Image: When The Mirror is All They See

As I walked into school on Monday, my first day back at school after Easter Break, I was met with smiles, nods and a few “oh my goodness!” comments. Friends came up to me and touched my hair. My new fashion accessory, a pair of ‘funky’ glasses, was passed around and tried on. Some people said they liked my new outfit. Others snickered and looked the other way. At the end of the day, everyone was used to my dyed hair, glasses and new outfit. It felt good to get that kind of attention; to have everyone mentioning something about my new look to me. As I started to leave the school, a teacher stopped me in the hallway. She commented on my hair and glasses and said that she hadn’t recognized me earlier. “So, do you like your new image?” she asked. I was stunned for a moment. New image? I have never considered my outfit a new ‘image’. New look, yes. But an image is so much more than just what you’re wearing.

I walked home very confused that day. I hadn’t considered my hair dyeing a change in my image. The glasses were only for fun, as was my outfit. How could these simple outward changes constitute an image change? Wasn’t I still Lily? Didn’t my friends still see me as a silly-goof? Was I now looked on in a whole new light as a completely new person?

Then I realized. I was being judged, not on who I am, but on what I wear and how I present myself. I admit, it was a scary realization. If I’d known that my entire life, I would’ve taken an extra few minutes in the morning to do my hair, so I’d at least look presentable! And then another realization hit me. If people are judging me on this criteria, then others, if not everyone, are being judged with the same prejudice. It’s a scary thought, I know. I’ve felt it. I still feel it each moment of every day. As a teenager in high school, I am constantly surrounded by my peers. And even though I tell myself that their opinion doesn’t matter to me, deep down I am rooting for their approval.

I am not alone in this conflict. All over the world, teens are experiencing the same feelings. Sure, you can say that you are more than what you wear, but will anyone else accept you as more than your outfit? When it comes down to it, the answer is no. Nowadays, people are nothing more than a suit. It’s not what’s in your heart, it’s what’s on your back. To be a part of the ‘in’ crowd in high school, you have to not only ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’, but you now have to ‘dress the dress’ and ‘look the look’. The inside is not considered when determining the social status of a student. It’s all about how he or she looks. Students who aren’t up on the latest styles may face rejection by those who have adjusted to the constant changes in the fashion world. The entire high school career of a student may depend on the month of August and the ‘Back to School’ sales.

This judgement is not only seen in high school, but also in the adult world. Those applying for jobs have much higher chances of obtaining the position if they are clean-cut and business like. For this reason, the more qualified applicant might not always get the job. In the dating world, those who don’t look ‘right’, might not get the girl.

In all sectors of society, people are being judged on their outward appearance and not on their personal abilities. Not only is this preconception accepted in today’s society, but it is also supported. Clothing companies use the bias of people against them. They produce genres of clothing, knowing that people hoping for social acceptance will buy their clothes and conform to the ‘norm’. This doesn’t just profit the clothes company, but damages those who are wearing the clothes. Their personal styles are hidden. They are not supported in the development of their personal self. If it doesn’t fit to the style-of-the-day, it has to go.

And what happens to those who don’t conform? They are the outcasts of our society. They are the ones who just couldn’t fit the mold created by companies and the media. They dared to be themselves and create their own identity. And, well, we can’t have that can we?

To those who dare to push down others who just want to be themselves: you are lost to the preconception that ‘package’ is everything, but don’t try to drag down those who understand that a gift is more than the wrapping. Sure, presentation is important, but what really matters is what’s on the inside!

Now, when I wake up in the morning I don’t just glance in the mirror and then run out the door. I can’t. Fear of rejection doesn’t allow me to do so. After I glue myself to the mirror for an hour, and decide that I am at last presentable to the world, I leave my home and face my school, my peers, with some confidence, but not much. What if I don’t measure up? What if my outfit just doesn’t cut it? Is my hair up to date? Is my makeup done right? And then I stop worrying. It doesn’t really matter. Because under all the makeup and clothes, under all my masks, I am still the same-old Lily, and no new outfit can ever change that!

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  • Most imaginative approach to topic. Good article.

  • Sure, presentation is important, but what really matters is what's on the inside!" That's true of a person and also of a piece of journalistic writing -- and this one does very, very well on both counts! The writing is excellent (though I'd split the first paragraph and one of the later ones in half -- they get a bit long), and the thought processes explored in the piece are intriguing and mature. A story on a topic such as this can easily turn into a rant at the unfairness of the world, but this one remains focussed and thoughtful.

  • Excellent opinion piece. It really made me think about how we perceive others. By telling your own personal story, you pulled in the reader to a very interesting article.

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