What's the first thing you notice when you meet a person for the first time? Their beautiful hair? Dazzling smile? Unusual dress sense, sparkling eyes ...? First impressions, whether they matter or not, are the ones that usually stick.
I was once introduced to a friend of a friend while standing at a bus stop in the middle of a British winter. “Here comes Joe,” my friend said, as I stamped my feet to stop them from freezing on the snow-covered pavement.
I followed the direction of her pointing finger. A man in his 30s, who was conservatively dressed except for his enormous platform shoes, was wobbling across the icy road. I was taken aback. At that stage, platform shoes had come and gone and were nothing more than a clunky fashion memory of my teenage years.
Now, when you’re walking across a slippery road the last thing you want is a 7cm sole without any grip between you and the ground.
Just as he was stepping onto the pavement in front of me, Joe slipped and lost his balance. I looked on helplessly. His arms flailed like Catherine Wheels but he was unable to regain his balance.
As he lay winded on his back in the snow, all I could see was a short man wearing a pair of ridiculous shoes.
I met Joe several times over the ensuing years, and he was always wearing platform shoes. Then he came to Malaysia for a holiday.
And no, he wasn’t wearing his famous shoes as he walked along the beach at Batu Ferringhi or through the streets of George Town. He wore a pair of flip-flops.
I couldn’t get used to seeing him without his usual sky-high shoes. The sight of his platform-less feet was at odds with the mental picture I had created of him.
I haven’t seen Joe for a few years now, but even if he were to go barefoot for the rest of his life, my memories of him will forever be tied to those stupid shoes.
I had another indelible “first impressions” experience when I was standing in line at my favourite coffee shop a few months ago. On that particular day, the service was slower than usual because there was a new barista behind the counter. Or so I’d heard another customer grumble.
When I finally caught sight of her, from my position at the back of the queue, the first thing I noticed was her significant set of eyebrows. In their natural state, eyebrows add symmetry and balance to a face, but from a distance this young woman looked as if she had two hairy caterpillars stuck to her forehead.
When I got closer I realised her eyebrows were fake. She had obviously applied them using a brow stamp – an arch-shaped device that you rub into eyebrow powder and then press on top of your own anaemic eyebrows. And voilà! Instant creepiness in six seconds.
The Creepy One had a small button of a nose, delicate child-sized lips, and a narrow forehead. But her fake eyebrows belonged to a heavyweight boxer, or a Groucho Marx impersonator.
To make matters worse, they had been stamped on unevenly – as if Mike Tyson had come along and rearranged her features with a few deft swipes of his heavyweight boxing gloves. One eyebrow was slightly higher than the other, giving her a somewhat quizzical expression.
Quizzical creepiness is not a good look on anyone, and it bothered me that no one had thought to tell her that she looked a bit off. Surely, she has a best friend, or a mother, or a sister who could gently take her to one side and kindly say, “Have you lost your mind? Your eyebrows look like two creepy caterpillars – one of which is trying to escape.”
Her appearance also made me wonder what people think of me when they see me for the first time.
I don’t have creepy eyebrows, or wear shoes that make me walk like a Clydesdale horse, or a Nicki Minaj-sized fake butt that makes it impossible for me to sleep on my back without moving up and down like a see-saw, or a spray tan the colour of those round orange “cheezy” snacks that children love so much. But maybe there is something else of which I’m oblivious.
Before you present yourself in public, I’m sure you don’t think: “I’m going to make myself look as weird as possible. I want people to talk about me and make fun of me behind my back.”
But sometimes you might unintentionally do just that. In that case, would you want someone to tell you?
Or would you prefer to remain blissfully ignorant?