Needs to find the sources of the physical vibes that I'm giving off.
December 23, 2008 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to alter your physical appearance in a way that will prevent you from being stereotyped (from STRANGERS), without trying too hard or not being yourself?

I'm a petite female, mid-twenties, long hair. You will normally find me in jeans, tee-shirts (or polos, hoodies, or button downs), sneakers, and wearing some kind of hat. These clothes are usually from Gap, Old Navy, AE, or Target. I'm a fan of the color black, gray, and especially blue (regardless of the shade). Sometimes I wear tinted lipgloss. Sometimes I go without a purse. I am a pacer and a fidgeter...or I'm close to dosing off. My eyes are either darting all over the place, or really focused on whatever I'm looking at. I have a pretty deep voice. Out in public, I'm either alone, with my folks, or with my friends (who are actually very feminine!).

When I am out in the public I am sometimes alarmed how I am treated by strangers. This is NOT an everyday thing, but it happens enough that I'm at point where I'm considering changing something about the way I look (or my body language). The funny thing is that it is at one extreme or the other (when I'm not treated normally). I'm either treated like a churchlady*, or like a violent thieving skank whore, depending on the crowd. There has to be some sort of blind spot that I have, because I don't think I come across as either in no way! That's why I listed my physical description, maybe I'm missing something, that someone can point it out.

Treated like a "churchlady" examples: Went to a restaurant/lounge combo last weekend, 21 and up after 8:30, we arrived around 10. The waiter listed a list of popular alcoholic drinks to my all of my friends, but when he came to me he asked me if I wanted water, soda, or tea. That wasn't the first time that this has happend. The question "What church do you go to?" is often the second or third question people ask when meeting me (but they don't do this to my friends). Sometimes when I go to an R-rated movie, I'm asked by the person in the "box", "are you sure you want to see that?".

Treated like a thieve, whore, or violent person examples: Women sometimes cross the street when they see me, get up when a I sit down at a mall bench, or move their purses closer to themselves. I'm followed around in stores (more than the other customers). I was approached TWICE by hotel managers in two different hotels, asking me for identification, when there were dozens of other people in the lobby. Both times, when they found out that I wasn't a guest they threatened to call the cops if I didn't leave right away. Both times it was during a severe thunderstorm, and I was waiting until the weather got better. I know I was semi-trespassing or loitering, but it was strange how they singled me out like that. When I go to clubs, despite that my female friends like to dress in short skirts and go-go boots, I get approached (not them) by guys who try to feel up my shirt or down my pants and sometimes talk pretty dirty/sexual to me.

I have some pretty concrete examples, so this cannot be paranoia. Plus, there are times that I am treated normally, I think if I'm being paranoid I would be "experiencing" the above all the time, not sometimes. But, even "sometimes" is too much for me, I don't want to be treated like something I'm not, ever. I could see how people can assume those things about me once they get to know me a little (I'd rather not go into that), but not just by looking at me.

*No offense to church ladies! I used to be quite religious myself, but I'm not anymore. I don't want to be treated like one since I'm not one.
posted by sixcolors to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (53 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
My first impression is: do you look really young? All of the following can be attributed to people thinking you're a lot younger than you actually are:
- Not being offered alcohol
- People checking you really want to see an R film
- Being asked for ID (young people hanging around somewhere they're not supposed to be might "cause trouble")
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:31 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: My guess is that you stand out in the crowds that you're in. You don't "belong." Your friends dress more feminine and provocative, so you're inferred as the conservative one in the bunch (hence, "where do you go to church?"). Hotels generally have well-dressed businesspeople/travellers in the lobby (depending on the hotel, I guess), and you dress casually. You look younger than your friends (petite and dress less adult-like) so you're perceived as too young to drink/see R movies. You might even be perceived as a boy by strange women. Followed around in stores - are you non-white? Re: men in clubs - for some reason you seem easier to approach than your friends, who may be perceived as more likely to reject men because of their appearance.
posted by desjardins at 2:32 PM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I am a pacer and a fidgeter...or I'm close to dosing off. My eyes are either darting all over the place, or really focused on whatever I'm looking at.

Oh, and this is really unnerving to a lot of people. If you're in a hotel lobby and you seem really nervous and unsettled, in addition to being less well-dressed, perhaps they think you're a pickpocket.
posted by desjardins at 2:34 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


you don't say what race you are (which means you're probably white) or where this is all happening, and that might factor in to things, but as EndsofInvention said, what you interpret as "church lady" sounds like you looking really young to people. my 32-year-old friend had a dude tell her to put her cigarette out on the street last night; that kind of thing happens a lot because she looks like she's in middle school or high school.

I am a pacer and a fidgeter...or I'm close to dosing off. My eyes are either darting all over the place, or really focused on whatever I'm looking at.

yeah, as desjardin says this kind of behavior reads as criminal—that or drug addict. it's not what you're wearing, it's how you're physically behaving.
posted by lia at 2:40 PM on December 23, 2008


I don't want to be treated like something I'm not, ever.

