I did a little experiment earlier this year. I posted a rather sexy selfie on Facebook. Anyone who knows me well knows a) that is not at all like me and b) my account certainly must have been hijacked. I only became a proponent of the selfie within the past year, and now have been using it to explore, well, myself.
Is that woman in the fitted black dress posed provocatively in the mirror really me? Yes. And no. This is not at all the image I’ve cultivated over the years, although the form in the photo is unequivocally mine. There are a lot of sides to me, as there are to most people. There’s the mother, the wife, the journalist, the aspiring historical novelist. They live inside of me alongside the athlete, the dancer, the sultry señorita (she’s surprisingly shy), and the Brooklyn native who blasts hip hop and rap music in the car.
When I told a friend about my decision to share a photo that normally would be completely outside my comfort zone, she responded with two words, “No boxes.” All I could think was how I wished someone would have said those words to me years ago. No boxes. Don’t put yourself in a box. You’ve got a little bit of Barbara Walters and some Shakira inside of you? Great! You like the Beastie Boys and classical music? Wow! You’re really well rounded!
If you viewed my recent YouTube history, it would look something like this: TED talk, Pitbull song, historic newsreel, documentary, dance instructions and how to make Turkish coffee. If I’m completely honest, there might also be a Star Wars clip in there somewhere. Too weird? I’m willing to bet the majority of us have similar dichotomies. (Dichotomies? Ha. A $10 word. That’s definitely the journalist talking.)
As I explore themes of identity in my writing, and especially in my novel, I’m constantly reminded how we’re not always seen as we would like to be seen, and rarely are we seen as we truly are. People view you through their own lens of belief and experience, which tends to be limiting and hardly ever takes into account that we all are far more complex than we appear. Knowing this, we sometimes typecast ourselves before anyone can do it for us. We preassemble our own boxes to ensure that we’re understood, accepted, even loved.
For me that meant hiding for years behind glasses and 600-page history books to ensure I was taken seriously. Allowing people to peek behind that persona hasn’t been quite as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, it made me feel more comfortable with being both studious and a little sassy.
As a writer and an artist, it’s my job to think outside the box. After all these years I’ve begun living there, too. What a different world this would be if we all felt safe enough to do the same.
Artwork: Livingston (N.J.) Youth and Community Services Mirror Project