First Impressions


So yesterday, the Deep Friar, posted one of his usual “whiney list” posts. (ha ha…I kid… they’re very clever and funny…really) Anyhow, this one happened to be about job interviews and the many ways they are designed to defeat the interviewee. But, some of  the resulting discussion veered off into a “don’t judge a book by its cover” discussion and my comments started getting too long, so I figured I’d just carry on with a blog post of my own on the topic. The Friar and I have completely different readers, so that’s okay, right?

The question therefore is whether or not it’s okay to judge people on appearance/first impressions. I maintain that for most of life’s situations we only have a very short window of time in which to make a decision about a person, so the only thing we really can judge them on is that first impression.

This is true for everything from job interviews to first dates to hiring a plumber to choosing a dentist to letting someone cut your hair to meeting someone at a party. Yes, in most cases you’ll also have some sort of frame of reference for them, but your real judgment will be made when you first meet them.

How a person chooses to present themselves to the world says a lot about a person and not necessarily what they are actually trying to tell the world about themselves.

It may be unfair but we humans like other humans who are attractive.  We are programmed to believe that someone attractive on the outside will be attractive on the inside. Studies with young children, who have no deeply ingrained prejudices, show that even children are drawn to and respond more positively to attractive people.

Of course “attractive” is a subjective thing.  And can encompass more than just being pretty and slim and well-dressed.  An air of confidence and comfort with one’s self goes a long, long way in making a person seem attractive who may not necessarily be a great beauty. And, some features are more important to some people than to others, but in general, attractive means someone who carries themselves well and looks like they have respect for themselves. Someone who looks after themselves and has made some sort of effort to look their best before putting themselves out into the world. Someone with a pleasant countenance.

We’re not looking for perfection. In fact, perfection can be off-putting because we tend to assume that really, really beautiful people are lacking in most other areas. We think they are probably arrogant, vain, self-absorbed and unintelligent. And we are very often right;  which is why we keep believing it.

When we judge someone on their appearance, we are also judging them on decisions they’ve made about how they choose to present themselves.  You make a decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars in surgery and cosmetic products to perfect your features, your hair, your physique and more money to clad yourself in only the finest designer duds – well then don’t complain if people liken you to Paris Hilton.

You make a decision to tattoo your face and shave one side of your head, dye the other side blue and wear orange garbage bags duct-taped to your body. Don’t complain if people think you’re a nut and won’t give you a job.

If you show up on a date dressed like a hooker, don’t complain that your date wasn’t at all interested in your mind.

If you’re 40 years old attend a fairly formal Christmas party in a Megadeath t-shirt and ball cap, don’t complain that all the chicks at the party were stuck up.

Underneath it all, these might all be very nice, caring, intelligent people, but how are we supposed to know that? We meet lots of people at parties, job interviews and in the general course of our lives. There’s no way we can spend weeks really getting to know all these people. So, we choose who we want to get to know or hire based on their appearance.

And, by the way, I also always judge a book by its cover for exactly the same reasons. Experts put a lot of time and effort into making book covers that express what we should expect from the book. There are millions of books on the shelves. So I choose ones that do not have Regency-era women in ripped bodices on the cover. I don’t choose books that are pink or bright blue or lurid black and red. I do not choose books whose covers are cleverly cut out to show a glimpse of something shocking underneath.

And, like with the people I meet, I am almost always right in my first impressions.