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Looks and Personal Identity

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Looks and Personal Identity

Postby heracles » Tue May 23, 2023 8:45 pm

Recently I’ve seen a few photographs of myself that totally devastated me. One was a driver’s license photo and the other a candid photo of me crossing a finishing line at a local race. Both were absolutely awful. It seemed I was in the full throws of geezerhood.

Since then I’ve been able to convince myself, as usual, that it was the lighting, the angle, and the general circumstances in which these were taken, and that my much better---or less awful---looking mirror images were more true to life, by reading some articles and watching several YouTube videos. I suppose I cherry-picked all these to console myself.

At some point, I felt better, as I usually do, and went back to a more positive facial self-image. Everything was fine. I was grossly over-blowing it. Hey! I could pass for 30! I was uniquely, almost disturbingly, youthful! (Of course in the back of my mind, I knew this was probably just another fluctuation, reality would smack me in the face once again, and I’d be due for another round of despair.)

The larger issue is---and there are plenty of people who sneeringly ask this question---“why do I care so much about how I look?” Am I more obsessed about this than most people? Most men? People sneer at “vanity”, yet it doesn’t take much searching to find how many products there are on the market to improve personal appearance, not just to stave off the signs of aging, but for younger people too. Attracting a mate is surely part of this, but I think it’s much deeper and more nuanced than that. I also think blaming it on advertising, media and society is ultimately a copout.
Oprah Winfrey once had Luther Vandross on her show after his radical weight loss. She declared in amazement that he looked like “a completely different person”. No, not the same person who’d just lost a lot of weight, but again, “a completely different person”. After a large weight loss at about 30, my brother made the same comment to me. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something very significant about this perception. I think it’s called “the halo effect”. It’s not just how you’re “seen” by others, but how you’re “felt”, and in some inexplicable way, who you are.

A YouTuber by the name of Danny Mabley did a video on his weight loss journey. He went from looking middle-aged to a youthful 20-something, and yes, it was like he had become a “completely different person”. To me, even his voice and mannerisms seemed younger. Reality, or illusion? Where does outer beauty end and inner beauty begin? I don’t see any easy answer that question. It’s ageless.

Luther Vandross on Oprah
Luther After Weight Loss
My 140 lb Weight Loss
The Halo Effect

Okay. So, what? This is what: most of us want to be seen as the inner self, the inner person, that our body matches. There’s a certain enjoyment, sense of well-being in that experience. If you’ve got looks, you can shrug at this. But you neither know, nor probably care, what it feels like to people who don’t and never have. Or to those who had them but are losing them. When I was young, I scoffed at all these hair transplants and face lifts, but as they say, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”.

Maybe some people don’t feel this at all. Maybe some feel it only a little. But I think a lot more of us feel it much more, despite the tendency of most people to deny it out of the social conditioning that it’s vain and shallow. They are satisfied with the unreflective platitude that “beauty is only skin deep.” I am not.

Will I ever accept my aging face and body? Will I ever be able to re-invent myself? Will I ever be able to accept my new niche in society, as I drift ever further towards its margins? Will I let go of all my old youthful fantasies?

I’m working on it. But it won’t be easy. I’d be a fool to think it will be.
The inner life of the secret schizoid is incommunicable.
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