Image is an extraordinary thing!

January 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Image is powerful.  Look at a picture of Sophia Vergara without makeup and she transforms from funny bombshell to my next-door neighbor with a fancy bag.  Search for images of Lady Gaga without her layers of makeup and gone is the kook, leaving behind a fresh girl-next-door who would easily be overlooked in a thin crowd.  Finally talk to that well-dressed person that you’ve always admired from afar, and once you find that their social manners are wildly crass, the classy image quickly breaks apart into a million fragments.  Image is truly such a powerful thing.

On the flight from Austin to San Francisco yesterday, I watched a Ted MidAtlantic talk by model Cameron Russell.  Her subject was the same, “image is powerful”.  In walked a gorgeous, leggy model in the quintessential short black dress and high heels, and out walked a tall, well-groomed woman in a floral skirt and flat shoes.  Cameron demonstrated the power of “image” by fearlessly transforming herself right on stage (with a wrap-around skirt and pull over top).  Her talk was an act of courage on her part, even presenting pictures of herself as a regular girl without the make-up and as she called it, “construction” of fashion editors, photographers, make-up artists and photoshop wizards.  It is this very power of “image” that many celebrities love to harness and are then either a victim of their own constructions, or spiral into the role-that-lasts-a-lifetime – that of their constructed images, losing their real selves somewhere within!

Image is an extraordinary thing even in real life. The interviewer views a nervous youth, sweating, incoherent and try as he or she does, image overtakes the potential for substance.  The patient meets a badly-groomed doctor and loses faith in their capabilities.  Traveling by cab in San Francisco yesterday, I met a taxi driver from Afghanistan who was chatty from the get-go. I tried ignoring him initially, but his one statement grabbed my attention, “I used to be a reporter for the United Nations, reporting from the rural areas of Pakistan and all over Afghanistan.”  Here was a perfectly articulate man, who probably had a wealth of knowledge that was sadly just slowly scattering away with every new cab ride he undertook.  His story was compelling, his chattiness was annoying especially when it took us down the wrong path.  However, his image stuck in my mind and I even went back to google the veracity of his claims.  Indeed Jermaine Jackson’s current wife is an Afghani lady (who the taxi driver claimed was his cousin.)  I will never know the truth behind his stories, but the image he constructed was powerful and poignant.  Enough to leave an impression on my mind.

Professionals worry about their image all the time.  At my previous company, I was taught to dress for the next level/one position higher.  At a fast-growing silicon valley company where I currently work, “dressing for the part” matters in a different way.  It is about conforming to the culture under the guise of “being yourself”.  No matter the company, though, other aspects of your image do matter.  It takes knowing a person, and being perceptive as an observers yourself, to know the real person under each constructed image.  What’s scary is that marriages may break, jobs can be lost, and lives can be flipped over completely when illusions are shattered.The reality of this world is that image is powerful and that image is the truth. But a truly extraordinary individual is one who can let her or his real personality shine through the constructed image, allowing perceptions to marry reality and hopefully reinforce positive stereotypes for those around them.

How does the world view Cameron Russell now? Swimsuit model with blessed genes or beauty with brains? After all, she carefully allowed the layers of her constructed image peel apart to reveal a new image with her TED Talk! And therein lies the beauty of re-constructing your image!

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