I pack my backpack with ten dress shirts. It’s the last day with my students, so we combine the three classes and convert two of the classrooms into video game rooms. This allows me to switch my shirts every half hour and see the reaction from those around me. Five students pick up on the trick, but agree to keep it quiet. They whisper their predictions of what I’ll wear next.
Neither of my team members notice the outfit changes. I get it. Dark rooms. Marv Albert announcing a pretend game of basketball. Kids spilling in and out. I’m actually kind-of relieved that they don’t care how I look. It makes me wonder if maybe this residual anxiety about my receding hairline or ever-increasing waste line is simply a waste of time.
Nobody cares. It’s kind-of liberating. No one cares about the holes in my dress shoes or the paint stain on my shirt sleeve. No one notices that I’m wearing dress pants, but I forgot to put on a belt.
I stop by the staff lounge and change outfits. “What do you think?” I ask a group of teachers.
“The blue looks good with your eyes,” a teacher says.
I change again.
“Turn around. Let me see your profile,” another teacher says. “Yeah, you’re a winter. I can see that.”
Okay, so maybe people pay more attention than I had first thought.
I arrive to my new office wearing a blue shirt. Twenty minutes later, I change into a green polo shirt. I switch to a burgundy polo shirt the third time. Then back to green. Nobody notices. Even Javi the Hippie has no idea what’s going on. And it strikes me, after the fact, that I have no idea what anyone was wearing, either.
I’m not sure what to make of it. Perhaps it’s a good thing that we don’t pay attention. Maybe it proves that we really do spend more attention thinking about who a person is and what they are saying than in how they are dressed. Perhaps all the theories of self-marketing and the importance of looking professional are simply a thin veneer on the lie that we need to consume more. Maybe we’re all experiencing that adolescent fear that we’ll look odd or ugly when the reality is that no one cares that much.
Or maybe it goes back further. Maybe we use clothes as a way to hide something deeper when, in fact, people can see right through us. Maybe we’re just making fancier fig leaf aprons.
So, I’m thinking of Facebook now. The profile picture communicates more than a set of clothes would convey. On Facebook, the picture is the visual representation of all communication. It’s the static persona that replaces body language. It’s the vapor imago that we create and constantly recreate in an effort to prove that we matter. It’s the project of what we want people to see. Whether it’s a picture of someone taking a picture of themselves in the bathroom or posing in front of the pine trees or next to one’s daughter or getting plastered at the staff Christmas party, there’s a sense that in our profile picture we can create a better-than-life alter-ego. My profile picture becomes a place where I can hide. It’s my digital fig leaf apron.
At the same time, Facebook can be a place where I don’t feel the need to hide. I can leave ironic, random comments and people actually respond to them. I can post pictures of my family without people rolling their eyes and saying to themselves, “Do I really need to see your wallet pictures?” Facebook is a place of unexpected chats, affirming private messages and thumbs up to something I just wrote. For all the fig leaf moments, there are just as many chances to be transparent and honest and thought-provoking.