Are you familiar with the serenity prayer and the concept of confirmation bias? Because I think you'll feel better if you come to accept that the way we are treated by other people is largely beyond our control, and that it's very easy to draw distressing and erroneous conclusions from occasional upsetting encounters.

This is NOT an everyday thing, but it happens enough...

Focusing on all those times when you're not treated like a madonna or a whore will help you break the illusion that other people's errors are something you should be able to control.

I could see how people can assume those things about me once they get to know me a little (I'd rather not go into that)

Best way forward, then, would be to work on changing those aspects of your behaviour toward other people (as opposed to your appearance) that make this the case.

If you change how you look without changing how you view the world, you are essentially adopting a disguise; and people generally have pretty good disguise radar, and disguised people often present as untrustworthy. Focus on making yourself into a person that you would be happy to hang out with, and don't sweat the look so much.
posted by flabdablet at 2:46 PM on December 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Many of your previous questions address you feeling as though you are being perceived as you do not want to be perceived. I have found that as I have gotten older and become more accepting of myself as I am, this has been less important to me.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:12 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


get up when a I sit down at a mall bench, or move their purses closer to themselves.

This isn't unusual at all, in my opinion, just something people do.

Women sometimes cross the street when they see me,

That's a bit weirder. How often is sometimes? I agree with previous comments that nervous, flighty body language might make other people uncomfortable.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:14 PM on December 23, 2008


I don't want to be treated like something I'm not, ever.

Then completely cease all contact with humans, forever.

For good or bad people form ideas about people at first sight, and the only way around that is to not be in their presence.

Otherwise learn to cope.
posted by splice at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, petite women - particularly young-looking petite women - get mistreated a lot by women who are jealous and men who are bullies. The best advice I can give you is just to be assertive in these situations, which is understandably difficult when you've already been put on the spot by being singled out.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


People will stereotype you no matter what- based on a million things beyond your control. But yes, pacing and fidgeting you can surely control. I also have a friend who looks very, very young. Subtle changes in make-up/ dress can take care of that. Other than that try to always remember that-
1. Such comments from these people reflect more on the kind of people they are rather than what you are doing right /wrong or the kind of impression you give.
2. Change your response to the comments and try not to change you.


P.S. For the church comment, if I were you, I'd be very tempted to say something to the effect of,' Church? Heck no! I am an atheist (or xyz, whichever has more shock value)'.
posted by xm at 3:22 PM on December 23, 2008


I think a lot of it is that you probably look young, not that you seem really conservative.
I am also petite, and when I used to have long hair, I got treated like that, too. I didn't wear makeup, and dressed pretty plainish. I got hassled by managers at music venues that I was well old enough to be in, and once I was 21, got skeptical looks from bartenders when I handed them ID.

Now I have short hair and wear a tiny bit of makeup, and get treated like my actual age, sometimes older!

I wonder if guys in clubs treat you that way because you're small and they're creeps. It seems that small women tend to attract creeps a lot (this has been my experience), maybe because creeps think it's going to be easier to intimidate a small girl?

The mall bench thing and the purse thing seem normal. A lot of people just move their stuff because they become more conscious/concerned about it taking up too much space for others to have room to sit.
posted by fructose at 3:27 PM on December 23, 2008


Or, what InspectorGadget said.
posted by fructose at 3:27 PM on December 23, 2008


I have some pretty concrete examples, so this cannot be paranoia.

I disagree. You have concrete examples of peoples actions. You have no concrete examples of what people are thinking. Unless someone said, "Hey criminal looking girl, I'm moving my purse because you're giving me the willies," you don't know that it was about you.

This sounds more like confirmation bias than anything.
posted by 26.2 at 3:31 PM on December 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, petite women - particularly young-looking petite women - get mistreated a lot by women who are jealous and men who are bullies.

I second this. My special lady friend is quite petite and she really gets pushed around a lot, which has led to more than a few fairly uncomfortable encounters if I'm around when it happens. My answer for you is that the vast majority of people are stupid assholes and you needn't bother with what they think.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:36 PM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


What I find so very strange is that you are so very certain that this is NOT paranoia.. You're a little too certain.

If I kept thinking people were acting funny around me, I'd start to wonder if I were just making it up. I'd start to worry that I'm not perceiving things correctly, that it's me who's messed up, not everyone else... But you? You make it very clear that that is most certainly not the case, that this cannot just be something in your mind.

Probably one reason you felt it so necessary to stress that this can't be flawed perception on your part is that you've asked several other questions similar to this one where you've been told that you're probably perceiving things incorrectly. You've been told in the past that what you're saying doesn't sound right, and you've rejected that possibility so adamantly that you knew you had to make it clear in this question that this can't possibly be the explanation.

But all this makes it seem all the more likely that you are paranoid.

I don't think a person with unflawed perceptions would be so sure that they're okay. I think the normal response is to question oneself before questioning the nature of the world or a large portion of the rest of humanity. So even though you probably wanted to make people less likely to say you probably are not interpreting interactions correctly, your insistence just made me all the more likely to say that you're not interpreting interactions correctly.

