July 14


What’s your “personal default” case, in terms of your body, skin, face?

By default, I don’t mean fault. It’s through no fault of your own that you look the way you do, act the way you act. You were, as Lady Gaga says, born this way.

What I mean by personal default is that, if you do nothing to hide or elevate your various qualities – personality, physical features, maybe even glasses or the way you dress – what is there is what I might call your “personal default case.”

Women and men may experience personal default differently. In our society, often men are allowed to be and look the way they are without having to dress up the underlying reality. I may look “naked” without makeup on, or without my eyebrows penciled in or dyed, because they are that light otherwise. But most guys just won’t feel the same pressure to do that. Indeed, they might look too made up if they did, in the judgment of other men. My default eyebrows are not good enough.

Then there is stage makeup. Onstage, actors wear makeup. It’s important because the audience is farther away than for normal conversation. So there is a reason for both men and women to wear it, to punch up their facial features so their expressions will read to the audience. We can use stage makeup to look younger or older, because it’s at a distance. On video though, the same amount of makeup would look garish, excessive.

Personal default is also the color of our skin. In a white-dominated society such as ours, the fiction of white supremacy is often its own default. So people of color have to navigate the Catch-22 of not being society’s default case, but their skin being their own default case. Skin lightening products are widely available, if someone gives in to the pressure to change their own default settings. The idea that lighter skin is the better default is deeply ingrained. I remember a Korean student of mine giving me a “lightening” facial moisturizer. I’m pretty pale, naturally. I’m a 70+ SPF gal. I don’t “need” a lightening moisturizer. Did she think I was already using one?

When we speak to others from our personal default personalities, let’s say, off camera, not on, maybe we are not thinking about how we look as we talk. I’m pretty aware of those things, but I also don’t want to be the kind of gal who has to always be primping and preening, always performing femininity. I have a friend who wears fake eyelashes all the time. High heels too. She’s always performing femininity, at least every time I’ve seen her. Most of the time I just prefer to be neutral, not performing, so that I can save my energy for when I really do need to be on camera and “on.” If I focused all the time on being “on,” I might not get much other work done.

There can be a clash between how we feel and how we are seen in the world, by the world. There is our personal default and then the world that wants to perceive us in a certain way.

What about addictions or other imbalances? Our diet can affect the way we look. Drinking, smoking, exercise or the lack thereof. You get the idea. But two people may look very different as the result of those habits. Someone may exercise all the time but remain thick-waisted. Another person may drink and drink but not show the same physical (or personality) effects as another person who loses it after half a glass. These things have to do with our constitutional makeup and trends that are our personal default… that is, through no fault of our own.

What is your personal default, and how do you showcase it or modify it to be visible on the world stage?

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