We know that politicians are packaged for public consumption. Likewise, celebrities, though personal style and image were more easily conveyed in the days of the Hollywood machine, not to mention before the ubiquitous nature of social media.
Individuals are packaged as well – from the names we use for ourselves to hairstyle, glasses or contacts, attire and the way we speak. Many go a few steps farther – what they drive, where they live, the brands they spend their money on.
We package ourselves for our pleasure. We package ourselves to be “successful” – to get the guy or girl; to get the job. We package ourselves to be accepted, and also as a matter of self-protection.
We may be on the outside looking to break in; we may feel trapped, on the inside looking to break out.
Naturally, when we are in the process of meeting and greeting for potential romance, we’re on our best behavior, with our best face forward. Oh, it can be fun! And oh, it can be tiring. More importantly, it can be deceptive.
What if we could feel more comfortable being our true selves? What if we could accelerate that comfort, at least with our closest friends and colleagues? That doesn’t mean discarding the routines that make us feel good and fit in where we need to, but it would be nice to let down one’s guard, to feel safe, to feel welcome – beyond the packaging.
Personal Packaging, Personal Style
This morning I awakened with images dancing in my head of 1940s and 50s movies, and ridiculous parties in which a woman jumps out of a giant cake. Strange, I know; there’s no accounting for dreams. I was envisioning Hollywood-style objets de désir of the period, and imagining the exuberance of popping out from inside those tall tiers to a sensation of breaking free of confinement or constraints.
I’m thinking of our various wrappings – a pretty face (or one enhanced with cosmetics), a bright smile (courtesy of the latest round of bleaching), a sensuous body (the result of hours at the gym) and also, the clothing that enables us to fit in or stand out – as needed.
And yes, I view those attributes in our highly visual and judgmental world as constraints as much as they can be advantages. That is in part because we obsess over them; we spend way too much time, money, and effort tending to them; and we suffer as we feel their loss at various points in life. We would be better served lessening their importance (at the very least), so we could move beyond the features that are “plain,” the figure that is too round or too bony, the hair that is thinning or the skin that is losing its luster with age.
Expectations Require Many Masks
Then there are the assorted masks we wear in compliance with expectations: the good daughter, the good wife, the good employee; the proper mother, the responsible citizen, the cocktail party flirt. It isn’t that these aren’t significant parts of who we are, but we shape our presentation (and appearance, actions, language) according to the audience and our needs. At least we do so if we’re smart, don’t you think?
So what if we could peek inside – beyond the trappings of personal style, beyond the physical, beyond the acquired behaviors that are intended in part for self-protection, for self-promotion and possibly privacy? What if we could know whether or not a new acquaintance were sincere, vulnerable, generous, insecure, compassionate, angry, or a force to be reckoned with in the best way possible, just waiting for the opportunity to be encouraged?
How many assessments of value do we make when it comes to others without knowing their circumstances, their demons, their dreams, their wisdom, their tall tales or their hunger to take a bite out of life?
Developing Personal Style: The Whole Package
When I think of personal style, I immediately picture a “look” – corporate, Bohemian, edgy, traditional; at times it is urban versus suburban, or country. I also imagine my style icons – and there are several – Katherine Hepburn is one who comes to mind.
Those with style that I admire go beyond the packaging we typically identify – beyond first impressions or overall look, beyond beauty, beyond elegant attire. They are masters of more substantive aspects of presentation – speech, gestures, confidence, good nature, undeniable intelligence.
When I think of Hepburn, I am aware not only of her formidable talent, but of her independence, her smarts, her athleticism and her confident stride. I can’t recall the last time I encountered a woman – in real life of course – with so much assurance in who she is, and unfettered by the conceits and masks that we wear as we gain experience in the world, packaging ourselves accordingly.
Letting Down the Mask
I am all for putting one’s best face forward – more so in terms of behavior and character than appearance, though certainly I believe that appearances matter.
One of the pleasures of maturing is beginning to feel the freedom to unpackage ourselves, or rather to repackage when and how we like. Over time, I have observed the following not only in myself but in my friends.
- We speak our minds more clearly and with less trepidation. We have a clearer idea of when we shouldn’t.
- We know what we want and what we do not. We are more determined to spend our time accordingly.
- We understand who is important in our lives, and to whom we are important. We narrow the focus as a result.
Obviously, we do not cut new people out of our worlds, but we come to grips with the fact that we cannot do it all, be it all, juggle it all – so choices must be made. Time becomes our most precious commodity.
Call it confidence, call it maturity, call it what you like. We allow more people to see who we really are; we seek to deal with the person behind the mask in others. And some of us dream of what it is like to pop out of a cake – very Jane Russell or Betty Grable – simply because it might be fun.
Image of Katherine Hepburn, 1941, public domain.
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