This does not seem to be a problem with how people perceive you. This is a problem about how you understand other people. Stop phrasing the question as, "What can I do to get other people to stop xing?" The question, instead, should be, "Why do I keep interpreting other people as xing?"
posted by Ms. Saint at 3:38 PM on December 23, 2008 [11 favorites]


How do you wear your hair? I have seen some girls dressed very preppy (Gap, Old Navy, AE) but still putting off a troublemaker vibe with the right hairstyle. I'm thinking a high, tight ponytail. Dark lipstick can help this, as can being with 2-3 other girls that look similar. Seemingly shifty or narrowed eyes would add to this impression.
posted by soelo at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: First off I think you have to accept that as a young looking 20 something woman, a lot of this is just par for the course. I'm 26 and the other day a cab driver asked me if he was taking me to class, not to a college class, but high school class. I get carded EVERYWHERE I go and have frequently been forced to sit and repeat my address back to bouncers multiple times in a row.

The best thing you can probably do is dress nicer and especially where nicer shoes and a nicer coat. I would ditch the tennis shoes for ballet flats or boots and wear something like a pea coat. It's hard to look too scummy that way and it also will generally elevate you about high school student. I emphasize generally.

You really can't do anything about the men at clubs. Guys like that are pigs whose behavior can't be controlled by you. If anything the toned down clothes might serve as a challenge to them, but really just tell them off and accept that their bad behavior isn't your fault.

And if you have to fidget, fidget with your phone or ipod.

I have no idea what to tell you about the church thing. Honestly, it may just have something to do with where you live. You don't mention any religious jewelry, so I assume you aren't wearing a cross or a WWJD bracelet. So I can't be too much help there, but losing the tshirt and jeans everyday combo might help that. I have noticed that the churchy type (as in evangelicals) do tend to flock toward this sort of generic way of dressing (no offense). Of course it's so nondescript I can't imagine someone jumping to that conclusion based purely on the tshirt and jeans combo.

You might want to get a more stylish haircut (if you don't already have one), that can both age you a little and make you look a little less "little house on the prairie". Of course I don't actually know if your hair is so long that it would send those signals, but very long hair is sometimes a trademark of very conservative christians.

I would also start wearing a niceish purse all the time. You see far more teenage girls without purses than you do grown woman and with the jeans/tshirt/tennis shoes combo already, this probably only makes you look younger.

Makeup can also make you look older, but you have to decide whether that's worth the effort. I wear makeup because I don't have the greatest skin at certain times of the year, but I have found that when I don't wear makeup I get more weird comments about my age and carded even more (seriously do under 21ers really buy single bottles of pinot grigio?).
posted by whoaali at 3:43 PM on December 23, 2008


A photo of you might help, as the clothes you say you're wearing could read very differently depending on cut (feminine or masculine?), fit (whether they're tight or loose), age (if they're getting on or brand new-looking) etc. I definitely found I was treated more suspiciously when I was in an androgynous phase and when people were mistaking me for a boy -- but I'm not talking regular girlie hoodies, and my hair wasn't long, and I was interested in subverting gendery things and my walk wasn't too feminine and nor was the way I held myself. People just read me as "boy" and rushed to check my backpack as I left stores in a way they never checked women's handbags, even if they were big. You could fall into the same camp; or you might not, it's hard to say.

If you are being read as a boy on some of these occasions, chances are you're being read as younger than you are (since a guy of your age would big bigger and not so girly looking). Even if you're being taken as a girl, my guess is you're being read as younger than you are. Since I struggle with the same problem (I'm reading this out of interest for myself too), I don't have much to offer, but my suspicion is that it's a matter of sexual representation: kids can look fairly androgynous up to a certain age, wearing jeans and hoodies and non-gendered clothing like you're doing, but once people hit an age where they're relationship-ready, they generally start shifting either into more masculine or more feminine ways of dressing and moving and styling their hair and whatnot. The style and behaviour people take on as a woman or a man are in opposition to one another (typical things people expect when they think "man" vs "woman", y'know: men are rough, women are graceful; men are big and kinda square, women are littler and curvy; men are casual, women are prissied up; etc) in a way your style of dress may not be respecting, with the result being, if you don't follow enough of these in combination, that you'd get read as not belonging to either of these categories - ie, are instead being read as younger girl or boy.

Possible? Like I say, hard to say, not actually having seen you out terrorising the masses...
posted by springbound at 3:48 PM on December 23, 2008


PS: I should qualify by "relationship-ready" I mean "adult", though I in no way mean to imply that I agree one equals the other: I only mean that sexual or romantic availability is generally involved in matters of separating out girls from women and boys from men. Sorry for ambiguous shorthand.
posted by springbound at 3:57 PM on December 23, 2008


Just a quick look at your last few questions might provide some insight.

"I am very skeptical of authrority. I am also the type of person who would do almost anything for a thrill."

Were I a hotel manager, and I got the sense that someone in my lobby was unpredictable, a thrill seeker, and iffy about authority, I'd probably encourage them to leave.

Were I in a club, and I got the sense that the woman I was talking with was a thrill-seeker, (and were I the kind of guy who would make such advances), I might make an advance of the kind you describe.

