A Look at First Impressions

The moment you first lay eyes on a stranger, the cold and analytical parts of your brain, burdened neither by reason nor emotion, are hard at work. By picking apart and assigning a meaning to their physical features, these sections of your mind radically influence your immediate opinion of people you’ve just met.

It is said that snap judgments made on first sight were passed down to us as an evolutionary holdover, from a time when it was crucial that our ancestor be able to immediately discern the intent of another animal based only on physicality. We can see this in how we react to startling stimuli today: we jump at the shadowy figures that we know are drapes blowing over the air conditioning vent because our “fight or flight” reaction is programmed to occur before we have time to assess the situation logically. The common argument today is that preconceived notions are inherently negative, and only negative. While it does not fall to me to pass a verdict on a sociological question, it does fall to me to explain the defense and benefit of immediate judgement in interpersonal situations.

A job interviewer prefers a handsome, well-dressed, and well-refined prospect to an unkempt man who doesn’t shave for the occasion. A prospective love interest would choose the partner who carries themselves with moderation and polished restraint over the partner who pays no heed to their appearance and presents themselves boorishly. The partner who can act appropriately in all situations is the one who will provide a better future because they will be more successful in life, which is desirable. The one who is more rambunctious will be the subject of scorn. Being associated with such a person is not desirable.  These preferences exist because of this gap in desirability between one who takes care of themselves and can act accordingly and one who does not and cannot.

Outward appearances can and often do speak volumes about the tendencies and true quality of a person. The importance of “looking the part” is stressed, largely because modern society is trained to respond to looks. A tall man in a well-fitting suit, with graying hair, a confident voice and a steady gait is assumed to be subordinate. The importance of looks is visible nearly everywhere in the effects it can have on a person. After a concert for which I was required to wear a suit, I went to dinner. Some of those at the restaurant were in dress clothes, many weren’t. Those of us dressed well received consistently faster and better service than those of us who weren’t. The waiters’ assumption was that the customers in suits would tip better than the customers who weren’t, even though we were just high school students who were probably incapable of more generous tips. The fact that they didn’t think any more after coming to an initial conclusion only reinforces the thought that first impressions are a big deal, and the best way to make a good one is to look the part.

By modern standards, a desirable male is someone tall, with a strong jawline and clean-cut features. A genetic predisposition to any elements of this persona can serve to greatly enrich one’s life. As such, I am proud to look how I do, for better or for worse.

Pride in one’s looks is not always as egocentric as it may seem. The source of my pride is not arrogance, but rather that I am a living reminder of my family.


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