When reality challenges image — how do you present to the world?

“I was like a chocolate in a box, looking well behaved and perfect in place, all the while harboring a secret center.” ― Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

“I am looking for the one I can’t fool.” ― Kamand Kojouri

How we are and how we are perceived often differ. There are many reasons for this, but the striking truth is that image and reality are often skewed

I have written before of the labels we place on ourselves and those others bestow upon us. This idea of image versus reality arose again in my conversations and thoughts and has me asking a few questions.

A friend and I struck upon a shared observation recently, that we’d met people who (and this is not limited to this field mind you) label themselves as spiritual and dress the part. We observed the wearing of certain adornments, clothing of a particular style, adopting coiffed dreadlocks or making radical statements by being unwashed or going unshod in public.  This attire and this façade of course have nothing to do with the level of spirituality one possesses but I wonder if it has more to do with aligning oneself where and how one wants to be perceived.

Let me explain.  For many years I have marvelled at the disparate views people hold of me compared to my own view of myself. Yes, yes, I know we judge ourselves harshly but that’s not what I am talking about here. Mostly everyone I come into contact with draws the conclusion that I am quite prim and prissy (yes, it’s a burden). Once they get to know me they can’t quite match my potty mouth and my beliefs with the external presentation.  I’ve never understood it, I don’t see the disparity.  People have repeated things like:

“I can’t believe you can say that word and get away with it.  It seems so unexpected coming from you. If it was me people would expect that language and be offended.”
“I would never have thought someone like you would have a faith.”
“Really, you have crystals and signing bowls?” (If only they knew the half of it.)

I’ve never understood it. I’ve looked but can’t see the elegance and poise I hear described.  Now, I certainly dress in a particular way to go to work that is far different to how I choose to dress at home.  But even in social settings people have shared the same opinions.  I don’t see the façade they do. I feel the inner messiness is clearly reflected externally.

So, back to our friend with the dreadlocks presenting as a deeply spiritual, connected person, and hey, maybe he is, who am I to judge?  Apart from personal choice and comfort, on some level the projection is a façade.  A costume. A symbol.  Yet, look around the room at the grandmother in her twin set and pearl earrings and that big dude dressed all in black with the tattoos they are not projecting an image that screams “I’m spiritual” but they’re both highly skilled channels and mediums and have a deeper grasp on universal and metaphysical truths than most.

As I ponder these scenarios the questions rise.

Why do others interpret our image in particular ways? 
I guess that’s conditioning. Labelling seems a natural human tendency. The need to pigeon-hole creates a level of certainty and comfort. Certainly, some of us adorn ourselves in ways that help others identify us how we want to be identified rather than misreading us and forming beliefs about us that don’t align to who or what we are. In both of these situations we draw upon some very strong and often unconscious archetypal symbols here.

Why do we/ how can we believe one thing to be true of ourselves, yet others see us in a totally different light?

This one stumped me for a bit then two more questions dropped in and I suddenly realised something I hadn’t before.

Do we create an image to reflect who we are? Or do we create an image to protect who we are?
And there it was. I have done the latter. My wise friend’s words came flooding back – he was curious about how I present to the world and what lay beneath the surface.  He touched on things being undiscovered and undisclosed.  I realise I have made an unconscious effort, from a very early age, to project a certain image to the world to protect myself, believing and knowing on some level others wouldn’t understand the truth of me.

It’s a curious and interesting concept to ponder and one we should all be aware of.  There is so much more to a person than their external image. We know that and often forget. Reality often challenges image. In your meeting of people remember the iceberg effect —the little bit we see does not adequately reflect all that is under the surface. Similarly, is the little bit you reveal reflecting what you want the world to know of you?



4 thoughts on “When reality challenges image — how do you present to the world?

  1. Wow Shannyn – what a fantastic post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    It is so true what you say about the way people look. People assume all sorts of things about me because I have hair that is slightly longer than most and that I leave it messy / abstract. I get offered illicit substances when I travel and they can’t quite believe it when I say “No thanks”. I’m doing a volunteer mentoring program with some high school students this year. The student I worked with last year saw me and said “boy I’m glad I know you’re a good person Nick because if I didn’t know you, I’d take one look at your hair and assume you were bad!” It’s enough to make me want to cut my hair!

    I love your point about people perceiving you differently to how we perceive ourselves. I can’t believe your a potty mouth by the way! I was having a discussion the other day with someone on this exact subject and one of the things I said was “I struggle to share things on social media because I think people see me as an IT person (having work there for so long) and when I start to think about sharing something about travel or about the life changing ability of adventure, I worry people will say What would you know – you’re an IT guy!” She said to me “perhaps the way you think other people see you is not how they see you at all.” In that moment, the penny dropped for me.

    As to your question “is the little bit you reveal reflecting what you want the world to know of you?” My answer is no – not quite. Although I am working through this!

    I believe how we see ourselves and dress ourselves often comes down to the narrative we are telling ourselves. Everything that we do / buy can often be put down to a story. If I buy an Apple product, am I telling myself I’m going against the herd / I’m more creative / I’m an individual? To some people I think that might be the case.

    Anyway, great blog. I really enjoyed reading it.


    • Nick, my heartfelt thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am chuffed you were provoked to write. There is much to ponder in this space isn’t there? I like the perspective you bring to the story behind the products we buy. I definitely think there is something in that. I think I have Claughton myself believing if I buy this then people will think …

      Have I not dropped the c bomb or f bomb in your presence? Clearly we haven’t hung out long enough. 😊😊😊.
      So good to hear from you my friend. Don’t cut your hair. You never appear threatening or dodgy to me.

  2. Much food for thought. Using my work as an example, one resident raves about my sunshine good moods, another goes on about what a cow I am. Same window – different views. I often feel like I polarise, not even sure I am clear here. What I am meaning.

    I could get twisted attempting to witness myself from another’s perspective. That would be crazy jumping through the looking glass

    • Vicki, how powerful your language is. “Same window- different view”. That’s really the essence of it isn’t it? That’s what I struggled with too, trying to see what others did. I just couldn’t without a looking glass.

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