I am a complete germaphobe, ... I wash my hands around 20 times a day.

Were I a waiter or ticket sales person, and I got the sense that my customer dealt with OCD issues, I might offer them "safer" options.

I'm not saying that any of these responses are valid, nor am I saying that you are entirely responsible for other people's poor behavior.

What I am saying is that it's not all that surprising that a person might hold their purse a little closer when next to someone who identifies as an anti-authoritarian thrill seeker. Or that a person would assume you might be uptight (which many people correlate with OCD) and make the jump that you might be religious.

If you genuinely are an ODC, anti-authoritarian, thrill seeker, the source of other people's perceptions might not only be of their own making.
posted by ochenk at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


It seems that small women tend to attract creeps a lot (this has been my experience), maybe because creeps think it's going to be easier to intimidate a small girl?

And/or maybe because some creeps (and even non-creeps) may be insecure about their masculinity (esp. their height) and seek the sharp contrast of a tiny woman to make them feel physically larger.
posted by applemeat at 4:06 PM on December 23, 2008


My first reaction to this post is, are you me? Me twenty years ago, that is!

In college I used to get the "What church do you go to?" a lot. It was always, always, always a proselytizing come-on, as I am an atheist and not afraid to say so.

As for being followed around in stores, etc. - this happens to me much less now that I'm older, but I'd guess I started complaining about it when I was in my early teens and it persisted well into my thirties. I'm going to second all the comments about size, ethnicity, fidgeting, and looking young - I'm petite, of unusual ethnicity, a fidgeter, and have always looked a good deal younger than I am, so I think these are all things that attract unwelcome attention.

Bottom line: their problem, not yours. One of the great things about getting older is that these things bother me less now (or I don't notice them at all), but when I was your age, I felt much as you do.
posted by chez shoes at 4:17 PM on December 23, 2008


When waiters ask you that its because you dont look 21. Everything else is confirmation bias. Your posting history shows an unhealthy obsession about what others think about you, what others are thinking, how to deal with others, how to act in basic social situations, etc. See a doctor and find a better treatment for your OCD. Getting off your meds without trying new ones was a mistake and these thoughts all stem from untreated OCD. I think you need to realize that metafilter cannot treat these issues.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:30 PM on December 23, 2008 [27 favorites]


FWIW, I live in the midwest and people have asked me about my church several times. Im not religious. I dont go to church and politely tell them so. I dont feel the need to shock elderly or overly-religious people who have a different concept of our shared culture and make well intentioned bad assumptions.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:34 PM on December 23, 2008


"get up when a I sit down at a mall bench, or move their purses closer to themselves."

This is totally normal for anyone.

"The question "What church do you go to?" is often the second or third question people ask when meeting me (but they don't do this to my friends)."

I think they may also ask your friends, it just may not be as notable to them since they haven't recently become much less religious, as your history suggests you have. Furthermore, if you live anywhere even remotely southern (or even rural depending on the part of the country, or even in certain ethnic neighborhoods) this is completely to be expected.
posted by Jahaza at 4:40 PM on December 23, 2008


Response by poster: Thanks for the responses you guys. I find most of them quite insightful.

I admit there is a subtext in this question, and several of my past "impression" posts. The subtext was finally addressed today, well one of the subtexts. There are several things about myself I'd rather not mention in my "impression" threads yet, because I think it will completely derail threads. One of the traits is physical, the other two, not-so-physical.

I'm going to start dressing nicer, watching my body language, and see what happens. If things don't change, I think the next step will be changing the places I hang and some of the people I hang out with.
posted by sixcolors at 4:45 PM on December 23, 2008


Do you wear specs? It can make a difference. I look younger than I am, and look either like a stereotypical 'shhhh'-ing librarian or a slut, depending on my outfit - stop giving a crap, either way, and you'll be fine. If you have a legitimate reason to be in those hotel lobbies then act like it, and who cares what the managers think? Do you carry a book with you? Reading can assist greatly in the 'ignore me! Im ignoring you and only here because I have to be!' game.

From this and your previous questions I surmise that you're frequently uncomfortable, which can and does make you paranoid - stop it! Start accepting that you have a right to be wherever you want or need to be, regardless of how you're dressed, and people will treat you accordingly. Stop acting nervous and be the strong woman who can carry herself in any situation.

And if any guy, in a club or elsewhere, feels you up and you don't like it? Kick his arse - yell "hey fuckwit did I say you could touch my boob?" and elbow him in the groin. Own your space.
posted by goo at 4:53 PM on December 23, 2008


Best answer: Back in college I fit your description to a T--petite, slightly younger looking, fidgety, less conventionally "chipper"/gregarious-looking, dressed casually/tomboyish--and people treated me in a very similar way--as either a stuffy shut-in conservative bookworm or a shady pickpocket ruffian. Or, to sleazebags, a girl who was an easy target for sexual harassment. I'd go into stores and I could tell the staff were monitoring me, thinking I was going to shoplift. Certain people, often "professionals"/yuppies, when encountering me with my friends, would be normal to them and, baffling enough (my friends would say so afterward in private), icy or downright rude to me. Strangers, waitstaff, whoever would act condescendingly to me. New acquaintances would chortle when I alluded to doing the things any college kid my age would do such as go out for a drink or attend a show or party.

