Monday, February 21, 2011

The Self Image

I have made a huge decision.  For me it is huge.  I have decided to let my hair go natural which is most likely... all white.  I have decided this because I have lost a lot of hair and it is a way to avoid all the chemicals of hair color.  It should be simple, but for me, it is a big change.  When I talked to my grandchildren about it, they told me "We cannot imagine you with white hair."  I told them "Neither can I."

Since I was a kid my hair has been dark brown. This is the image of me that countless mirrors in many parts of the world have reflected to me.  Over the years, I started to grow gray hair that came relatively early in my mid thirties.  I guess it was a family thing since I remember my mother and grandmother both with beautiful white hair.  But my grays had an easy fix.  A colorant, and my hair was like it always was before. Dark brown. That went on for a long time.

My "raccoon" self

Over the years, my hair would get thinner until I looked at myself in the mirror one day and thought "I need to put a stop to this."  The result is big white roots and the look of a real life raccoon.  I know, I could have my hair color stripped at the beauty salon but it means more chemicals and that was not acceptable to me.  So I keep it short, cut the dark tips and hope for the best.

Women have been coloring their hair for a long time.  Since Egyptian times there was evidence that they used hair colorant like Henna.  In old Egypt, women spent a great deal of time on elaborate coiffures and wigs;  over the years people wore their hair powdered, gray, propped, curled, long, tied, frizzy or wavy, treated; now we let hair fall mostly unnaturally with the help of many salon experts, products and many colors and additions to choose from.

Here in Colorado many men and women let theirs go gray naturally and the impact is lesser than going  suddenly white like mine.  I can imagine other people looking at me and wondering "What happened?" which brings me to the idea of self image.  I will have to get used to this new woman who will look back at me from the mirror and smile as if I should have known her all my life.  But no, she is new to me and will be new to many others.

How is the image we have of ourselves?  I have had skinny friends who see themselves as fat.  And fat ones who seem to think that they have a slim body.  We create an imaginary self not necessarily anchored in reality who says "hello" to others and walks the streets with us like our own double.

Many women do not like to have their photo taken.  The image they see on paper or on computers does not reflect the idea they have of themselves.  Faced with having to see an image they do not like, they stay far from the lens.

Celebrities like movie stars have a look that is often man-made and the image we see of them in films or on TV is not the one they have once the make up person is gone.  But we like their double and their image stays in our memory.  I have a tendency to imagine friends as they looked to me the last time I saw them, which is pretty far out and wrong.  Many I have not seen for a long time.  I imagine a full grown woman I knew as the lovely child she once was, and never got to rid my self of that image since we only e-mail now.  The same goes for many others that I knew in the past.
"How," I wonder "do they see themselves?"

I once was on the plaza of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and saw a very old lady with jazzy boots and pink leggings, a belt with a riot of rhinestones and a top covered by a glorious design accented with gold and silver.  Her face was made up outrageously with blond hair cascading in curls over her shoulders.  Like a tragic-comic icon, the image stayed with me and I can see that she never accepted her age; her self image was that of a fantastic youth whose looks then beckoned others.

How do you see yourself?  Young, thin, fat, not so fat, hair unchanged even after years of living?  Good even if it is not how others see you?   Bad even if you look fine to your friends?

Do not worry.  Most people are too busy to care truly.  They see us through lenses of friendship or love (bless them) or through distracted lenses while they are busy thinking of something else.  We live at such a hurried pace, forever ahead of ourselves, or focused on children, TV, the phone or the computer; the next meeting, the next presentation, the visit in front of the boss, or what to shop for and cook for the family; we hardly remember the looks of others no matter the care they put into  their self image.  Yet the world seems to demand and market a great look.  Each company battles the other for our infatuation and loyalty.

After all, we dress and use makeup primarily for us.  Or so it should be.  Our length of hair, our haircut or its color should be of no great importance in a world that supposedly would keep its priorities on hearts and feelings, thoughts, discoveries, wisdom and its results.  But as long as our looks matter as greatly as they do in our world, we will keep on getting implants, operations, Botox injections, body enlargements or reductions, hair coloring and clothes to stay ahead of what is only -- a game; and at that, a game perpetuated by big business.

Now, I better go back and get used to that woman who is calling me in the mirror.  After all, she is the real me now.

Copyright 2011 Micheline Brierre
Edited by Barry Kaplan