Self-Presentation: Are You Rocking a Tongue Ring or Turtleneck?

What are you telling the world with your style choices?

Regardless of how much time and effort you spend on your clothes, accessories, hair and makeup, you send messages to those around you through the way you choose to present yourself. Who is listening to those messages? Anyone who sees you—friends, parents, children, colleagues, bosses, potential bosses, significant others and potential significant others. 

Self-presentation is about the view of yourself that you choose to give to others. In addition to purely appearance-related aspects, it also includes body language, facial expressions and behavioral choices. While it wouldn’t be emotionally healthy for anyone to make all their aesthetic choices based purely on others’ reactions, you should be aware of the messages you’re sending, and make active decisions about those messages, in order to avoid accidentally presenting yourself in ways you don’t want.

For example, if you wear the popular Victoria’s Secret Pink brand pants with the logo on your butt, is it because you really like the brand, or because you really like people to look at your butt? While some people will see you and assume the first choice, others will see you and assume the alternative. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear them if you like them—but you should be aware that you may be viewed a certain way by some people in some situations.

QUIZ: How's Your Self-Esteem?

Tongue Rings and Turtlenecks

This brings us to the issue of context, and to one of my favorite shows—TLC’s "What Not To Wear." The show advertises that it brings people in need of a makeover “from dowdy to dashing.” So, it’s fun to watch for the fashion. But, the best part is that the hosts always remain true to the individual nature of each participant, and create a personal style that works within the demands of each person’s real life.

For example, a petite 20-year-old graphic designer from New York City arrived with a closet full of nondescript black jeans and white T-shirts, and long pale pink hair. The hosts outfitted her with a wardrobe appropriate for her particular lifestyle and body type.  In an unusual move, they didn’t just let her keep her hair pink, they brightened it and made it fuschia.  This is a great example of self-presentation reflecting the specific context of the individual. Though hot pink hair wouldn’t work for many adults in the work force, it fit her age, location, occupation and personality.

MORE: Best Hair Color for Your Skintone

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