I think part of it was body language--I was never as at ease as the friends I was with so I probably came across as nervous, which can be perceived as a warning sign to some--and most of it was just not quite fitting into the scene of people around me. For a while I lived entirely in my head and was totally oblivious to body language and sexual signals, so apparently I was missing the entire show right before my eyes all day every day. People can tell when you're not participating in that, and I think it puts them off. And yes, people may be uneasy because they perceive you as a kid that hasn't grown up.

So. It's bullshit, but I've noticed and still believe that a young woman supposedly in her "prime" (20s) dating-wise is seen as suspect or odd or shady if she doesn't conform to a lot of the feminine trappings of any current social climate--I'm not talking feminine like 1950s lady dresses and pumps necessarily, but if something about your look implies you're under the radar/not in tune with sexual meat market currents, nor facilely "mature" in the "career woman" molded way, something's off. I'm not talking dressing like a sorority girl or clubber or whatever either. But people can just tell when you're totally unaware, oblivious to all of that stuff, and it unnerves them. Even supposedly hipster or nerdy girls can still convey their sexual awareness, albeit in a different mold, but if you're not doing anything period in any recognizable way to be a part of that, and you're in a 20something social atmosphere or supposed to be, people will act confused and a little provoked. It's total crap but I firmly believe some of the treatment I got in college was because of this sexism. I know there may be people here who, if they read this, will think I'm being paranoid and shrill, and that it must've been something more straightforwardly unbecoming about me and less vague and unbecoming about people in general. But think about it and you may get an "a-ha!" moment for yourself, hopefully.

It also follow that people who want to prey sexually on a woman's vulnerabilities will be drawn to this, thinking you're just naive or something, or maybe out of lust for what they perceive as novel. I got hit on in very scary, unnervingly sleazy ways by men who were themselves Odd and maladjusted, and looking back I think it was the same sort of attitude towards me as the above, and were just channeling their response to it in a different but still crappy way. I also think they think that since you're so out of it in the pheromone game if they pull shit with you that'd get them slapped by a normal-seeming lady you won't call them on it in the same way, because you're so unprepared to deal with conventional sexual interaction (not the actual physical act, but the "courtship" game) and maybe less jaded, more easily caught by surprise.

Man. Remembering all of this is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I moved cities and fell in love for the first time after all of this, and gradually it stopped happening. People are still facile of course, but it's in a more understandable and random way--some women will never be able to do more than thinly veil their intolerance towards my unfemmy wardrobe, but whatev to that. I have no problem with the way things are now--it feels a lot more normal, like everyone goes through it. But those college years were something else.

Are you depressed, nervous, or scared? Sometimes people can pick up on that too. Not to assume things about you--just throwing more ideas out there. But I really do think it had to do with a sort of upset response from society in general towards my "nope, not gonna play this round" sentiment towards conventional sexual signaling just as I was supposed to be playing it all up as a sweet young thang. (eye roll) And I was never snobby or openly derisive about these things--my heart just wasn't into participating myself 'til a little later than expected. Hm.
posted by ifjuly at 5:09 PM on December 23, 2008 [14 favorites]


And, I know it sounds kinda terrible, but it might help initially - think of yourself as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, shopping on Rodeo Drive - I'm here, I have money to spend, and fuck you all. It's your problem, not mine.
posted by goo at 5:10 PM on December 23, 2008


How long is "long" hair? Shoulder-length or way down your back? Is it styled in anyway or just hanging there, with un-trimmed ends?

Are your jeans, sweatshirts, etc, oversized? Tattered and worn?

What kind of hats are you wearing? Baseball hats pulled down?

Do you wear any makeup or jewelry?

I'm trying to ascertain whether you are generally unkempt looking. This, combined with the sketchy-seeming behavior you describe (darty eyes, half-closed lids, fidgeting), would definitely make people nervous.

If this is how you dress, that combined with your hyper-sensitivity about people's impressions of you would make me think that you're very insecure -- this is probably the vibe you give off that makes you seem young, and easy prey for proselytizers (what church do you go to?) and skeevy guys.

You say your friends dress "more feminine than you." If so, in comparison, I think you would appear like the young friend or the insecure friend, especially if by "feminine" you mean "trashy," eg, cleavage, tight clothes, too much makeup (this is a wild guess based on your comment about maybe getting different friends).

It certainly never hurt anyone to dress better or more toward "normal," but you'd probably be better-served attending to your interior issues, like pretty much everyone else has suggested.
posted by thebazilist at 5:27 PM on December 23, 2008


In other words, I second what ifjuly said.
posted by thebazilist at 5:30 PM on December 23, 2008


Best answer: Without seeing any photos, it sounds like what you're wearing may be making you look a little young and "hoody." The "Gap, Old Navy, AE, Target" look, if not carefully curated, will make pretty much anyone appear as though they went shopping in a cheap strip mall in suburban St. Louis. Those retailers' clothing tends toward two extremes—fitted and shapeless—and both extremes can be unflattering, especially given that those retailers' clothes are often made of poorly dyed, poorly cut, touch-it-and-it-falls-apart, extra-stretchy cotton-poly blends. Also, many of these clothes often have cheaply printed "worn" logos or images on them that immediately make twentysomething wearers look like overgrown teenagers.

