Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the concept of images. These are the things in our lives – objects, people, clothes, concepts – that we are attached to, that we take on into ourselves and use them make up this image in our minds of who we are and how we want to be projected to others.
There are some people who are really into their image. Their whole life is about wearing things or having things or doing things in order to look a certain way to others. Their entire self worth is based on this image, which is a pretty unstable way to live. What if those things that make up your identity are removed?
But it’s not just those fabulous people on reality TV shows that have this image problem. I think we all do to a degree. I think anyway. I mean, I have always felt that I am a pretty real person who is not too into “images” or looking a certain way , but on the other hand, I’ve lately been observing and thinking about the ways in which I still am very much attached to an identity.
How do you know if something is part of your image? Well, just imagine that that thing disappeared. Do you feel uncomfortable? Does it play on some deep seated emotional instability that resides inside you (perhaps a feeling that you aren’t good enough without that thing?) Do you mainly feel uncomfortable because without it you are concerned about what other people would think of you?
If the answer is yes, it’s part of your image. And relying too much on our image can be a shaky existence. It can be a really difficult time for you when something threatens that image. True self esteem can’t be shaken. True self esteem resides underneath the “stuff”, – the place within yourself in which you know you are a good, unique, interesting, and capable person, even if everything you know in your life has been stripped away.
For me, the following things are part of my image:
1. My Dreadlocks, My Hats, and My Headbands
The thought of cutting off my dreads and having straight hair again – and also going without wearing things like hats and headbands on my head to make my hair interesting – makes me squirm.
The reason is not just because I like the style (I really do), but also because I think the volume of the dreads on my head, and the hair accessories, make me look older. Looking young has always been this crazily hot button emotional thing for me… so the idea of having a hairdo that makes me look younger totally freaks me out. It would detract from the desired image of myself as “mature and grown up”.
I suppose I could also count here form-fitting clothes and other things that I think make me look older, like wearing mascara. Seriously, even slightly baggy clothes make me feel like a 5 year old because they completely drown my womanly curves – as slight as those curves may be. I feel very, VERY uncomfortable in them.
2. Having My Dreads Done Up Nicely, and Continuing to Shave My Armpits
So, I have always been a hippie at heart. Naturally attracted to the type of people who are alternative, conscious, artsy, and interesting, and the lifestyles that go with that. My clothing style naturally gravitates toward funky, earthy, “hippie” clothes and styles. Nothing wrong with that at all. And by stereotype, I proudly feel I fit in that category.
However, I think I’ve always had this image of myself that I am a hippie, but that only the positive stereotypes from the label apply to me. I am a hippie, but without all the usual and generally negative stereotypes that are usually associated with them. I am a hippie, but I can still be everything to everyone.
Like: yes – I am a hippie, but my dreads don’t look like I came from the swamp. No, they are always done nicely. Yes, I am a hippie, but I shave my armpits, don’t worry. Yes, I am a hippie, but I am also attractive to non-hippie men. Yes, I am a hippie but I’m not a lazy pothead. Yes, I am a hippie, but no I’m not a vegetarian. And so on and so forth.
I think I was trying to push back at this part of my image by doing my no shaving experiment that I did in the Fall.
3. My Hippie Necklaces
So because I am a hippie at heart, I naturally want to hang out with alternative, forward thinking folks. Except, sometimes I get intimidated by these types of people. Because I want to be their friend. I want to be “in” with them. Because these are the type of people that I feel I have things in common with, what happens if they reject me? Then what do I have?
All those primal fears of having your tribe reject you kick in: What if they think I’m not “hippie cool” enough for them? What if they think I’m not interesting enough? What if I don’t have enough to say about typically hippie topics of conversation? What if they write me off forever as just some “straight” girl who clearly doesn’t share their values and I am outcast?
I find that these fears especially come up in regard to the alterna/hippie crowd in my own town and the surrounding areas and islands. I don’t feel very intimidated by these type of people outside of my own town, because if they were to reject me it wouldn’t mean as much as being rejected from the people in the town you want to make your life in. The stakes are much higher. This fear doesn’t dominate my life or anything – it’s just a subtle undercurrent in my psyche, but it’s there.
The situation kind of reminds me of when I was in 5th grade, and I desperately wanted to be part of the “cool kids group”. I wanted sooo bad to be in it. It just seemed like it was clearly the ticket to happiness. I tried to muscle my way in, and I felt like I was almost there – one day I was playing a game of tag with the cool kids on the school field (success!), and then to my horror, one of the cool girls came up behind me and pulled down my shorts!!! In front of all the cool kids!!!!! And they were all laughing at me!! Oh wow. So what did I do? I burst into tears. Yep, that happened.
So anyway, I learned a lesson from that. I stopped being a try-hard and just hung out with my own friends and did my own thing, and then slowly, and naturally, without trying, our friends started hanging out with the cool kids. It happened organically. I was accepted because I was myself.
Now, I’m not telling you this because I condone cliques or anything. Or trying to be in with a crowd for no other reason than higher social status.
