Yesterday I had an interesting experience. I must preface the story by saying that I have been very busy this week with work and have entertained several times at my apartment. As is fairly normal I got to Saturday and felt tired (particularly because I had to work all day Saturday). As I was getting ready in the morning I got a call from my good friend Melany. She was kindly inviting me to come to a play with her in Provo that night. Normally I would jump at the chance to go to a play, and I certainly appreciated the offer; However, there was a side of me that knew how tired I was going to be after working all day and wondered how enjoyable an outing at night would be. I thanked her for the offer and told her that I would have to check with my other friend Melissa as we had talked about doing something that night earlier in the week (we really had).
Later on in the afternoon I got a hold of Melissa and we decided to hang out on Wednesday (yeah!) but then I was faced with a dilemma. I was tired and just wanted to do something relaxing at home, but I appreciated the invite and wanted to spend time with Melany. What to do? I certainly did not want to hurt Melany’s feelings or discourage any future invites. In addition, I added a silly dimension to the decision. Living by myself I know that I must be careful to stay socially active. If I don’t, I have this image of becoming some strange single woman who never comes out of her house but to cackle at the neighbor kids! (I would add has 10 cats except I am allergic but you get the idea). It’s so weird that I add such an image to my decision making but I can’t lie and say that I don’t. I just do not want to get lulled into a lifestyle that I don’t care for, and I know sometimes that means getting pretty and going out with friends when I don’t necessary feel like it.
So, here’s what I did. I called Melany and said:
“Melany, I feel guilty”
“Well, I really appreciate your offer and your thinking of me and in a certain way I feel like I should go out and be social but I’ve just had a really long week and don’t know if I feel up to getting pretty and going out. If it was just a casual movie, dinner or games I might be up for it. I’m sorry”
She laughed and said that she not only understood but was feeling the same way herself. We agreed to do something next week, which I look forward to.
The whole incident has gotten me thinking- do we ever do things not because we want to or care about the activity but to satisfy an image (or to avoid an image). By going out that night its like I could say to the world: “See I’m social. I’m not some weird hermit lady”. This strikes me as a very odd thing to do and to think. Why not participate in activities that you actually enjoy (particularly things in your free time) and not to satisfy some image. Once again I am forced to ask the question- Why do I care what others think? At least I am aware of my tendency and trying every day to lessen the world’s influence over my mind and choices.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. Almost everyone has some image in their heads of what type of person they want to be and do not want to become. I can think of many examples of this like the teenager who pretends to like music and dancing when she actually doesn’t, or the housewife who woefully tries to make bread because she see’s that as fitting the domestic image, the working woman who wears certain make up she wouldn’t normally wear because she thinks it fits the image of a corporate woman, the academic who wears glasses for show because he wants to feel smarter. Why do we do this? I would wager to say that everyone exhibits some behavior like this. If they were truly authentically themselves they would not participate in the activity, but they do it to satisfy an image of some kind.
A part of me wonders if satisfying images is a carry-over from adolescence. There is no time in life when images are more important or more carefully defined than in the high school years. Leading up to high school I went through many friends finally solidifying myself as a drama nerd freshman year. After having been through friends I was not going to let go of the one’s I had gained- and if that meant wearing a shirt a certain way or participating in activities I didn’t care for, than so be it. I remember one time I went bowling with some friends and my brother and sister were surprised. They said “You don’t like bowling?”. I said “I don’t care. My friends will be there so it will be fun”. So, I went and had a good time bowling.
To a certain extent this type of attitude is healthy. If I only did what interested me than I would never experience new things. Many of my favorite activities I enjoy because a friend took the time to introduce me. In some ways it seems to be a tug of war within me- how much do I give of myself to new experiences and how much do I stay true to what I am all about and what I find fulfilling? Also, if I am doing or not doing something to meet some artificial image of what I want or don’t want to be, should I be doing it at all? I don’t know but it seems to be shaky grounds for human behavior. Images are hard to live up to.
Some might say that this type of behavior isn’t a carry-over from adolescence but a result of media. There is some truth to that. There are whole scores of people whose job it is to sculpt images of men and woman of all types in this country. I’ve always been fascinated by how the music industry molds the tastes of American music. One year Latino music is the big rage, another year it is Indie Girl Bands. Through the style of music, fashions worn by the singers, marketing campaigns and concerts given, the music industry not only produces music but says- this is the type of person that should enjoy this type of music. This is what you should be wearing, eating, drinking, doing with your time ect. Why do you think so many singers have fashion lines- Gwen Stafani, Celine Dion and J Lo all come to mind as singers that have done a good job of creating an image for their fans to follow.
Perhaps following images is part of human nature and the media simply feeds into that need to be included and defined. That’s why we are always creating lists for everything. We want to have everything objectified and categorized. I don’t know why? Do any of you?
I am glad that I was taught from an early age that the most important image I can live up to in my life is that of a daughter of God who serves him. In the end, this is the only category or type of person that really matters. In fact, such a knowledge has been the thread that has kept me from diving to strongly into the world and its images. Even though I may worry about becoming the cackling woman who lives alone, I know that this will never happen as long as I serve God and am active in my church. It’s actually quite comforting to know that His is the only image I must strive for and that everything else in life has a way of working itself out. I am grateful for that knowledge and grateful for friends like Melany (and of course my family) that understands me and loves me for me and not for any image I may or may not embody.