As I sat in that Starbucks, I decided to go back to my Psych roots and conduct a little quasi social experiment. My plan was to observe and count every time a person would stop and look at themselves in front of a designated store window. I made note of whether they were male or female, age (child, teen, adult, elderly adult), approximately how long of a glance they took and if they appeared to indeed be looking at themselves or inside of the store. As unstalkerish as I could be, I started my experiment. After about a half an hour, I stopped my observing (one: people were starting to wonder why this crazy girl was sitting at Starbucks for over two hours just staring into space and two: my bum was sore from sitting so long and my stomach was growling something fierce) and decided to do a bit of analysis.
My findings were pretty interesting. One thing I noticed right away was gender; females typically looked at themselves in the store windows more often than the few guys that I saw. In fact, I only saw a total six men who actually stopped in front of the store window and ‘look’, and out of those six, only two were actually looking at their reflections, the other four were peaking inside the store to see what was inside. All of the men I presumed to be in their late teens and/or early twenties. I did not see any elderly adults in this experiment, male or female.
Side note: I chose a neutral store front window (Apple) so that it would reach all demographics and not be biased towards any one gender and/or age group.
Getting back to the majority of my population, I observed a staggering 28 ladies stop to look in the window. Of these 28 women, five were looking at the actual store and what was inside while twenty were doing a little make-up check or hair fix-up (the other remaining three were little girls who were either a) slobbering all over the window, much to their mother’s delight, while blowfishing the glass (blowfishing is when you place you lips on a solid object like glass or a mirror and blowing, making your lips and mouth puff up like, well, a blowfish) or b) playing pee-a-boo with the other unsuspecting guests inside the store. Because of this, I ruled them out. The timing was a variable that was also interesting. Most of the women I observed who were doing a once-over did so for roughly 2-5 minutes (the guys only 30 seconds to a minute) and were repeat offenders (aka they would walk by once, stop to fix their hair, come back and check themselves in the glass again–the men only did so once).
Because my population was small, I was only observing for about 30 minutes, and the setting was reduced to only one window, I can’t come up with any absolutes, but I can however make some general conclusions based off of this small study. For one, women seemed to spend more time looking at themselves in the reflection of the glass than men did, both in time and frequency. The younger population (teens/young adult) also tended to ‘reflect’ more than children and elderly adults. Perhaps this says something about how certain genders and ages place the importance of looks, acceptance and conformity over others. We all, or most of us, want to look our best and do care about how we present ourselves to others (I am a sweats/jeans/t-shirt/flip-flip/no make-up kind of gal 99.9% of the time so you know my stance in this issue but every once in a while, I will admit it is fun to get all dolled-up). However, for some, it may go beyond the norm, striving to be ‘perfect’ in how we dress, the shoes we wear or the make-up on our face. The question is, when does it go from a simple touch up, to a state of personal vanity? What causes people to care so much about how they look that they feel the need to primp and preen in any available moment?
Of course, there are a lot of variables and answers to these questions (culture, social norms, media, peers, self-gratification, wanting to ‘fit in’, etc.), all different to each individual. Personally, I think we sadly pay too much attention to what is on the outside, rather than taking the time to discover what is behind the facade. We often base our opinions and judge based on what we see (which is in essence usually the first cue that we are exposed to) when really there is so much more than that, the wonderful story inside the possibly tattered or unglamorous cover. This is unfortunately a view-point and ‘norm’ that is a very hard thing to switch. We are bombarded with messages of beauty and staying fit and diet and fashion 24/7, always stressing the importance of how we look. It’s a tough thing to ignore. However, it isn’t impossible to start making small changes, to challenge the status-quo.
I am issuing you all a double dare or challenge if you will. I want all of you (myself included) to for one day, one whole day, not to look into a mirror or glance into a shiny reflection of a window. Don’t worry about how funky your hair might be, whether your eye-liner is all wrong (or go gasp…go completely au natural for a day) or if your jeans don’t look perfect. Just one day. Will it be hard? Most certainly. But will you feel better about yourself after you do it? Absolutely! Just think about how much time and energy we spend, worrying about how we look, what we could be doing instead? If you do decide to take this challenge with me, please let me know how it went! I would love to hear the challenges of it and what you did or how you thought differently about yourself and others in the process. I will report back to you in my next post about how I did
Isn’t it amazing how a few observations, simply looking at the people around you, can stir up such hard-hitting questions?
Good luck guys!
Side note: I am sooooo over-the-moon happy to report that I am now a great-cousin to a very beautiful baby boy! My cousin Rachel gave birth yesterday to little David Graham and I couldn’t be more excited for them! Mucho love and congratulations!!!