Even if you're choosing the cream of the crop from those stores, a wardrobe that doesn't deviate from what they have to offer in jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, polos and shoes will often make you look, well, like you only shop in those stores.

Also, if your hair is long but doesn't have much of a style to it and/or has a lot of broken or split ends, people may unconsciously be seeing you as less "together." A more angular (or at least better-defined) haircut, shoulder-length or shorter, will make you look more adult and (paradoxically) more feminine.

desjardins basically has it, I think: It sounds like what you're wearing is "middle-of-the-road" or "average" enough that nicely dressed people think you're a hood, provocatively dressed people think you're frumpy or "churchy," and service people think you're a kid.

If I were you, I'd visit thrift stores around the area to try on and/or purchase a variety of nicer styles at a much lower price than you'd pay to get them from big-box stores like the ones you mention. Then mix and match those clothes with your current wardrobe to see what works for you. You can look "professional" and "adult" and still wear T-shirts and jeans every day—if those T-shirts and jeans are cut right and look a little "nicer" and are perhaps finished off with a little blazer or sweater, nice shoes and tasteful jewelry. It just sounds like you need to work on upgrading your wardrobe to better reflect your adult status and aspirations.
posted by limeonaire at 5:39 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is your long hair unusually long, like to the waist? If so, I'm wondering if your hair is saying "very religious" to some people and "shifty and unkempt" to others.
posted by lemuria at 5:43 PM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Do you wear specs?

Nope. I was thinking about wearing some. After reading your reply, maybe not.

How do you wear your hair? I have seen some girls dressed very preppy (Gap, Old Navy, AE) but still putting off a troublemaker vibe with the right hairstyle. I'm thinking a high, tight ponytail.

I usually wear it hanging down or in a low ponytail. My hair is dark (naturally) and long.

How long is "long" hair? Shoulder-length or way down your back? Is it styled in anyway or just hanging there, with un-trimmed ends?

Half way down my back. Sometimes straight, sometimes curly, sometimes a tad frizzy...depending on the weather. It's usually just hanging there. I don't remember the last time I trimmed it. I was assuming that things were looking okay back there, I'll ask someone close, if it is uneven I'll trim it.

Are your jeans, sweatshirts, etc, oversized? Tattered and worn?

No. However I don't wear them super tight like most girls do.

What kind of hats are you wearing? Baseball hats pulled down?

Ski caps, baseball caps, and one fedora. And, NOOOO you all, I am not the "fedora guy"!

Do you wear any makeup or jewelry?

Tinted lipgloss. I wear small silver hoops or balls/studs, depending on the mood.

Back in college I fit your description to a T--petite, slightly younger looking, fidgety, less conventionally "chipper"/gregarious-looking, dressed casually/tomboyish--and people treated me in a very similar way--as either a stuffy shut-in conservative bookworm or a shady pickpocket ruffian. Or, to sleazebags, a girl who was an easy target for sexual harassment. I'd go into stores and I could tell the staff were monitoring me, thinking I was going to shoplift. Certain people, often "professionals"/yuppies, when encountering me with my friends, would be normal to them and, baffling enough (my friends would say so afterward in private), icy or downright rude to me. Strangers, waitstaff, whoever would act condescendingly to me. New acquaintances would chortle when I alluded to doing the things any college kid my age would do such as go out for a drink or attend a show or party....ETC ETC ETC

My friends think I am utterly asexual. Not true, I just don't like to be all that sexually expressive, except for verbally.

And yes, I used to be completely oblivious to flirtation and other sexual behaviors. I'm getting better but I have ways to go.
posted by sixcolors at 5:44 PM on December 23, 2008


And don't forget that people of all shapes and sizes get stereotyped.

If overnight you transformed into a different body, you'd still get stereotyped - just different ones.
posted by Xhris at 6:00 PM on December 23, 2008


Response by poster: That's cool Xhris (and those who made similar replies above) and I know that's part of life, but these specific stereotypes impact my life a whole lot. And if there's anything I can do about it, I want to try it.
posted by sixcolors at 6:04 PM on December 23, 2008


Here you were asking how to stereotype others based on small clues. You might try not doing that, since for me at least, the more I judge others, the more I think others are judging me.

Also, I think jessamyn's point applies to this question.

You can live life caring about this stuff, or you can work on not caring about it. What is it about people making these assumptions that is so painful to you?
posted by salvia at 6:10 PM on December 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Skip the hats and I think you'll cut this problem in half. Hats (that aren't really sharp) are a sure sign you're trying to hide. That says different things to different people (prude, shoplifter...), but unfortunately none of the things it says will make them treat you well.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:18 PM on December 23, 2008


Response by poster: What is it about people making these assumptions that is so painful to you?

