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Delayed web event post- Self Presentation vs Self Representation

Ann Lemieux's picture

Self Representation vs Self Presentation

How do I present myself to the outside world? I present myself in the way that I dress, talk, act, and interact with others. What does this have to do with self-representation? I initially misread the topic of our papers as self-presentation, rather than self-representation. They sound the same, and could be dismissed as practically the same thing without consideration. However, realizing my error made me also realize that self-presentation and self-representation are very different things. To represent myself means to speak my opinions, act as an individual rather than simply part of a larger group, and reveal my personality, values, and beliefs through my actions, words, and appearance. I can use the different ways that I present myself to the public to represent who I am on the inside, and to portray different aspects of my personality and my value system.

Often, I am successful at this. I associate myself with people who share my values, and I am almost always honest when asked my opinion on a subject. I dress in a way that I personally find comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, and I convey my feelings in the way that I act towards a person or a situation, most of the time. I would describe my own personality as optimistic, caring, fun-loving, but sometimes absent-minded and oblivious, and I think that most people who know me would give a similar description of me. I think it’s important to act like myself in different situations and around different people, and for the most part society seems to agree with me. I have heard so many people give advice to “be true to yourself”, or be “the real you”.

In My New Gender Workbook, Kate Bornstein has an entire chapter, called “Do your gender mindfully”, that focuses on presenting or “performing” your gender and sexuality. She suggests actually trying to present a different identity, gender or otherwise, from your own as a way to explore and learn about your identity. She then gives advice on how to begin presenting this newfound identity to friends, lovers, and acquaintances

Yet sometimes, my self-presentation does not represent me, and my actions or words do not reflect my feelings or personality. There are definitely times when I create an image, and present myself in a way that is deceitful. Why do I do this? Often, I downplay or deemphasize problems that I might be experiencing, and act as if everything is fine because I don’t want others to worry about me, and because it’s difficult to talk about and explain my issues to those who might be worried. It’s so much easier to pretend that nothing is wrong than to tell other people about what is wrong, and later feel guilty for burdening them with my issues. There is also a widespread idea of “faking it until you make it”, and I admit that I believe sometimes that problems will go away if I continue brushing them under the rug. For example, although I don’t try to keep secret the fact that I have ADHD, I always downplay the extent to which it causes me to struggle with academics and deadlines. I don’t want my friends to worry about me constantly staying up late to finish assignments, battling distractions, and playing catch-up when I fail to finish an assignment in the allotted time period. I also don’t want to spend anymore time than I need to thinking about these struggles.

In a very different instance, I act a certain way around specific people not to avoid burdening them, but because I want to impress them or fit in with their group. When I talk to the director of the camp that I work at over the summer, I present myself in the best way possible and focus on all of the great things that have happened to my campers and myself. I am extremely positive and talk about the most successful activities that I’ve planned, and the campers that I’ve helped the most, because I want to impress the camp director. This is true with any employer, professor, or anyone who is in charge of me or can grade me in anyway. Sometimes I also try to impress new friends and peers, because I want my first impression to be really positive, even if it’s not completely representative of me.

Finally, I think that I do not always fully represent myself because I don’t fully know myself. One of the questions that Anne asked me when we were meeting about my paper was if I knew myself, and although I initially answered yes, I’m beginning to rethink that answer. I have so many moments where I do something without really knowing why I did it. I have unformed opinions on many matters, and there are so many things in life that I might love, but I haven’t experienced yet. I’m not alone in this, and if all people truly knew themselves, there wouldn’t be such a thing as personality quizzes or diagnostic tests. If I knew myself, I wouldn’t need to take the quiz in Kate Bornstein’s workbook at the beginning of the class, because I would already know how much gender influences my life and how I want to present myself in terms of gender.

So, how do I want to present myself, and is complete self-representation a goal? I honestly don’t think self-representation is possible. While I still think it’s important to speak my opinions and let my personality show in different settings, it’s not necessary for every aspect of my self-presentation to represent something about myself as a person. The way I present myself shows that I am still growing as a person, trying new things, and forming my opinions.


Anne Dalke's picture

On knowing ourselves

Ann Lemieux—

Vhiggins and Taylor11 also wrote about presenting themselves in public, trying to make a “true self” accessible to a variety of others; I see a shared theme, in all of your papers, about the importance of being yourself in different situations. But your paper is distinct from theirs in its questioning the possibility that you do (or can) fully know yourself. This idea intrigues me. You may well, as you say, “create an image, and present yourself in a way that is deceitful,” “pretend that nothing is wrong,” try to “fake it until you make it.” But you may also not know who you are well enough to present that self to the public.

The wisest person I know on this topic is Elizabeth Ellsworth, whose work I seem to be recommending to many of your classmates in response to this round of papers. For Ellsworth, the “self” capable of the kind of rational performance most often sought in classrooms is itself illusory: “The fact of the unconscious ‘explodes the very idea of a complete or achieved identity’—with oneself through consciousness, or with others through understanding.” Using the film studies notion of “mode of address” to talk about who the teacher and the curriculum “think students are,” Ellsworth describes the “eruptive, unruly space between a curriculum’s address and a student’s response (as) populated by the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge, conscious and unconscious desires.” Rather than suggesting ways to bridge this gap, Ellsworth argues that it is to be preserved as the space of agency and of learning. If such a thing as a “perfect fit” were possible, it would in fact guarantee that no learning would happen.

A longer, and more theoretical, way of saying what you say: “I think that I do not always fully represent myself because I don’t fully know myself.” Complete, honest self-representation may well not be possible—but, as both you and Ellsworth acknowledge, its in that impossibility that growth may occur.

I’m also struck by your mention of ADHD, as a particular dimension of yourself that you are disinclined to highlight to others. I’m hoping our discussion next week of mental health issues on campus—the ways in which high expectations of achievement lead both to certain kinds of performances, and to mental distress-- will speak to some of those concerns; I’ll be interested in your response.