How Do I Look?

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A writing exercise, based on the story “How Do I Look?”, from The Women We Become by Ann Thomas

To see oneself as others see us
To imagine myself as I wish.

Which is delusion?

How often I find myself in the ludicrous position of needing advice about a color, a dress, something about looks and the only person around is an underpaid young sales person. How often I have heard one of my daughters asking this person her advice. I wince. What do we know about her skills, talents, tastes, eye? Nothing. All we know is that she got the job and that she is trying to make a sale.

We want to trust this salesperson. We want to forget that she is an unknown quantity for us. We want to imbue her with power and wisdom that probably isn’t hers. At Bergdorf’s the sales staff make a lot of money and get a commission on their sales. They know their customers well and I guess after awhile they really become knowledgeable. I know a woman who is a personal shopper. She is good at what she does. She is the confidante, the umpire, the reviewing stand all in one. And people pay her for this. We crave expertise; not necessarily for ourselves but in others.

My family are experts. They are the fashion world. Every time I went to visit my father and aunt at their business on Seventh Ave. I would become intensely anxious. I would change my outfit many times looking for ‘the look.’ What look? I just didn’t want to hear: “What are you wearing?” “That’s not the right color,” or simply that glance, as they raised their eyes from work, that said it all: I didn’t do it right. I don’t look right. I am not right.

They are the fashion industry, my family. They are the style setters. They must know. I can never be there because I …

We put ourselves in this situation often.

Of course, it might be about something other than looks. It might be how to we seem to our neighbors? To our colleagues on a committee, in our department? Do we seem smart? Do we seem sophisticated? Are we the epitome of reason? Graciousness? Cooperativeness? But it’s all the same. It is about who we are. How did we get there, here, to this ludicrous position?

But then again…am I dressed well enough? Am I going to impress them? Will I be memorable?

Will they see me?

That’s it, isn’t it?

Will I be noticed and appreciated? Am I deserving? Will I manage to carve myself a niche, a place… my own… am I here?