Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trying Me On for Size

I thought I was the only one who did stuff like this. But in a recent conversation with a friend who I consider entirely normal and rational said she did many of these same things too.

So. When I was a kid, I used to try out different things to see if they fit me - my image and all. I tried out different styles of walking, talking, writing, standing, and even positioning my hands, to see if I could re-create myself in a more cool way.

Take walking. I was naturally a little duck-footed, walking with my feet turned slightly out. Now, I understand this is a healthy and normal way to walk. But Alex, the boy across the street, and my true love, walked a little pidgeon toed. Alex was skinny and wore Levis and white Hanes-type tee shirts. A six-year-old James Dean. So for several years, I deliberately walked that way too.

Okay, talking. With the advent of the Beatles, really, didn't we all speak with phony British accents, at least for a while? And how about writing? In Catholic school we were taught the 'Palmer' method of penmanship, or what I familiarly called 'nun writing.' I broke with Palmer and the Sisters of Mercy to try different slants, loops and the selective use of print or block letters mixed up with the cursive or 'script' writing we were supposed to be mimicking. I even tried imitating those poor lefties in class who were forced to turn their loose-leaf way sideways and curl their hand around up to the point where they looked like palsy victims.

Even my posture was up for manipulation. For a while, I tried slumping a little when standing, so as to look like that broodingly handsome Russian spy, Ilya Kuriyakin. I even wore the requisite black turtleneck. To top off my authentic look, I had a plastic shoulder holster and detective gun that shot out white rubbery bullets.

Later in life, I noticed I had a tendency to clench my hands when not using them for some specific purpose. So I deliberately practiced relaxing and opening them when at rest, as if to impart how chill and zen I really was. I tried different ways of crossing my legs (at the ankle or one knee over the other were ladylike and acceptable. I dabbled in the more mannish Tee cross, when one whole leg rested on the other. I alternately disdained and envied men who, taking up more than their fair share of public space on the train and in the theater, sat with their legs spread far apart and arms hogging any available armrests. Now and then, in the subway, depending on how grouchy I was feeling, I would spread mine to, fighting for precious inches of leg room.

These mannerism manipulations do not deep-down define me. They were and are akin to a kind of 'Design on a Dime' makeover for my persona. Try this color. That strut. Those expressions that only really impart a perceived first impression.

They say we are what we eat, and that is so. But a little of us is also what we wear, the timbre of our voice, the tilt of our head and the gainliness of our gait. Not superficial, I say. Its just us figuring out who we are and where we fit in.

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