Our behaviour, dress, habits, these are born of reactions in our inner world. Our self perception and realm of authenticity is influenced and expressed by a set of external symbols— representations of more complex subjects. Eye contact is symbolic, wearing jewelry is symbolic, our accent, inflections, our routine, our addictions, these outwardly simple expressions reference intricate sources. Understanding cause and effect allows for a better connection with ourselves and others.
[CW: most forms of bigotry]
Schisms between our ‘self’ and our ‘presentation’ have many causes. Insecurity tears a rift between our conscious mind, who we want to be, and who we are. The natural crises of human experience reveals our struggle with self perception, our identity crisis, our midlife crisis, even our financial crisis is symptomatic of how we cram the vast expanse of human spirit into a tiny bottle of capitalism and colonialism.
We fear rejection and humiliation. Anxiety builds the more we push against expectations, however, a great deal more anxiety is shed from abandoning unsubstantiated restrictions. These are beliefs or opinions which suppress healthy self expression. Understanding what’s appropriate, acceptable, and supposedly ‘dignified’ means to unravel a system of values. When people tell us what not to do, we have to ask a couple questions. On what basis is the presentation offensive? Are we presenting ourselves in a way that’s harmless but unexpected, unconventional, or eccentric? Are we demeaning, dehumanizing, or appropriating aspects of an identity which are vulnerable to societal bias?
Being socially conscious means caring about who we’re hurting and how we’re hurting them. I present myself with symbols of androgyny which will always offend someone, but their discomfort is indicative of a disconnection and prejudice. My presentation causes pain similar to hydrogen peroxide fizzing around a wound, it doesn’t hurt those who’ve healed their misconceptions. Forcing myself to align with strict binaries of gender presentation is an unsubstantiated restriction.
Substantiated restrictions apply to those demeaning, dehumanizing, and appropriate. If we’ve fed into oppression, it’s our responsibility to learn self awareness and authentic presentation. When people tell us what not to do, consider why they’re imposing restrictions. Is it a baseless, abusive, privileged, oppressive opinion? Is it a personal, experienced, disenfranchised opinion? There is a difference between punching down and punching up. How we use our presentation is symbolic of how much we understand or care about the well-being of others. Reflecting on the difference between exercising the right to self expression and abusing that right, we also are forced to evaluate our morals.
Self awareness is an important factor in healthy presentation. The process of absorbing, transforming, and presenting energy is a private one. Even if others don’t see, it’s important that we do. They can notice the most obvious symbols but only we are privy to the entire reality behind the presentation. Only we can make conscious choices to accept all truths of the reality.
How we’re perceived will never align with our inner identity. It’s impossible to reveal all aspects of ourselves. Realizing that we can nurture certain traits or unlearn harmful habits opens up opportunities to present a fuller picture of who we are. Everyone has the capacity for compassion and confidence. Identifying hypcoracies and cognitive dissonance in our morals and values is a necessary part of personal growth.
I fall back on an overcompensatory, faux-academic style of writing to appease my insecurities, but in truth I don’t take myself seriously. My presentation and personality could be described as goofy. My sense of humour is akin to a semi-quick witted child who only hangs out with children with substance abuse problems, and I’m completely unsophisticated and am absolutely a country bumpkin. I’m also openly queer, have shitty tattoos, facial piercings, scruffy facial hair, and wear absurd clothing. In the city I’m too rough, and in the rural countryside I’m too strange.
Despite obstacles in our navigation of the world, we can still present ourselves in a way that honours our needs and values. Punishing and sabotaging ways only trap us in cycles of feeling unfulfilled and stifled. Understanding our misconceptions and distorted thinking begins the circumvention of maladaptivity. The ways we hinder ourselves stem from various forms of ignorance, from repression to oppression.
In many ways, examining social prejudice is a holy grail of personal growth and self awareness. This includes internalized prejudice. We have absorbed negative connotations related to the basic existence of ourselves and others, and it’s affected the way we relate to ourselves and others. People who are disconnected from the realities of capitalism and colonialism are also out of touch with the truths in their own life. No one can present themselves in an authentic way if there isn’t authenticity to their interpretation of their life experiences. Misconceptions and ignorance obscure truth. If we’re unwilling to change or learn or unlearn, we will never understand and we will never grow.
A business person who looks down upon somebody living in a tent in a park may soon suffer a concussive injury, experience permanent neurological problems, be unable to work, struggle to access adequate health care and financial aid, lose their home during a housing crisis, realize there are no hotel or hostel vacancies, no beds in any shelters, and eventually pitch a tent in that same park. The businessperson had no understanding of the complex institutional issues which contribute to housing insecurity, such as ableism, racism, and classism.
Similar situations occur with body shaming, when in the minds of many ‘fat’ is falsely synonymous with ‘unhealthy and unattractive’. Our bodies store energy to keep us alive, to have prejudiced feelings about this fact indicates a critical lack of education around the topic. Having opinions of what makes a body ‘good’ means having a festering wound of misunderstanding.
If we express ourselves in a way that normalizes the liberation of vulnerable and disenfranchised people, we are in turn creating a more powerful and authentic world. Many people experience more imposed restrictions in presentation due to stigma, stereotypes, and inaccessibility. The standards for presentation force many people to exist not just uncomfortably, but often torturously, sometimes in a way that is simply impossible.
We all live in a symbolic world, symbols have diverse interpretations. The way aspects of ourselves interact with each other develops a structure for reading our symbols. We exist within contexts inside and outside of ourselves. As we become aware of how we fit into the patterns of life, we become more honest.
Be honest with yourself. Who are you? Who do you want to be?