Is image such a dirty word?
In my last blog post I began to talk about image. I shared that I feel our image can be important and influential.
I know some blind and partially sighted people do not feel image should be important, but I think that is a separate argument, in many respects I think it is a futile argument. I think it is futile because we live in a world where it is important, so if you want to take up opportunities life presents then some acceptance helps.
I remember having a healthy but heated debate with a blind delegate at a leadership event I was delivering. She argued strongly that image doesn’t matter. She could not see me and so she felt it did not matter. She then went on to say she formed an impression on me by my voice and what I was saying. Your image is not just about what you look like. What you say and how you say it constitutes your image so she did place some attention on image after all. Interestingly, she was sitting next to a deaf delegate who stated that he could not form an impression based on what I sounded like, but he did create something of an impression based on how I presented myself visually.
I think it is true to say that we do all form some sort of impression based on image. I think we also form those impressions in different ways.
I want at this point to make the distinction between what I am referring to as an ‘impression’ and a ‘judgement’. I think we all make impressions; it is human nature to some extent. Not all of us make judgements based on those impressions and I have found blind and partially sighted people to refreshingly be some of the least judgemental people I have met.
I am one of those people who are driven. I fall into the, ‘you only get one shot at life’ camp. I want to lead a fun and fulfilling life and I believe understanding my image can help in this pursuit.
I have a fashion background and I know all about image being tied up with the superficial, pretentious and false. I am not subscribing to this when I talk about image but I do very much subscribe to using my image to communicate my values and personality. I want what I wear to mirror who I am and I want how I communicate verbally to express my feelings on life.
I think the present is called the present because it is a gift (sorry, I concede this is cheesy, but it is also true). I want to create opportunities and be taken seriously. I am a positive person and work is important to me. Upon diagnosis of my sight loss becoming employable again was my first goal. Therefore, I am passionate about being successful in my pursuits.
In a nutshell, if my image is to represent me I need to be communicating positivity, passion and professionalism.
So, how do I go about this?
I communicate positivity by smiling; I smile even when I don’t feel like smiling! There are more than two reasons why smiling is undeniably brilliant, but here are two. One is that is that smiling is contagious and if your first impression is a smile then others will naturally join you. The second is that even if I force a smile, I immediately feel tons better and so it is no longer forced and is completely natural.
I communicate professionalism by giving what I wear some consideration. I want to be taken seriously but I also want to communicate ‘Steph’. On a recent gray day my yellow blazer received countless comments on how it had spread cheer and so making me memorable for reasons that are important to me. So much so that the ticket man at the station actually drew a smiley face on my receipt in homage to my blazer!
Communicating passion should not be too hard if you are passionate about what you do. Even so, I still feel I need to make sure my tone of voice and the words I choose to use reflect my passion. There’s little point in saying in an expressionless voice how passionate I am whilst staring into my lap. I need to express enthusiasm through my voice and I need to make eye contact. Being visually impaired I don’t make true eye contact with people. However, I make sure that I am looking in the direction of the person who I am talking with and I make sure my chin is parallel to the floor. I know that I am giving the impression of good eye contact if I do this and this gives the impression of being interested.
I see no point in saying I’d ‘quite like’ to be involved if I can say, ‘I’d love to be involved. For me, one is average and one is passionate. I apply this principle to a lot of the language that I use.
When I was a fashion designer I gave my image consideration, but it was less about my values and more about trends. Since acquiring sight loss and having to work hard to turn my life around image has been much more about communication. I know the importance of how I look, what I say, how I say it and my body language. I experience how it can influence others and even more importantly I know the importance of the positive effect it has on me. I am not just talking about myself here. I have coached a number of blind and partially sighted people who have made small, but significant, changes in how they present themselves and the results have been heavier on the significant and light on the small.
I would stop short of saying I ‘manage’ my image, but I am conscious of it. If being aware of my image helps even a little in my pursuit of making a difference, having fun and feeling fulfilled then it can only be good.