By Imogen Davenport
Throughout our entire lives we consistently prejudge people we meet or hear of. The saying ‘make a good first impression’ is very common, although I don’t particularly like it at times. This is because that ‘good’ first impression is determined by each individual human being, and we all have a different set of standards, morals, and expectations which we believe people should live up to. One person’s opinion will be the complete opposite from another, purely because no mind is the same. Relying on someone to approve of you so you feel accepted, is the same as relying on a bus to always be on time; you are simply going to be left feeling disappointed. Most of the time first impressions aren’t necessarily who someone is. Sometimes, it’s just a period of time where they showed up being the person you wanted them to be. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov carried out a variety of experiments which revealed that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. This applies to jobs, dating and general life. Remember, it is only as time goes on that who we are starts to show.
I personally have struggled from time to time with what people think of me. I am a young, white, blonde woman, who posts aesthetically pleasing images on my social media. The content that I share comes with a lot of misperceptions of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am very aware that that sounds extremely privileged and that is because I am, in a number of ways. Being stereotyped in the way that I am doesn’t even begin to touch on other people’s experiences with this; however, I certainly believe that this topic is one worthy of discussing by using my voice, alongside supporting others to use theirs.
I have dipped in and out of the downward spiral of overthinking throughout the years. I sometimes tell myself ‘Your feed consists of nice pictures of yourself, how can you not expect them to assume you’re nothing more than the way you look?’ to the complete opposite opinion of ‘If someone wants to judge me purely on a tiny segment of my life, that is their problem alone and doesn’t deserve my energy to prove them otherwise’. What’s sad is the back-and-forth between the two is exhausting and time consuming. We all know most people only post the happy/positive moments from their lives on their feed. That post is 1% of it, there is 99% more of that person.
Which brings me to the question, is it our responsibility to show the world who we are if we don’t want to be put in a box?
I went for coffee with my friend the other day and I spoke about how being judged was starting to drain me recently. Speaking from his viewpoint of a gay man, he explained to me how people consistently judge him against ‘masculine’ activities. They have preconceived ideas on how he wouldn’t know how to fix a car because he is gay, or that he couldn’t enjoy football because that’s a ‘manly’ sport. The societal perception that being gay removes his masculinity means people put him into a box before they even know him as a person. We went on to speak about how people are surprised that one of my hobbies is rock climbing. It’s as if my shoe collection, caring about my appearance and my blonde hair shoves me straight in the box of ‘girly girl’ and there’s no room in this box for anything other than ‘girly’ interests. There’s also rarely room for my intellect. Deemed ‘not the smart one’ by various people across my life giving the weak argument of ‘well… you’re blonde’ made me realise that throughout my entire life I have always been placed in these boxes. Every single day, just like every single person in this world. It was only when social media got popular that I started to notice it more. As we scroll through our pages we judge each image, we decide what we like about them, and we decide what we don’t. From one single image we decide then and there whether we like someone or not without even having a conversation with them (which is crazy). We choose whether or not we want to engage with someone purely from a photo, a photo they posted on their profile for the world to see and the world to make assumptions of.
Now let’s talk about how this affects dating. For me dating apps are tiring and usually l delete them before redownloading them when I’m bored. I prefer to meet someone in person rather than online, because with so many people out there, the swiping left or right gets tedious, fast. With so many options out there and being able to explore these so easily, we’re all guilty of thinking the grass is greener on the other side. I truly believe so many connections are missed because we live in a society that has become lazy when it comes to getting to know someone. The men I have met from dating apps always tell me they are surprised by me. They say things like ‘I didn’t expect you to be into that’, ‘you are different than what you look like’, ‘you actually have a really nice personality’, ‘you are quite smart you know’. I can tell from their smile that all of these men believe that they are complimenting me, unfortunately it is just an insult. I walk away from these conversations and look at back my Instagram feed or Hinge profile and wonder what on earth on there means I am not clever. I feel as though if I put glasses on and wear a high neck all the time then maybe I would be taken seriously. Maybe if I didn’t post a picture in a bikini a guy might be interested in my mind. Or maybe if just posted something more reserved then finally people would decide that I am now more than just my body.
I am so lucky to have incredible friends, people who really know me. People who have taken the time and effort to become a part of my life and see me as more than what I post. They know who I am, all aspects of me and they don’t need me to remind them of that by uploading a specific image on my Instagram. Sadly, social media does not feel like a safe place to be yourself, how can it be? Unless we post our complete camera roll, texts and note page no one really will scratch the surface of who we are. There will never be a moment in time where everyone will agree or have the same thought about you. Attempting to control what people think about you will only cause yourself harm, because no matter what you do someone out there will have something to say.
Remember if people have negative things to say about you, most of the time it is usually a reflection of themselves and not you.
I have had to shift my thinking in order to understand that others’ perceptions are not reality. The confidence and peace that you feel within yourself, once realised, is something you will carry throughout your life.
Going forward we should post the images we like with the clear knowledge that not everyone will like it nor should we expect them to. The photo should be posted because we enjoy it, no other reason. A photo should not in any way determine who someone is, and we all need to be a lot less judgemental and more open minded to understand this. Our generation connects online more now than ever. It is hugely vulnerable for us to post who we are, most of us do not do it, therefore, we should not expect it from others. Depression and anxiety has risen dramatically over the years because of social media. We need to be able to see behind the image, understand someone is more than their Linked in profile, Facebook or Instagram account. Posting photos will never stop, in fact I think it will continue growing, so start being unapologetically yourself because the only opinion that really matters is your own.