I’ve told a few friends lately how I resent the fact that I now have to wear make-up to look healthy or awake. I rarely wore much make-up when I was younger and I think my skin now is probably better for it, but I am gradually coming to terms with the necessity of basic make-up, most particularly concealer under the eyes. It used to be that I only wore make-up when I was going out to a party or special occasion. I knew it could enhance my appearance and I wasn’t against the idea of wearing it sometimes. But I wanted to rebel against the media which would tell me I wasn’t good enough without it. After all, I thought, no-one would pressure men to wear make-up so why should I? Looking back now, I remember so many comments in my old job of how I looked tired. Perhaps that was some of my colleagues’ subtle attempts to tell me I should wear make-up. Working mainly with teenagers and their families I didn’t feel a need to present myself spectacularly.
I’ve made the transition because my new lecturing job is only part-time so it feels less of a dramatic change to be wearing make-up on two or three days per week. I do feel more of a need to make a good impression at work and I guess it goes with my clothes choices and seeking to look different from the students. I’ve been wearing some nice skirts and trousers and generally going for a creative professional look. And I haven’t had people telling me I look tired – except this last week when I’ve been under the weather.
I guess make-up and choice of clothes probably count as presenting a version of yourself rather than pretending to be something you are not, but it brings to mind a number of the issues from my recent ‘projecting an image’ blogpost. I’ve been interested in ideas of identity and who we really are for quite some while – perhaps most deeply during my training as a dramatherapist. There and during my drama studies I learnt a lot about different roles we play and helpful ways of examining these to more fully understand how we relate to others. Preparing pieces of autobiographical performance allowed us to present our own lives in a stylised and framed way. The very act of sharing an anecdote involves so many choices about how we present something that the truth somehow becomes what we make it.
Our dreams often involve a version of our lives filtered through our sub-conscious thoughts. I finally saw the film ‘Inception’ the other day and was very impressed by the layers of storytelling and the way the truth can get buried or rediscovered amongst our dreams and memories. Most books about dream interpretation are more than a little ridiculous, but I definitely think Freud was onto something in encouraging clients to discuss their dreams. Probably our own interpretations hold far more value than those of an outsider unless that person knows us very well. In the same way, creating stories or art-work as therapy can be another way that our inner thoughts and feelings can be expressed and identified.
I think we also allow the company we keep to influence who we are. There’s a great quote I loved at university (see below) about how a woman valued a particular friendship because only that person recognised a particular part of who she was. She was afraid that if she lost that friendship, she would somehow also lose that part of herself. While it’s not the most altruistic reason for developing friendships, I do enjoy myself more when I am with people who seem to bring out the more interesting parts of me. I hope that I can also encourage others by recognising and valuing their own personal qualities and somehow helping them to be more of their true self. I know too many people who have been somehow ‘squashed’ by the demands and expectations of others. Perhaps we all need encouragement to become our true selves and get closer to our God given potential.
Post script: Added on 10/03/11
The quotation I was trying to remember was from a woman called Rahel Varnhagen who hosted a salon in Berlin from the 1790s to 1806. Kay Goodman describes a letter Varnhagen sent to Karl Gustav Brinkmann:
She wrote Gustave Brinkmann that, were she to lose him, she would lose a large part of herself. Only he recognized that part, and it needed to be recognized or it would die (I, p. 198). Hers was not the classical notion of a self-identical, harmonious subject, it was a multi-faceted, de-centered self with unimagined potential. [Goodman, K. (1982) ‘Poesis and Praxis in Rahel Varnhagen’s Letters’. New German Critique, No. 27, Women Writers and Critics (Autumn, 1982), pp. 123-139 ]