From a young age, we’re inundated with clichés that we’re told have some sort of meaning or a life lesson in an otherwise unpredictable world. We’re told “do unto others as others do unto you” or “you are what you eat.” Don’t get me wrong, some of these are nice ideas. Like, how great is it to think that the kid who punched you on the playground totally felt that same pain? I mean, maybe you won’t admit it, but I kinda like the idea. Other sayings are out-and-out lies. You are what you eat? I’ll hafta double-check, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the questionable, lukewarm french bread pizza that was served in my middle school cafeteria. Still, nothing is as ideal yet frustratingly naive as the one cliché I’ve heard time and time again. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Once again, love the idea of it, but seriously? How are you gonna put that one into practice? Appearance, and our concern with it, is an institutionalized construct.
The problem is that we teach this little life lesson to children at a young age. More specifically, at the same age that we teach them to be wary of strangers (solid advice) and to look both ways before crossing the street (another classic). The difference is, these are lessons that we tell our children and then force them to practice. There is an actual physical act to looking both ways before crossing the street, but how do you implement a theoretical concept such as not judging?
Furthermore, and perhaps, even more importantly, how much do we believe in not judging a book by its cover? It has become such a standard practice for our society, while at the same time, it is supposed to be counterintuitive to the core values we are taught from childhood. The most frustrating part is that it is an unescapable element of American society. What do I mean by this? Look at some of our standard practices.
For instance, when it comes time for a job interview, what is one of the first things we’re told? Dress for success. Well, if we don’t judge people based on their appearance, what does success look like? The fact of the matter is that “success” has a pre-defined look. It has a look, it has a feel, and most importantly, it has a monetary value. You’ll notice that before an interview, nobody is told “dress how you wanna dress” or “dress like yourself.” You’re very much playing a part in order to secure the job, but just as important as what you say in the interview or your handshake is whether or not you look the part.
The job interview is an interesting example because it’s something that most people go through, whether they want to or not. I think I might be particularly sensitive to this idea of “don’t judge a book by its cover” because of my own sense of self-identification.
A couple things to know about me. I’m about 6 feet tall, maybe a little under. I weigh roughly 175 lbs. Waist size of about 31 inches, maybe 30 on a good day. I tend to keep my hair short, at a half-inch. Oh yeah, and I have tattoos. Now, those are all things that you can tell from looking at me, right?
Now for a few other things. I’m a film student. I love to laugh. I’m a big Batman fan. Like a dutiful Southern boy, I always give up my seat on the el whenever I see someone standing. I always sneeze at least three times in a row.
Which do you think gets me noticed? I can tell ya right now, nobody looks at me and says, “Ya know what? I bet that guy loves to laugh.” Nor do they look at me and say, “Hmm, what waist size do you think he is?” Nope, they see the tattoos. Not only that, but they react to the tattoos. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love kids. I can’t imagine doing a thing to hurt them, but still, every time I walk down the street, you see mothers pull their children closer. And I get it, tattoos are “scary.” It’s a self-identified “cover” of mine, if you will. I actively chose to get tattooed and I don’t regret that decision at all. I also don’t regret the fact that because of these tattoos, the world in all its imperfection and hypocrisy is that much clearer.