Physical appearance: What does it mean?

Rachel Hettrick, IVLeader Columnist

What can you tell about a person by their physical appearance and condition? This question has recently been on my mind quite a bit. I’d like to think that people don’t judge each other, but yet I know that that is not true. I know that every time I am out in public or dealing with people I am being judged on how I look. We all know this is the way the game is played. But is this game really fair?

If I may use myself as a personal example, I have a buzzed patch in my hair that I hide when I am attempting to look “professional.” I do this without even thinking about it. But why? Why would the fact that I have a haircut that is considered different affect the job I am able to do? I don’t believe it affects it at all. But it is perceived that way. So I continue to disguise my hair to fit the image that I am expected to follow.

In my political science class, we spoke about the way presidents are viewed. The question was asked, “Would FDR be able to be elected today?” Roosevelt was in a wheelchair for his whole adult life, yet he was elected president. But even in that era, Roosevelt worked hard to hide his disability. He almost always was photographed sitting down, but there are only two known photographs of him in his wheelchair.  If he was standing he worked to hide his leg braces. Most Americans were not even aware of his disability. Now, presidents do not have the luxury of being able to hide like this. It would be uncovered in a few days and every citizen would know. Would we still elect him? I don’t think we would. The image of him in a wheelchair would affect us too much.

Using myself as an example again, I have seen this happen recently. A bike accident has put me on and off crutches for a few months and into a walking boot. Several times, this has required me to use a wheelchair. First hand, I saw the misconception that people had about me, just by my use of the chair. The first was that I was totally helpless. People assumed that I could not get anywhere without their help. The second was that I was dumb. People seemed totally surprised that a young lady in a wheelchair could enjoy a museum and debate history fiercely with her sister. Neither of these traits are true. If I may say so, I’m a smart lady with an independent streak a mile (or two) wide. I am a person, the chair was not. Yet that was allowed to define me.

I leave you with those thoughts and a plea. When you have your first impression of a person, due to the way they look, please look again. You may be surprised what you see when you do.