This Appearing Act

I know well the incongruence of judging a book by its cover, as my appearance has long belied the difficulties I experience. When I first tell people about my brain damage and the cognitive deficits I have as a result, they invariably respond with, “Well you look completely normal!” Because my appearance offers no hints to the painfully present goings-ons backstage, the simple conclusion we can take away is to be wary of taking others at face value – to recite another axiom, looks can be deceiving. And if  the Transformers trilogy has taught us anything, it’s that there is always more than meets the eye (ironically, this is not the case with the Transformers franchise, where there is increasingly less than meets the eye in each successive offering).

However, while I agree that appearances provide only a small part of a bigger picture, I sense that for some time I haven’t given the cover of my book enough thought, much to my own detriment. The timing of my car accident meant I had to forego the typical transition from university student to mature adult while I focused on more pressing matters. Part of this was dealing with the legal proceedings surrounding my case. Here it was brought to my attention that, should my case go to court, my appearance would likely work against me. The reasoning was that I looked too normal. I moved about easily and articulated the obstacles I faced succinctly, and these displays mitigated the perceived extent of those very obstacles. This never became an issue, as my case settled out of court, but the influence appearance has on overall perception was not lost on me. Five years after settling the legal side of things, I continue to explore this dynamic and found the perception most influenced by my appearance was my own.

Major pieces of my self-image have been falling into place the last while – I have work that I enjoy, hobbies to fill my “spare” time, a readiness to try new things, and an assortment of new interests.  The result is that the person I am now bears little resemblance to the person I have been for the past eight-and-a-half years, and that’s a very, very good thing. Despite the providential and beneficial changes taking hold, especially in the last six months, I became increasingly aware of something holding me back, connecting me to my not-so-savoury past, and preventing me from fully embracing the person I was constructing with increasing relish and efficiency. Something was getting in the way, and I came to see that it was my costume.

In the past few weeks I have overhauled my wardrobefirst, to remove any vestiges of the last eight years I’d just as soon forget; second, to make the much delayed transition from student to mature adult; and finally, to have a collection of stylistic choices based on what I wanted to present rather than a desire to fit in. The result has been much like those on the TV show “What Not To Wear”: I feel comfortable, confident, capable and empowered. It seems silly that something as fickle as what I’m wearing can have such profound effect on my self-esteem. I always thought that I was above that, and that simply changing my look would not impact me greatly, but it has.

Much of my insecurity over the years has been that my appearance does not line up with my substance, and the stylistic changes I’ve made have brought the two much closer. I feel much more comfortable in this “grown-up” look, because the things I’ve endured have indeed forced me to grow up, having shaped my perspective beyond what my age might suggest (the fact that I was asked for ID the other day is another matter altogether).  To be sure, this wardrobe makeover of sorts was never about having expensive clothes or fancy things, it was about creating a cover that more accurately portrayed the contents of the book. I was explaining this process to a friend who summed up the expenses as “the cost of progress,” and I agree.

I read a book recently, entitled “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” It was geared more toward company protocol and business practices, but the principles are just as applicable to personal growth and development. One of the key ways to change behaviour, the authors suggest, is to change the environment in which the behaviour takes place. This concept came to mind with regard to viewing myself differently. Before, although I knew I wasn’t the same person, I had little visible indication or confirmation of this. By exchanging my wardrobe for something altogether new, I had a visual reminder that things were different, that I was different. I got my sleeve tattoo for the same reason, with equal result. These positive changes in my disposition and self-esteem, then, affected my interaction with others, further cementing these developments while discontinuing old habits of self-perception.

It’s true, you can’t tell a book by its cover, but every book needs a fitting cover, one from which accurate information can be gleaned. Without it, you have no idea which book you are looking at, or what it’s about. Plus you’d have a bunch of naked books running around.

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6 Responses to This Appearing Act

  1. Way to validate your expensive purchases ;) Should I tell everyone how many pairs of glasses you recently purchased?? Hehe.

  2. jaybrandsma says:

    Three pairs, everyone! The first pair because my eyes have trouble focusing for sustained periods of time due to astigmatism, the second pair as a stylish accessory to my newly-formed wardrobe, and the third because the second pair also came in brown. I regret nothing! Thanks, Cheryl ;)

  3. Lana says:

    Pure brilliance, as always. Unfortunately, the outer appearance is pretty important sometimes. How many times to people tell me, ‘well, you don’t look sick,’ and I’m like, ‘thank you?’, never sure if that’s a compliment or… something else. They don’t see what I know is there. They don’t see pain. They don’t see that ‘uphill fight’ I feel every day. But that’s probably a good thing. Most times. ;) I’d be curious to see your wardrobe overhaul. Perhaps I could call the “What Not to Wear” peeps and ask them to do a show about you?

    • jaybrandsma says:

      Yeah, I get “Well you look completely normal!” and it’s said such that it’s meant to be a compliment, as if to congratulate me on tricking everyone into thinking I was “normal” despite being “abnormal”. Sometimes I’d like to respond with “You look normal too! Good work!”

  4. ris says:

    Lawyers, health and the beauty(?) of not looking “unhealthy”! I hear ya…’tho on a smaller scale health-wise. What is “unhealthy” supposed to look like anyways?! lol Thanks for sharing!

    • jaybrandsma says:

      I guess “unhealthy” is supposed to look the opposite of “normal”? I don’t know who makes up these rules, but they don’t seem to help anyone, do they?

      Thanks for reading :)

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