Short answer. It's getting in my way of me getting laid and getting paid. Well, I can get both, but not at my standards. Those things matter a lot to me, and I'm sure those things matter a lot to many people.

I got my first job three weeks ago, since 2004. I've sent in numerous applications and resumes to have employers act completely uninterested when I go to interviews.

As for my love life, at the rate I'm going I will wind up someone like my father or even worse, my grandma. Remember what I said about my father, well my grandma was twice as bad. I have not posted about her because she pretty sick now, and have mellowed out a ton.

I believe not investigating something that impacts my life so much, would be irresponsible and immature.
posted by sixcolors at 6:29 PM on December 23, 2008


I'm wondering if your hair is saying "very religious" to some people and "shifty and unkempt" to others.

I'll second this.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:06 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe not investigating something that impacts my life so much, would be irresponsible and immature.

In reading this as yet another variation on the same theme as most of your other questions, I think the thing that is impacting your life so much is an intense hyper-concern with both how you are judged and how you judge others. This seems to be stemming from a rather significant level of self-consciousness and insecurity. Examine that, with the goal of becoming more accepting/compassionate toward yourself and others, and I predict that 90% of these external dramas will disappear, and the remaining 10% will be far more manageable and less upsetting for you.
posted by scody at 7:10 PM on December 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Man, this used to happen to me all the frickin' time in my late teens through mid-20s. I even got accused of shoplifting numerous times when I was perfectly innocent and had money in my wallet. It sucked and was definitely not in my head, but I did some things to my appearance that helped if I knew I was going to be in a situation where I needed to make a good impression (ie. a job interview).

In a nutshell:
-good haircut and well groomed and styled hair
-big girl purse (no backpack, chain wallet or ratty tote bag)
-big girl jewelry (no nose ring, choker necklaces, jelly bracelets)
-nice shoes (no sneakers, flip flops or scuffed up men's combat boots)
-nice fingernails. you don't need a manicure or long nails, but no chipped blue nailpolish
-Ditch the hats. There's a perception that ladies in hats are crazy. I know, it's stupid.

Most importantly pay attention to your posture, body language and eye contact. Don't slouch and skulk around like you don't belong somewhere, stand up tall and proud. Hold your head up, look people directly in the eyes.

I think you just need to cultivate your own personal style that will allow you to express yourself without misrepresentation.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:56 PM on December 23, 2008


Short answer. [People making these assumptions is] getting in my way of me getting laid and getting paid. Well, I can get both, but not at my standards. Those things matter a lot to me, and I'm sure those things matter a lot to many people

Then you have to raise your standards for how you look and act. Other people do it every day. You have some idea how to look nicer. Start.

It is like complaining about failing math tests but admitting you never study. Start studying!
posted by Monday at 8:23 PM on December 23, 2008


There are several things about myself I'd rather not mention in my "impression" threads yet, because I think it will completely derail threads. One of the traits is physical, the other two, not-so-physical.

If I understand you right and you're hiding physical attributes and/or personality quirks from us in several threads now about first impressions, you're doing yourself a disservice by harming the usefulness of your answers. If you have ginormous cans or you're an amputee or you have full-sleeve tattoos or you're currently on a cocktail of antidepressants—well, any of these things would be super relevant in the impressions you make on people (or the impressions you imagine you make).

To be clear, I don't want to pry or suggest that you should share any private details that you don't want the internets to know (though next time you could ask anonymously!). But if I asked Metafilter about a dispute with my neighbor but kept left out the fact that—oh, by the way, I ran over his dog last week but I didn't want that to cause a derail!—I might end up getting the answers that I want to hear or ones that make perfect sense in my mind own mind, but all those answers would be missing a huge piece of the puzzle.
posted by rafter at 8:59 PM on December 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


To answer the question you asked, though:

Friend-of-a-friend: What church do you belong to?
Sixcolors: What makes you ask?

Security guard: May I look inside your bag, ma'am?
Sixcolors: I'm sorry, was I doing something suspicious?

Waiter: Would you like soda or are you fine with just water?
Sixcolors: Come on, don't I look twenty-one to you?!

Striped shirt at a bar: Oh baby you've got legs that just won't quit, etc.
Sixcolors: Sod off!
posted by rafter at 9:52 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Smile more. Wear a face that says you smile a lot. Learn exactly how to smile at people in the way that says "I'm harmless" (yes, this is a variation on "these are not the droids you're looking for", and it works).

Eye contact is important. When to do it, when not. Some places, eye contact makes you look uncertain, like you're looking for reassurance. This telegraphs that you don't belong. Other places, it just says "Hi, I'm me".

The alleged 'creeps' in clubs could be just that. Or, they could be socially inept guys that see you less threatening, perhaps less judgemental, then they display their ineptitude. Mind, I'm speaking strictly from gay experience, but I've had some very nice times with guys that started out creepy, but only needed a smile and to be told to slow down.
posted by Goofyy at 10:08 PM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I third (fourth?) the suggestion that you should consider getting your hair cut. You don't need something high-maintenance, but way-down-the-back, trimmed-I-don't-know-when, doing-its-own-thing hair definitely sends off some social cues that would explain some of the behavior you're encountering. It probably makes you look out of it, socially, which some people seem to interpret at "sheltered conservative", some as "kid", and some as "sketchball."

