Monday, March 14, 2011

Thoughts on ... Image

I'm trying to write a column this week.  I write best from what I know and lately I'm feeling burnt out on a lot of things so that's likely the topic.  The column below was actually written in November of 2009 but wasn't published until a year later.  As the only column from 2010, it became, by default, the back side of our annual mailing The Gilbert Gazette.  Since we finally, last week, got all of them mailed, I'm posting it here.  I would promise to be more diligent about blogging but I'm dealing with the burnout.  If/when that column gets published, I will repost here.  EAH

Last year, I gave myself a birthday present by attending Nikon Photography School.  I learned or relearned about a variety of topics including lighting, angles and how to fix or improve the images I shoot without losing their authenticity.  After two days of viewing and discussing beautiful images, I went into overload and my mind moved toward the more abstract idea of images.

The fact is, I like being behind the camera much better than being in front of it.   For one thing, I have artistic tendencies but no drawing or painting skills.  Photography engages both sides of my brain and I’m pretty good at it.   The other reason is I hate most photographs taken of me.  What I look like in them is not consistent with how I believe I look.  It may be an illusion on my part, but I don’t want it broken.

We all have self-images, based on a variety of influences.  I’m always saying that we are products of our experiences and so are self-images.  I don’t have experience with computer and on-line games, but I suspect that for some an avatar reflects either a self-image, reflecting believed strengths,  or the opposite, an opportunity to make up for perceived weaknesses or failings.
Moving back to reality, there’s the physical image that one has in one’s mind’s eye which can be confirmed or denied by the image in the mirror.  My mental image  is actually a remembered photograph taken when I was in graduate school.  I am walking along in the rain, in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, my purse is slung back, my hands shoved in my raincoat pockets, a confident smile on my face and yes, a twinkle in my eye.   I’m older now, but sometimes that optimistic, energetic young woman smiles back at me in the mirror and it’s a good day!
Cameras don’t always capture how others see us.  And others don’t always see us the way we think they do or more importantly, the way we want them to.  What clothes we wear, how we shake hands, how we walk and the way we talk, all of these are part of the images that we project to others.  I often tell people that self-introductions, including those going-around-the room in a big group, are very important first impressions.  Standing up, speaking clearly and saying your full name, projects confidence and capability.  Speaking softly can be interpreted as shyness or insecurity.  Say too little and you make little impression, or worse are considered boring.  Talk for too long and you give a bad impression, such as being considered rude for not respecting everyone else’s time.

Word choices affect your image as well.  They can impact people’s judgement of your intelligence and honesty.  I heard a woman researcher speak about her findings on the use of cursing.  It was a well-done study using actors reading scripts, some with, some without “bad” language.  The listeners thought less of those who cursed, especially the women.  Speaking of women, I never use “girl” for anyone over 18 and certainly not for myself.  I think and speak of myself as a “woman” not a “lady.” Unlike “girl” or “lady”, “woman” conveys strength, experience, and an ability to deal with tough situations.  That’s part of my self- image and one that I want to people to have of me.

This brings me to purple hair.   I’ve been sporting it for three years and plan on keeping it.  Purple represents many things.  It’s a symbol of royalty.  It’s a symbol of diversity.  Having it in my hair is a risk.  Some people have disapproved but I’ve noticed, more than ever, strangers are comfortable talking with me.  People remember me, even when I’m quiet.  My shade is deliberately deep and rich. It goes with the confident smile and the twinkle in the eye.
Well, what about you?  What’s your image?  How do people see you?  How do you see yourself?  Do you want to change your image?   My advice is simple - be real and be realistic.  It’s too easy to lose ourselves in others’ ideals.  So, whatever you do, maintain your authenticity! 
© 2010 Esther A. Heller
All rights reserved.
Contact the author prior to reproduction.

First published in Connections, Dec 2010
newsletter of the Santa Clara Valley Section of the Society of Women Engineers.