Your Third Person Self, Clothed and Naked

(Sorry, the video won’t play embedded. Click through to youtube to get a sense of it. You probably won’t need to watch the whole thing.)

Sexy Me vs. Plain Me 

This video is a fun experiment in our rebellion against the obvious. Looks matter.

Would looks matter to you if you couldn’t recognize your self in a mirror? What if you could recognize your self in a mirror but didn’t have any awareness that others had a mind with which to see you or that it mattered.

Mirrors and other Minds

Bruce Hood introduces us to the puzzle of mirrors, selves and other minds.

This is why memory researcher Mark Howe argues that babies who fail the Gallup mirror test lack a sense of self, and so their memories are disconnected events—impressions that do not seem to make sense in any meaningful way. In order for memories to possess meaning, they have to be embedded within the self. However, Philippe Rochat, who has made a lifetime study of self development, argues that the mirror test in humans is actually a measure of being self-conscious about how one looks to others. He reasons that, at 18 months, infants are not bothered with what they look like to others and so are not particularly concerned if they have a red smudge on their nose. Somewhere around the second year, children are more concerned with their appearance and how they look to others.

This self-conscious account would explain the surprising finding that mirror self-recognition with the rouge test is not universal. In one study of Kenyan children between 2 and 7 years of age, Rochat found that only two out of 104 children removed a sticker, which previously had been surreptitiously placed on their forehead, when they looked in a mirror. Why? It cannot be that they do not have self-recognition in a mirror. They have seen and groomed themselves plenty of times in front of a mirror. Rather, Rochat argues that, unlike their American counterparts, Kenyan children are not sure what to do in this unusual situation. They don’t know whether they should remove a sticker from their forehead that must have been placed there by the strange Western scientist visiting the village.

This is a fascinating twist on Gallup’s self-recognition interpretation. It may be that passing the mirror test is not necessarily a measure of self-recognition, but rather a measure of embarrassment in the context of others. The mirror test reveals the point at which you become more concerned by what others must be thinking about you. However, before you can be self-conscious, you must first appreciate that others are thinking about you. You need to have a concept of what you are in order to compare that self with the expectation of others. And before you can have that expectation, you need to understand what is on their mind.

Hood, Bruce (2012-04-25). The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (pp. 84-85). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Conflict Between Public and Private Selves

The woman dressing up to get her freebees together with her producers are making this video for a reason. She recognizes her self apart from the makeup, the “plain me” and the “sexy me”. She has the capacity to see herself in the third person and she the capacity manipulate the presentation of that self as well as her image of her self within the context of a public world of relationships.

The Third Person

One of the things you learn in grammar is that language has “person”. Wikipedia defines “grammatical person” as “the deictic reference to a participant in an event.” After reading that I had to look up “deictic” and found that deixis deals with the meaning of words as related to their context in time and space. All of this makes complicated what most of us understand to be simple. The first person is “I”, the second is “you” and the third is “he, she or it.”

We begin our lives simply with the “I” and the strange world around us. We discern patterns of things we experience as welcome and unwelcome. We know other people as actors in this world, but we somehow can’t see ourselves in it. We are watching it directly.

At some point I begin to SEE myself in the world. I have a view of me. This is an enormous change. I begin to see myself in the minds of others and I begin to appreciate why it is important to participate in the crafting of the self that is in their minds. I see myself in the third person, as another player in the world and I begin to recognize the power and potential of that discovery.

Me-s I want to Be

We begin to learn how to get things from other selves that we want by doing things like smiling. Then we learn to manipulate the minds of other selves to get the things we want by manipulating the “me” we present to others. Once we realize that the public “me” is plastic, maleable and the minds of other selves are subject to our influence, our amazing ability at pattern recognition begins to see that the other selves are participating in publicly created selves that are publicly idealized.

We begin to notice that idealized public selves and aspects of public selves are passed around, perpetuated, participated within and promoted in images and stories. These public selves, sometimes embodied and sometimes simply idealized are celebrated or reviled. They are esteemed and rewarded or punished and ostracized. There is an entire economy of these ideas that are constantly being shared, traded, created or made obsolete and there are significant goods, opportunities and punishments attached to them.

From my last paragraph some of you might not have any idea what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the images you see on TV, on magazines at the grocery story. I’m talking about stories you hear in church or learned in Sunday School. I’m talking about the things your mother or father approved of or the selves they strived to become. I’m talking about the warnings given by teachers and friends of selves not to be come or at least not to appear as.

Once we could see ourselves as third persons we could compare our selves to other selves and aspects of selves in the world and we could begin to embody, or sometimes only publicly embody, those other selves we find, love, idealize and are passed around and commented upon by the world of selves around us.

“Who told you you were naked?”

In the story of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden the taking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil coincides with the man and the woman first seeing their own selves. The serpent’s minute suggestion of a lying, withholding creator somehow brings the man and the woman to differentiate themselves from their selves, at first to see the potential of grasping for a new and more attractive self, one of knowing good and evil, and then for recognizing the vulnerability and nakedness of their selves, sending them looking for leaves as they hide from the great Self whose mind they for the first time can begin to mirror and see their own nakedness. From this point forward the man and the woman, furnished with the capacity to see their selves through the minds of others, understanding the consequence of appearance, now enter the economy of clothing, both literally and every other way we clothe ourselves with other selves. There is no going back.

Wishing for Another World

The woman in the video, and the video itself has an aire of judgment about it. The video invites us into agreement that the world should not treat sexy her any differently from plain her. Rules should be rules we like to say in public. This is a rule we like to salute in public but seek every opportunity to skirt it if it gives us an advantage. She needed no advanced training or assistance to create “sexy me”. The clothes were in the closet. The make-up on the shelf. The knowledge of the publicly exchanged images of fashion and beauty were rehearsed and mastered.

The preparation of “plain me” probably took more work. She needed to muster the courage to face the rejection she knew would come. She needed to manage the hit to her self image, that reflected self that she knew she would need to endure on every street, in every shop and in every bar. She was bolstered by the righteousness seeking self that was taking the reflected self hit at this point, subtly judging and condemning each time the economy of looks was reinforced, vindicated by the hidden camera capturing her righteous self exposing the hypocrisy of the system.

In the end of course, she, her own self, was beneath the menagerie of public and private selves that were on parade, display and judgment and she was torn. She can expose the game, judge the game, but she knows the expose will do little to stop the game. The naked self must find clothing and with clothing participate in the public economy of ideal and evaluated selves.

Seeking Eden 

We wish to be whole, true, authentic, solid selves in public and in private but we, like the man and the woman scour the planet always looking for a better leaf. In the fallout of the fruit episode fingers were pointed. “It was the woman that you gave me!” The man blames the woman he celebrated and subtly implicates the maker of the woman. Once we see our selves, and see our selves as deficient, and see our selves as powerless to adequately address the deficiency, someone besides us must be at fault and eventually we blame the maker of the world.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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