Categorizing People Based on Appearance

We all do it. We see someone for the first time and we make instant assumptions. We label. We categorize who we think a person is and what they are all about. They are pretty, plain, hot, intelligent, goofy, fun, depressed, rich, poor, uptight, lazy, Republican, Democrat, easy, prissy, pretentious, lazy, Type A, preppy, spoiled, or maybe simple-minded. They are a hick, hippy, snob, army brat, gay, straight, metro sexual, or maybe a vagabond. The list of adjectives could go on forever.

This is what humans do: try to instantly asses, label, and figure out who a person is based on their appearance. The problem with categorizing someone before we take the time to get to know them is that we are not taking into account who they really are, which may or may not have anything to do with the way they appear to be.

We may pass up the opportunity of getting to know an amazing person, who we may forge a great relationship with, if we quickly dismiss someone based on their looks. We could have instant chemistry with someone and it “appears” that they are our type, only to find out later that the relationship was all wrong. Who knows!?! The point is that it takes time to get to know someone fully. Sometimes months or sometimes years!

One of my friends, who I’ve known about six years, said that I say something that shocks her every time we are together. I asked what she meant, and she said that what I say doesn’t go along with the way I present myself. (We were talking about trying new food. I told her that when my husband & I were traveling through the Cook Islands, we went on a coral reef tour and the guide offered us fresh sea cucumbers, sea urchins, etc. to eat right then and there–raw. I tried it all!)

I love trying new things, travel, adventure, and getting dirty while playing soccer or football in the mud. Although I may not appear to be, I’m a tom boy at heart.

Another friend, who I’ve known for over 20 years, says I’m a chameleon. This is true. I don’t change for my surroundings though. A wonderful eclectic mix of friends and acquaintances gives me the opportunity to express different parts of myself. Some people even say I come across as shy or quiet, but be warned–once I feel comfortable around you, I will chit-chat with you for hours!

Humans are complicated and multidimensional.

We all have unique and sometimes contradictory traits.

We cannot assume someone is a certain way by the way they look.

The person we think we know, based on their appearance, may not really be who he or she appears to be at all!

Have you ever been misunderstood? Tell us about it!

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Erin
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 08:07:33

    Great article! It saddens me how people are so quick to judge and draw conclusions…especially if you are in the public eye. I think it’s important, regardless of your past or the lessons you’ve learned, to go in to new opportunities (and new relationships) with an open mind. :)


  2. Liz
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 21:10:41

    Thank you, Erin!
    I agree with you. :)


  3. Kerner71
    Jul 18, 2011 @ 09:05:27

    Great thoughts Liz! Hope to cross paths with you and get to know you better even after the Well’s are gone!


  4. rtlvr
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 10:11:24

    As humans we are predesposed to judging people by their appearance from prehistoric times, where friend or foe was crucial in an instant, like animals in making judgements of eat or be eaten. I dress very artsy and have since forever and have been judged by that. Most of the time my dress and appearance are self designed to let the world know that being a creative individual is a good thing, and that there are are artists out there that are surviving on their craft. Under my clothing is a smart fat old lady, who quite frequently gets prejudged as someone who may have used drugs or drink (never), and who would most likely be uber liberal (am a free thinking independent, who surprises people on some issues), who is a grandmother (don’t have kids), who isn’t computer savvy (hey, I have a blog), and who stays at home and knits (that’s true when I’m not in New York City, going to the great museums, galleries, and theater). I am often treated like I am daft and deaf because of age and am working on tamping down my anger over THAT. (I smell a blog on ageism!)

    San D


  5. Liz
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 11:52:58

    Hi San D,

    Thank you for writing in! Lots to think about…Do you think it’s humanely possible to not care at all what other people think of us?

    What’s your blogs name? I’d love to check it out.


  6. rtlvr
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 13:03:09

    We can pretend we don’t care, but as humans we are programmed to “care. We can try to rise about it, by proudly parading around pretending we don’t care, but I know that in our heart of hearts we DO care. Example. I like wearing clothes from different cultures, but do not want to insult the other cultures by perhaps wearing it inapproriately, like wearing a Korean wedding dress to go shopping. I had an African dress on one day and heard some young African american women whispering. Immediately I felt unsure about my choice of dress on the way to the theater. I didn’t care if they thought I as a white woman shouldn’t be wearing it, my concern was representing the culture in a respectful way. As for what people think of me, I can’t control that. In fact the older I get I realize that not one person actually knows who I am, and that includes my sister and my husband of 40 years. We “craft” our opinion of our loved ones in a way that suits our needs.

    My blog is a combination of very very light fare, with some self thoughts mixed in. I don’t always pose questions, but am big into sharing my day to day life, including my first year as a gardener. I think if you click on my avitar it should take you there.

    San D


    • Liz
      Oct 13, 2011 @ 19:03:02

      Cool blog, San D. Just so you know, I couldn’t reach it through your avatar, but I typed in and viola–there you were. I love the shadow pictures. I use to take shadow pictures too when I took photography classes a long time ago (pictures and sketching were a secret passion of mine that I’ve let fall to the wayside). Pictures (not the photoshopped kind) always fascinate me.

      I think you’re right–we care and sometimes try to “cast aside” the person or the feelings that are giving us trouble in hopes that they will just go away, but that never reaslly works long term, does it?

      Would you like to write a guest post for Secrets of Moms on Ageism? You don’t have to be a mom to write for the blog—we’re open to all women (and men, actually). :)

      I also agree that no one can possibly know another person in totality–ever. Too much going on underneath the surface and sometimes poeple try to deny who they actually are to themselves–oh boy–that’s a whole different ‘big” topic!

      Also, the whole concept of how we dress ourselves is really interesting. Did you always dress “very artsy”?


  7. rtlvr
    Oct 13, 2011 @ 20:08:13

    I would love to do guest post on Ageism. But it would have to wait until November, mainly because I am uber busy until then to write something thoughtful and coherent. Suffice it to say my business involves me being in a horror tableaux for a Halloween fund raiser, as Witch 1 from MacBeth. Double, double.
    As for me always dressing artsy, it started in high school my senior year. Up to that point I lived on army bases, moving every 22 months and was a virtual chameleon trying to blend in as the new kid in town. When we “landed” in the US (I lived on army bases in Germany and France) my senior year, I noticed that we didn’t have enough money so that I could keep up with the styles. My mother said “you know how to sew, knit and crochet, start your own style”. I started combining vintage, with flea market finds, and little girl clothing (back in the day I could fit into children’s large dresses), plus sewing a lot of my clothes. The big joke is that my mother looked at my new style and said “oh no I didn’t mean that! Too late, LOL. When I got to college my wardrobe was very minimal, mainly overalls because as an art major you ruin alot of stuff. When I student taught I went out to the flea market and bought 5 suits, and made accessories to change them up. Once I started teaching, I was known as the teacher (for over 35 years) who had the most interesting wardrobe (including my 40 pairs of glasses, and hundreds of pairs of shoes..collected over the years). Ebay, Etsy, my own creations, and flea markets were my ‘stores’, and my personal designer is, I own a closet full of her pieces. I am wearing two of her pieces in the avatar. Needless to say, I was a role model for young women in highschool who were not conventional, and as an aside many of my young men students were introduced to females as “humans” first. For example I taught puppetry, and had a puppet club of 20 mostly geeky, funny, punny, science-engineering leaning boys. My puppetry classes were 75% boys, and they learned not only how to design puppets but to sew them, write scripts and perform. And yes, this was high school. (the puppets are on my account in a set:


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