Whether we like it or not, and whether they know it or not, people will judge you. It took me a very long time to figure this out… and I kept being the victim of my own uncaring image. For the longest time, I didn’t really care about how I looked. I dressed for comfort, for utility, and very rarely for effect. I *did* care about how people treated me, and I was constantly fighting an uphill battle of people who treated me like (drum roll please) someone who didn’t care. People will judge a book by it’s cover.
Another example: one of the students I have tutored for a long time recently became a tutor herself. I knew from working with her that she was talented, thoughtful, and hard working. She also dressed almost every day in tank tops and daisy-dukes (or athletic shorts). She showed a lot of skin. While she certainly got noticed, students didn’t take her seriously. So I pulled her aside, and told her: “look, it isn’t fair, but you should think about changing how you dress. It is going to be easier for people to think of you as smart first, and then realize you are pretty/sexy than the other way around.” She was getting slut-shamed, and didn’t even realize it. Now that people have socially safe places to look, they’ve started to notice that she’s smart.
I’ve seen this happen frequently.
So let me just come out and say it: style matters. You have it in your power to influence how you are perceived, and hopefully can change how people treat you. And to any other students reading this: you have no idea how much thought I put into how I look. I don’t quite chart out the days (or colors) of ties I wear, but I come close. Honestly, if you kids knew how much I work on manipulating you, you’d never trust me again. Muahaha…er… I mean… So here is what I consider important about managing your image:
- Consciously choose what you want to convey. When I start out teaching every quarter I go for “intelligent and professional” as a look. Later I soften down to “smart and approachable”. And on my off time? I go for comfort, with an edge.
- Know what works. For women, appearance is predominantly a matter of dress where for men appearance is more of a matter of grooming. Both are important – and a lot is conveyed by simple details. Are your clothes clean and in good repair? Does everything fit right?
- Don’t overdo it. Almost as important as picking your style, don’t go overboard. One technique called “peacocking” involves having ONE (and only one) detail that is very distinctive about your costume that people will remember. If you try too much to be noticed, then people will unconsciously relegate you to weirdo status, and you will be fighting to overcome their perceptions again.
- Persona and Attitude. Once you have fashioned your outward appearance, don’t be afraid to show off the facets of your personality. My homage to the “Man in the Iron Mask”: you wear the clothes, the clothes do not wear you.
- Keep it fresh. You are going to need to update your look from time to time. People will get used to almost anything, so if you don’t make some changes from time to time, then you are going to start to fade into the background. Besides which, you will also want to make some tweaks to your image. Sometimes you don’t get it right the first time out, so you’ll need to try something new.
Changing how people perceive you won’t happen overnight. But it is something that you have some control over, if you put forth some effort.
Now go out there and turn some heads. And remember: use your powers however the hell you want, because they’re YOUR powers.