The alterna folks I’m speaking of aren’t cliquey or anything like the “cool kids” of elementary school’s past. They are all very nice, inclusive people. But they are the people I want to know the most because I resonate with them, their mindsets, philosophies, and interests. I find them inspiring, and because of this, I kind of put the whole lot of them on a pedestal. If they reject me, there is a lot more on the line than if I were rejected from some other group of people I didn’t care about.
However, I learned my lesson from 5th grade, and never tried hard to get in with them, and I naturally just found my way in by being me. I am friends with many of them and consider myself to be a firm part of the alternative community in my town with no sign of conflict on the horizon.
But on some primal level, the community as a whole and the people in it still intimidate me. And I know that using my appearance is a way for me to “show” them that I am one of them. That I am a hippie, I am alternative, I deserve to be “in” with them. I am “worthy” of conversation with them. If I didn’t have my dreadlocks … if I didn’t have my hippie necklaces – then how would they know I was one of them?
For example: you may remember when I wrote an article this summer about my trip to the off-grid island, Lasqueti. Now, I have spent many years going to hippie parties and festivals on a neighbouring island (that looks across the ocean to Lasqueti). All the Lasquetians come over across the inlet to the parties on their big red zodiac boats, and they all pile out – it always seems like the entire lot of them are young and incredibly good looking and so cool. And you would hear tales of the shenanigans they get up to over there on their little off grid community where there’s no cops, there’s no rules, a vibrant unified community; everyone has a massive garden, great parties, and composting toilets. In my mind, it was like hippie Shangri-la.
So I finally got to go to Lasqueti. And yes, it was pretty much as amazing as I had built it up in my mind to be. Not everyone on the island was young and good looking as the illusion appeared (I guess just the ones who go to the parties), but everyone was so nice, and the energy was amazing and beautiful… and wow. Just a gorgeous place.
So due to how amazing this place was (and how I had put it onto a pedestal), something in me of course wanted to prove to their residents that I belonged there. That I deserved to be on Lasqueti. That I fit in there. That I was cool enough to be an honorary Lasquetian.
So the first day there, we went to a community sauna. Because it was so hot, I had to take off my quartz hippie necklace because the metal was burning me . However, when we went to get dressed, I couldn’t find it. Wow, I felt very lost and uncomfortable. Suddenly I realized how much this necklace was a part of my image, and how losing it here on Lasqueti made me feel so naked and bare. How would they know I fit in here?
4. Having a Hot Boyfriend
Yep, it’s definitely good for my ego that my partner, Luke, is good looking. Well, I know many ladies probably don’t like the scruffy bearded look, but to me, and probably to many hippie women, I think he’s drop dead gorgeous. Now, I don’t think I’m necessarily shallow… I mean, I didn’t choose to be with him because of his looks. And I will be the first to admit that I have had quite a few boyfriends in the past who were far from classically good looking, and I loved them for who they were and loved our time spent together. And when you like someone and know them well, they generally become very good looking to you even if others wouldn’t consider them very “hot”.
But, while their looks never bothered me, I was aware of what other people might think. I do have to admit that when I was with those guys, I would sometimes secretly wonder if people were wondering why I was with them, or judging me for having no taste. And that would make me feel a little embarrassed. So while the fact that the wonderful man who will become my husband also happens to be hot – well, that is definitely good for my image. Now people will know that I am the sort of superstar who can get super hot guys.
However, on the odd occasion he has had to shave his beard – well, he still looks good, but he looks a lot younger. Which of course plays on my own insecurities about looking young.
Agh. Yes. His beard is an accessory for my ego. However, I have gotten the impression that my dreadlocks and “hippie image” are an accessory for his image. We seem to have this mutual agreement for our own egos – I keep my dreads, he keeps his beard.
5. Being Exciting and Fun
Yes, what I used to want for my image was that people would always think of me as a social person, who likes to party, loved crazy adventures, is friends with everyone, and up for anything. In other words, I wanted people to think of me as really fun and exciting. I guess because in my mind, anything less was “boring”.
Don’t get me wrong – I very much like socializing, adventures, and fun. But maybe not as much as I thought. I’d always find myself partying or going out when I’d prefer to stay home and do my own thing. I’d find myself hanging out with people I didn’t care about, when I’d prefer to be hanging out with just a few close friends. I’d find myself living in sharehouses with tons of people because I assumed it would be so fun, but I’d always end up wanting to hang out with myself in my room. I’d find myself working at bars in which you were expected to stay and socialize for hours after your shifts, when all I wanted to do was go home.
I’d always end up hating on myself about this because what I really wanted to do often (quiet loner activities like reading, writing, researching, sewing, painting etc) didn’t really fit with my “fun and exciting” image. There was always internal conflict there.
It wasn’t even until recently that I realized that maybe that’s not who I am. Maybe I am just more of an introvert. And that’s when I realized that hey – that’s actually okay!!! Introverts are not necessarily boring people. I don’t have to be anyone except who I am and do the things that I like to do.