Just think about getting it cut to around your shoulder or higher, and getting it trimmed at least several times a year. When it gets split ends it needs a trim to stay healthy and strong anyway, so it's not just for social apperances.

I'm sorry to sound so judgmental, I'm just trying to recreate what strangers may think upon making snap judgments.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:38 PM on December 23, 2008


Is it possible to alter your physical appearance in a way that will prevent you from being stereotyped (from STRANGERS), without trying too hard or not being yourself?

Generally speaking, no. In the grand line graph of things that are possible/impossible or easy/hard, it's easier to stop thinking that you're being stereotyped than to adopt a look that is unstereotypable. I know that this may seem counterintuitive to you. However, if your appearance is really as mainstream as you put it, the issue as I see it lies more in your hypersensitivity to the things that people say to you, combined with your feeling that you could, if you just found the right combination of look/attitude, overcome this. Other people as a general group of unknowables are impossible to completely game just by trying harder.

There are several things about myself I'd rather not mention in my "impression" threads yet, because I think it will completely derail threads. One of the traits is physical, the other two, not-so-physical.

If you have a physical trait that you think will "totally derail threads" and you're not mentioning it, indeed haven't mentioned it in all your posts to AskMe, I'm feeling a little like it's the elephant in the room here.
posted by jessamyn at 6:19 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the grand line graph of things that are possible/impossible or easy/hard, it's easier to stop thinking that you're being stereotyped than to adopt a look that is unstereotypable.

This is an excellent point; even if you do follow all the advice here, there are still some people who will stereotype you. You can't become invisible, which is not what you seem to want anyway. If you dress more feminine and upscale, some women will see you as snobbish or materialistic. You might get more attention from men, or they might consider you unapproachable. Conservative people might see you as too worldly. Basically, you can't please everyone all the time.

I have an obvious physical characteristic that many people interpret as a disability (despite the fact that I can do anything anyone of my size can do). So I get looks of pity, looks of curiousity (and questions), and patronizing offers to help me when I don't need it. Sometimes I'm treated like a child. Such is life. It's nothing I can change or hide. Anyone who gets to know me sees beyond it, and they're really the only ones worth my time.

If the physical trait is a disability you don't want to reveal here, I strongly suggest you find a forum for people with that disability and ask for their support and experiences. My condition is exceptionally rare (1 in 42,000 births) and there are still forums and groups for it online.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's helpful to read this question together with various other questions you've asked about people's reactions to you.

I think you are mistaken in thinking this is just a "physical vibe" you give off. It sounds like you come across as a very nervous (from the fidgeting and pacing and eyes darting everywhere), self-conscious (you seem to be obsessively concerned with how others perceive you), and insecure (in an earlier question you discussed feeling like you never fit in) person.

From the picture you've painted of yourself in this and various other questions, I would get up and walk away if you sat next to me, too! Seriously, when I see someone constantly fidgeting, eyes darting everywhere, dressed in a hoodie or a hat, self-conscious to a fault and eyes darting around everywhere, I assume they are mentally ill or a drug addict and I expect them to hassle me. So I walk away.

I think you are giving off some very weird vibes. It seems, from what you've said about yourself in various questions, to the fact that you have asked 35 questions since joining in February 2008, that you are going through a difficult period where you are trying to "find yourself, figure yourself out, or settle upon an identity, and I think you probably exude uncertainty and nervousness. Someone who is not comfortable with herself, who is extremely insecure and nervous, may very well creep people out and lead them to suspect her of being addicted to drugs, criminal, or shifty in some way. Add to that, your comment about "getting laid and getting paid" (which has a bit of a strange ring to it, no offense) it just sounds like you unsettle people with both your appearance and your general demeanor.

I don't mean to be harsh, but that's the picture you've painted for me.
posted by jayder at 1:21 PM on December 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


What is it about people making these assumptions that is so painful to you?

Short answer. It's getting in my way of me getting laid and getting paid.


Hmm... can you give an example of each? When where you were going to get laid (or paid) when you were told, or observed, that this particular perception interfered? I'm wondering if thinking about strategies for dealing with future events -- an upcoming interview, say -- wouldn't be more effective.

Also, what do you think about the idea that maybe the true issue here is your self consciousness?
posted by salvia at 10:14 PM on December 24, 2008


I don't think you need to cut your hair shorter (I'm very pro long hair) but maybe putting some extra effort into keeping your long hair nice would make you feel more grown up, and would probably clue people in that you're a grownup. Keep your ends "dusted" of splits, and maybe investigate some non-annoying, comfortable, pretty and/or sophisticated ways to wear your hair--hairsticks, buns, nice braids, etc. Sure long hair might make some perceive you as younger or religious but if you wear it like a grownup long hair can be lovely and thoroughly appropriate.
posted by Neofelis at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2009


"You are not your appearance." Once you accept that, its all good. Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:41 PM on January 29, 2009


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