From the very beginning of childhood we are taught that it is fine to be different. You’ve seen the poster — the one that has 10 kids of all different shapes, sizes and ethnicities on it. They tell you, “don’t worry, everyone is different, but you are all special in your own way.” When someone points out that you are different from everyone else, you cry and tell your mom what happened. She consoles you and assures you that you shouldn’t care what those people think. Well, no offense to your mom, but that advice doesn’t translate into the real world. You should care what people think about you; your success in life may depend on it.
I know some of you are thinking, “My success depends on it? I don’t care what anyone thinks. I do what I want, when I want. I’m a free spirit. Blah, blah, blah.”
Here’s the thing: You do care about what other people think. It’s innate. For example, the need for a community or companionship seems to be inherent. If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you certainly care what they think. If you didn’t, I wouldn’t bet on your relationship lasting too long. You care what your boss thinks of you. You care what your parents think of you. You care what your teachers think of you. You care what your church thinks of you. My point is that you do care.
Further, you have to care what other people think. In order to obtain a job, you are being judged at your interview, thus your employment rests in the judgments of the employer. There is no way around it. Okay, so you don’t care about getting a job because you are planning on starting your own business or something of the like. You will certainly need customers, and they will certainly need to like you to some extent. Unless of course you create a miracle product that no one can live without, you must cater to your customers’ needs through service, thus caring about what your customers think of you. I mean, even our government system is based on what the people think of the candidate. We critically judge each candidate, judge their past, judge their present and speculate about their future. If they appear to be who we want to run our country, then we give our consent.
Niccolò Machiavelli claims that it is “better to appear virtuous than to be virtuous.” He believes, then, that your appearance to others far outweighs your actions. Although I understand that his claim encourages deceit, there is some value to his statement. I can accept that we have created a society that makes us dependent on each other’s judgments of our appearances. Consciously or not, society effects you. Society is usually the reason people bathe regularly, the reason that woman usually shave their armpits and legs and the reason that people squeeze their butt-cheeks together for fear that a fart might squeak out.
I know that even as I close this argument some of you are still holding true to the idea that someone can truly not care what people think about them, and I commend you for your efforts. However, I believe that once you sit down and start to think about it, you will realize that the only way to get anywhere is to befriend and impress people. Unfortunately, your appearance matters. You can deny society for as long as you can afford it, but most of us can’t afford it, and one day our dream of being truly an individual will be extinguished. You don’t need to act as if everything is dependent on appearance, but it seems hypocritical for us to preach individuality and condemn it all at the same time.
It isn’t a terrible thing to care what people think of you. It took me a while to figure out because my mom had told me since I was young that I shouldn’t care what others think. However, there came a time when I became aware that sometimes I was going to have to go against that idea in order for some sort of personal gain. I’m not talking about selling out, I’m talking about having to respect a coach or a teacher that I didn’t necessarily like. I’m talking about dressing up in slacks for an interview, even though I’d be much more comfortable in jeans.
You can embrace your individualism most of the time, but sometimes we all must concede to societal expectations. In the end, if you can’t accept that our society is built around our appearance, then you should pack your things and go into the woods because that is the only place you will escape from the endless cycle.