6. Having Clear Skin
To me, having clear skin is not about just having healthy skin – it’s about acne threatening the image of myself as someone who is pretty and attractive, particularly to men. I suspect this at the root of many people’s emotional pain over having acne. Fearing that we won’t be attractive to others, and therefore, won’t be loved.
I will admit to never having had trouble with attracting men in the past, and I always interpreted that a huge part of my sex appeal and charm was that I was small and cute (not to be confused with looking young like a child…. completely different in my mind).
I relied on that image a lot, and the good thing was that I often felt quite confident with myself when getting to know guys. Not just ones I wanted to date, but any guys. I used to rely on this image so much that I actually found it a lot more difficult and intimidating making new friends with women because I couldn’t use the image on them! I had to rely 100% on my personality with them because women don’t care about your sex appeal! Oh dear.
Anyway, before my severe acne troubles, I had mild acne but I could pretty easily cover it up in most cases, so most of the time it didn’t threaten the image too much.
However, the idea of being seen without those spots covered up horrified me. Perhaps then all the people would see through my image. They would see that I was not, in fact, good looking. They would see I was actually not cute or attractive. Or god forbid, they would think I looked young. They would instantly be turned off, said my brain.
So when my acne got really severe and hiding it was hardly an option anymore, that’s when I went basically mental because that was a HUGE, MASSIVE, DIABOLICAL threat to that image. It just didn’t compute. The two did not go together. The two were not in any way compatible. I needed it GONE as-soon-as-absolutely-effing-possible so that I could get back to that image (cue some very unhealthy obsession due to this).
So then I got rid of it and I managed to return to that image. However, now when I get a pimple or two, it’s so much more of a big deal because of that massive threat to the image that had occurred with the severe acne. That emotional pain to the ego resurfaces with every pimple – and maybe even more so, because now each pimple threatens my new image as “the acne guru”.
I’ve come a LONG way with this issue. I realize that but who knows if the pain will ever completely heal.
How to Stop Caring What People Think
Everyone has things that they like – they have their style, their friends, their hobbies. It’s all a part of who you are and that’s awesome, but it’s not who you really truly are. By relying on these things for your self esteem, it creates a fragile state of being. It takes you out of the present moment and gives your power to other people. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with what brings us joy and how we feel in our bodies right now, rather than how we appear to other people?
I can tell that these image hangups cause me grief from time to time. Even writing them out like this, it just seems like these things are so silly and petty, but it’s difficult to disassociate with your ego and truly let go of caring what other people think. What’s ironic though is that the more you are yourself and don’t care what others think, the more inspiring and attractive you actually are to other people!
I think it’s been my long term goal for some time now to challenge my fears, and start realizing that these things are not real. They are figments of our imagination. After all, when you read my fears and insecurities here, you probably don’t relate to all of them. Maybe some of them, but being an outsider, it’s easy for you to look in and go “Are you seriously worrying about this stuff?”
The goal is to start being able to do that for yourself. The fears will probably always be there to some degree, and that’s okay. It’s actually not a good thing to try to push them away, change them, or hide from them. Usually that doesn’t work and causes even more anxiety.
But we want to be able to look inside and be aware of them and go “That’s just a fear. That’s just a limiting belief. That’s just my ego talking.” Once you can do that, you are on your way to being able to accept them, and go forward despite them being there. That’s when they lose their power over you. Suddenly their scare factor becomes muted and muffled, and you can take action toward the things you value – even though you might feel afraid, insecure, or unsure.
So for example, I can be intimidated about hanging out with the alterna crowd in my town, but I can realize that and acknowledge it for what it is, and then go ahead and socialize anyway (which takes me closer to what I truly value: spending time with like minded people).
When I get a pimple, I may feel upset, but I can acknowledge that, and then go ahead and just get on with my life despite it. Same with if someone sees me with my hair a mess, without a necklace, or whatever else.
I realize now that I have actually come a long long way on all of these image issues. None of them have the same hold on me as they used to, and it’s because I have been aware of them for some time now. Now, people I know can see me without makeup on and my hair a mess and it’s okay. I don’t wear necklaces all the time. I hang out with myself a LOT and don’t live with roommates (except Luke). I even made a video the other day without my hat! For a while I didn’t shave my legs and armpits. I later decided to shave again, but even trying that was something I could never have even done a few years ago.
The good news? I’m also a lot happier now than I was a few years ago.
So for you – I highly recommend this process of writing out what it is that is part of your image, and imagine what it would be like to lose those things. Really examine those uncomfortable feelings and question why they are so strong. Just sit with the feelings and feel them… it’s okay to be uncomfortable. It can’t actually hurt you.
Just by doing this, you are starting the process of the fears breaking their hold over you. And less of a slave you are to your fear, the more free and happy you will become.
Watch Me Talk About All This in Video
If you feel like you want to, share with us right now what objects, people, clothes, or concepts are part of your image. How uncomfortable does it make you to imagine not having these things anymore?