because I acknowledge that I don't live in a box and other people influence me, sometimes even without my knowledge. Hopefully the questions above will help you to admit the same and not be ashamed of it.
On to my next point. I have to stop being surprised whenever someone says that their identity is only based on what they think of themselves. Part of our identity is based on what others think about us! This is called the Looking Glass Self (Wikipedia) in sociology. For example, if you think you are a well mannered person but everyone tells you and others that you are rude then which one is the truth? Both are the truth! You are an individual who thinks you are well mannered but is perceived to be rude by others. Constantly being told you are rude may eventually convince you that you are a rude person. If you don't like being a rude person then you may choose to improve your manners to change that aspect of your identity and the way others perceive you. Sometimes our self-identity and other-identity match (e.g., we think we are pretty and so does everyone else) but often they don't match (we think we are boring but others find us interesting). Sometimes the positive or negative opinions of us come as a shock because they are so different from our thoughts about ourselves (e.g., I thought I was feminine but others think I'm too hard???). 

In fact, in your interactions with other people what they think about you is THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS because all they have is their perceptions and what they think can have consequences for you! It doesn't matter if you think you are gorgeous, interesting, kind, and intelligent because if others think you are unattractive, boring, mean, or dumb then they will treat you that way. Only your behaviour can change their opinions and reasoning with them will not work. When people say "what other people think of you shouldn't matter" or "your caring what other people think means you have low self-esteem" it puzzles me because I know very well it does matter and everyone cares no matter what their self-esteem is! People...convincing yourself you don't care what others think is just your way of protecting yourself (because you actually do care but can't handle the negativity or possibility you can't live up expectations) and it is being reinforced by the "feel good" culture of today. But if it makes you happy and keeps you going it's working and don't stop and there are plenty of articles online that can teach to not care (too much) about what other people think. 

It's good to protect yourself. But please don't act like I'm crazy or messed up for facing reality! You may have convinced yourself that not dressing to attract men means you are confident, independent, and laid back but it may hide the reality that you are lazy, unmotivated, ambivalent about having a man, or you have been LUCKY enough to get men without any effort (e.g., you work/go to school with them, dated male friends, were at the right place at the right time, were introduced etc.). Please consider that other women are rarely be around men so they have to make an effort to frequent places to meet men and dress in a way to attract them! If I know what bait a fish likes I will make sure to go out, purchase, and use that bait instead of using whatever I have lying around. No one is talking about wearing something you dislike, causes pain, or bankrupts you just because someone else likes it. I like clothes that look good, feel comfortable AND are attractive to men...I get more bang for my buck!  

What others think of you is part of who you are. BUT it is not helpful to be overly influenced in a negative way by self- or other-perceptions because of course that can ruin your self-esteem (beware of the self-fulfilling prophesy). For instance, other people's opinions of you may not be based on you at all and may be based on racism, sexism, jealousy, misinterpretations or just their personal issues. But we should not keep our heads in the sand about the fact that other's opinions influence us and what they think of us may have consequences. If people are influencing us in a negative way or if they have negative opinions of us then only we can try to change that by choosing a more positive path that will create a positive impression. We have to pick and choose whether it is worth it to improve based on the negative or potential consequences or if it is even possible to improve. We must also consider the consequences of changing, for example, are you willing to steal, fight, do drugs, have sex, etc. to convince yourself and others you are cool? Are you willing to inject silicone into your body, starve yourself, or spend a fortune on cosmetics to convince yourself and others that you are beautiful? I think these would be bad choices. On the other hand, you could instead improve in healthy ways or if possible change who you associate with (e.g., find friends who think you are cool the way you are and a boyfriend who thinks you are already beautiful). There are numerous articles online about how to not care (too much) about what other people think but I think it's impossible for most people to not care at all. 

I'm done...yes I was irritated when I wrote this...

Related Articles:
Attract a man, be a lady (funny but good advice)
Do women dress for men (some differing opinions)

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    In my opinion, it really comes down to goals.

    If your goal is NOT to get married (or keep your husband), NOT to be treated with the highest respect that feminine women garner, and NOT to have high self-esteem, then please continue to dress like you don't give a darn.

    But, if you DO want these things, it would make sense to act accordingly.