Tag Archives: image

That Time Image Mattered to Me

image is everything
I often like to think that I’m so emotionally mature that I don’t care about image at all. I don’t need expensive clothing, a luxury car, or high tech gadgets; and I don’t really care when people notice that I don’t have these things. It doesn’t matter to me. Until it did.

It was a Saturday morning and my wife was making breakfast when she noticed that we were running low on milk. I said I would get it from the supermarket which was only two blocks away. She asked me to bring our 15 month old son along with me, as he’s starting to climb on furniture and she wouldn’t be able to supervise him. My 4 year old didn’t want to come. He was too busy watching his cartoons.

On my way back from the supermarket, I stopped by my minivan to pick up a box of diapers I had bought the previous day. As I turned around, I saw a familiar face. It was a girl that I kind of went out with back in college. More accurately, I guess we hung out and then I was banished to the dreaded “friend zone” while she would go out with other guys. Anyway, long story short, back then I remember imagining myself being this successful guy with a fancy sports car and her regretting banishing me to the friend zone. Um, yea…I was kinda shallow and petty back in my college years. Sometimes, I still might be =) In defense of my pettiness and for some perspective, I want to disclose that I was a bit of a dork back in my college days…I still am…so that might be an explanation as to my pettiness!

In any case, I bump into her and she was with her husband. They were dressed up and probably going out to brunch. My hair was disheveled. I hadn’t shaved yet that day. I was wearing sweat pants, holding a box of Huggies diapers, and pushing a stroller, standing next to my minivan. We exchanged pleasantries and said how time has flown and that it was such a small world that we would bump into each other there.

After we parted ways and I was on my way back home, I was seething. Why couldn’t I have been driving a luxury SUV or something! Argh! Maybe I should have thrown on a nicer pair of jeans and combed my hair, before I left my house! I tried to remind myself why I don’t have a fancy car or expensive jeans. I have bigger goals: I want to be FI! But it’s not like I can show off by wearing a shirt that says “I’m on the Path to FIRE!” Did I mention that I can be shallow sometimes?

When I got home, I opened the door and my 4 year old jumped into my arms. “Where are we going today, papa?!” My 15 month old, still strapped in his stroller, stretches his arms out asking to be picked up too. My wife brings out breakfast. She made oatmeal and we’re also having Mickey Mouse shaped waffles.

I started to feel embarrassed. I was ashamed of myself for feeling like it mattered what someone I barely even knew thought about me. What really mattered were those people in that room with me at that moment. I have a loving and caring wife. I have two wonderful kids who adore me. Why did I waste my time in mental anguish over what someone else may or may not have thought about me.

Do you have any moments of weakness when you care too much as to what others may think of you?

Image is Everything. Isn’t it?

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When I was a little kid, I remember wearing a T-shirt with my favorite cartoon character: Popeye. As I got older, I would love wearing my New York Knicks T-shirt, my favorite team. I think it was in high school when I noticed people wearing outfits emblazoned with designer names and logos. Students would wear things with big letters that announced what designer brand they wore: Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, etc. What was this…the Oscar’s where reporters ask celebrities, “so what are you wearing?” It seemed like people were walking advertisements. I would laugh inside at how ridiculous this was. Maybe my laugh was a defense mechanism as I couldn’t afford designer digs. I remember hoping that this would only last during my adolescent years, and that as mature adults, people would care less about what you wear and care only about the content of your character. Alas, that is not to be.

It seems that even in adulthood, the “arms race” to see who has the nicest toys and the best and most glamorous appearance has only intensified. Unlike the teen years where one could only rely on their allowance, maybe a part-time job or parents’ generosity to buy these items, adults have the financial wherewithal to bankroll these purchases. Well, some don’t have the financial wherewithal to make these purchase, but they do have credit cards to pay for them. But just because we can afford these purchases, does it mean we should make them? And I use the word “afford” loosely. Apparently in our consumerist culture, just being able to make the monthly payments without going bankrupt means you can afford it.

I’m not talking about paying a little more to get a better quality product. Significantly, a higher price does not always mean better quality. But it also can’t be disputed that more often than not, people pay more for a certain brand because of its status symbol.

I touched on this subject in my guest post on Cashcowcouple, Don’t Act Rich. Be Rich. In it, I wrote about how many people are happy buying these status symbols so they can appear rich, but do not do the work which will actually bring them wealth like saving and investing.

The blogger from Done by Forty made a very insightful comment:

Outward displays of wealth often, and ironically, lessen that wealth…sometimes dramatically. But we’re social creatures, too. It’s unrealistic to think we can just rise above the need for status

Ah yes…a very valid point. We are indeed social creatures and the need to display our status might even be ingrained in our DNA. In the context of biology and anthropology “Dominance” is the state of having high social status relative to one or more other individuals, who react submissively to dominant individuals. This enables the dominant individual to obtain access to resources such as food or potential mates at the expense of the submissive individual, without active aggression. An ape’s individual rank or status is partly measured by its access to resources: food. In the human world, many men may feel the need to drive a fancy car and wear an expensive watch as an external sign of superiority. Having such luxuries may be an attempt to signal wealth to a potential mate.

I don’t necessarily think that was what Done by Forty was referring to though. As social creatures, we want to fit in and don’t want to be looked upon as an outcast. If everyone dresses a certain way or has certain things, we feel the need to have that to. Another reason I think people purchase these status symbols is because not only does it show others that they’ve made it, but it shows themselves that they’ve made it. In a recent interview of Johnny Weir who was one of the Winter Olympics figure skating commentators, he mentioned that he wore fur coats because fur coats to him signify success and wearing them gave him the feeling that he’d made it. I know of many people who feel the same way about buying a house. I’m sure for other people it might be a luxury car or a handbag.

I am a grown adult and while I still am a social creature, I don’t think I’m as susceptible to these pressures. With age, I care less and less about what others think of me, but I can’t deny that I still struggle with it at times. I might have it easier as I probably don’t have as much pressure from those in my work environment and my peers to have those status symbols. What I do fear is for my kids. I’ve enjoyed reading Shannon Ryan’s blog, The Heavy Purse, who writes a lot of articles about raising financially confident kids and kids who are not entitled. While I can say all I want about focusing on intrinsic goals and not on extrinsic goals, which involves owning the fancy accoutrements of the rich, can I expect that of my kids? With the knowledge I’ve gained reading Shannon’s blog, I think I can. But it seems to be getting tougher in this generation. I have young cousins, nieces and nephews in middle school and high school and I can see that the pressure to dress a certain way and have the latest cell phones is immense. My wife’s cousin in middle school was told that she and her family were “poor” because she didn’t have a smartphone. It definitely seems harder nowadays not to succumb to the pressures of keeping up our image when other parents are constantly buying their kids everything they want.

Do you feel the need to maintain a certain image within your co-workers, family and friends? Is it tougher to children these days to keep up a certain image as well? How do you deal with these pressures?