Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The kiddo has been really into The Berenstain Bears lately. He stumbled across some well-loved copies of mine and my brother’s while visiting his grandparents a month or so ago, and since then he has immersed himself into the folksy world of Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister Bear. In the spirit of the season, we’ve been reading (and re-reading) the Halloween themed book, Trick or Treat.

The plot is pretty tame – Sister and Brother go trick-or-treating with their friends, only to find themselves afraid of old Mizz McGrizz and her spooky home. Spoiler alert: she ends up being a kind, older woman who offers them delicious homemade candy apples instead of being the mean witch the kids feared. The tidy lesson that wraps the book up? Appearances can be deceiving.

And it’s true. I mean…look at this kiddo:

He rocks his silver sequined Batman cape like nobody else, and I’m sure folks may look at him and form some opinions (about his gender, his sexuality, his “manliness”, sigh.), most of them off base. But he doesn’t care. It doesn’t even register to him that some people might think certain things about him as he zooms around, his sequin cape shimmering as he runs. All he knows, at almost 6 years old, is that he loves superheroes and he loves sparkly things. And for him – those things can easily go together like pb&j. That’s it. His cape isn’t indicative of anything else besides his love for the caped crusader. But that didn’t stop a neighbor from raising an eyebrow when he saw my son run down the street, and giving me a look like I should know better then to let my son run around in thermal Batman pajamas and a silver, sparkling cape.

Or, perhaps his scolding, judgmental look was for my new hair – it’s purple you know. And that brings a whole host of assumptions along with it as well.  But, shockingly – despite my apparently nontraditional son and my apparently nontraditional hair, we’re still a pretty traditional family.

The looks and disapproving glances aren’t anything new, however. My husband has long hair and a penchant for oversized hoodies, causing him to look a bit like a slacker despite having a doctorate and full time job as a pharmacist (where he wears a lab coat and tie, thank you very much). Our casual style has caused car salesmen to look the other way when we were on the hunt for a brand new car (shocking, right?!), and my son’s penchant for wild, curly hair and the color pink have caused many to think he’s a girl and others to question our parenting decisions.

And while I understand that sometimes you need to “play the game” in order to get ahead – or even get by – , there are just some things I can’t be moved to change. Like my hair color or my husband’s affinity for baggy sweatshirts or my son’s love of sparkles. But these things don’t solely define us, and it’s a shame that others can’t see that.

Perhaps I should carry around extra copies of The Berenstain Bears, ready to hand out should anyone attempt to judge us based exclusively on appearance. Today being Halloween, I figure this post is more than appropriate. Halloween is a day where it’s okay to dress up anyway you want to without the fear of judgment or shame (oh, unless you’re an adult that decides to wear a “skimpy” costume. seriously – we can’t win. This blog post from The Nerdy Feminist gets to the root of that issue nicely).


We all do little things to change our appearances based on the situations we find ourselves in, but there are some constants that define us that will never change. And, unfortunately – that can lead to poorly made assumptions. Whether it’s hair, hoodies, or sequined capes, I just wish we could all take a page from The Berenstain Bears and remember – appearances can be deceiving. It works the other way too – how many handsome, sharply dressed men in expensive suits can you find lately that are just chomping at the bit to snatch your reproductive rights away from you? But I digress…

So, what about you? Do you find yourself changing the way you dress to accommodate some perception of how you should look? Or do you find yourself surrounded by assumptions because of your appearance? If so, how do you handle it?

16 thoughts on “Appearances Can Be Deceiving

  1. I went barefoot for a year in college. I noticed that when I was treated fine when I was wearing slacks and a button up shirt versus yoga pants and a t-shirt. I got the vibe in the first scenario that people realized I was choosing barefooting as a lifestyle and in the second scenario I got the vibe that people thought I was poor and couldn’t afford shoes (which, how often is that the case, really? Have you ever seen a homeless person without shoes?)

    Then, when I had really short hair, I often got called “Sir” because I was tall (despite GINORMOUS breasts), and that made me uncomfortable and so I started wearing a lot of makeup to counter-act the male pronouns I was getting.

  2. Right on! My friend is a tiny, very fashionable Spanish girl who looks much younger than she is. People are constantly shocked to learn she is a faculty member and not a technician. It drives her NUTS!

  3. I gave up my more casual, funky style when I started working for the government. I wanted to keep it up for when I’m not working, but found that most of my clothes money went to my work clothes (building up an appropriate wardrobe after university gets expensive!). I’m about to go on mat leave and am really excited to use the opportunity to dress a bit more like myself.

  4. We loove the Berenstain Bears! Honestly, since we brought the babies home, I don’t even have time to think about my appearance. It’s amazing what a shift full time parenting of two did to me. Now my only thought seems to be “do we all look well-kept?” as we leave the house.

    I love that you can let your son be 🙂

  5. My 4 year old son is all about Batman right now and he would go absolutely wild for that sparkly cape! (Seriously fabulous, where did you find it?)

    I used to sport red or purple hair back in high school and later in college. These days I’m too busy (and too lazy) to care about what color my hair is. One might accuse me of “letting myself go” but mostly I am simply allowing myself to “grow grey gracefully”.

    • aw, thanks! I guess it’s just not “professional” since it’s purple, but luckily my work doesn’t dwell on things like that and I’m probably more subdued than other folks in my field, ha!

      On Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 9:27 PM, The Mamafesto

  6. Well, I’m a grown woman and personally adore sparkles (and capes), so I probably shouldn’t comment. I also love The Berenstain Bears for their neatly wrapped up moral in 10 minutes style and find the whole series to be useful when I am looking for a quick re-hash of a timely piece of advice. The men in suits looking to tuck me and my choices away…not so much. Like your hair though. Good stuff.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words – and I feel the exact same way re: Berenstain Bears. They definitely seem to be good conversation starters in our house (for too much tv, messy rooms, friend issues, etc…)

      On Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 3:24 AM, The Mamafesto

  7. I dress depending on my environment, to some degree. I refuse to take out my nose ring, though now it’s not really that uncommon to have one. When I first got it, 20 years ago, I used to get a lot of, “Well, you’re a NORMAL person with a nose ring!” Or if I had my hair weird colors – same thing. People would get past the initial negative feeling and then praise me for my normalcy, beyond my appearance. Which grated.

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