| May Huang
Three Factors to Influence Identity
United States, being such a liberal but still white-dormant country, a white citizen who lives in America may not be concerned with race discrimination affecting one’s identity. As I noticed that a luxury store hires few black shop assistants, which reveals the rights still not equal. Being treat differently, a black person may be more aware of how race influence their identity. This contrast shows that the notion about identity varies from one person to another, which also greatly influenced by other’s attitude. In this case, appearance, the combination of a person’s face, skin color, body shape, hair, eye color and even age, is one of the most intuitive embodiments of a person’s overall image that influence how others and self define identity. Then mass media plays a vital role in shaping people’s identity by constantly transmitting information. Appearance and media affects how people define identity, but people finally create identity through personal decision. Appearance, mass media, and personal decisions are three major factors that portray people’s identity.
Appearance is a basic and fixed feature people are given from the time they are born, which becomes the major factor to form identity. Generally, people would have baseless assumptions about a person according to the appearance he or she presents. For instance, people may assume that a high paid worker would like to wear uniform to go to work. One way that appearance forms our notion about identity is through others assumptions. In other words, it depends on the way in which others define ourselves. Lucy Grealy shared her experience in “marks”. Suffering tortuously from Ewing’s sarcoma-a lethal form of cancer from 4 years old, she lost nearly half her jaw and hair that made her differentiate from the norm and experienced bad treatment. Boys in her class made radicular on her; neighboring kids regarded her as a monster, even her mother emphasized that she is abnormal. In this case, Grealy subconsciously got the information that appearance is her identity by comparing others attitude. It verifies that the majority would have labeled a preliminary judgment on Grealy based on her “scarred face”, which also greatly influences Grealy’ notion about her identity.
Because we are always judged by others, exhibiting many personal qualities by appearance is a miniature of what we are such as a person whose body is trim and taut body shows that he or she adherent a healthy lifestyle, or someone who is dirty and smelly will probably also be lazy. Furthermore, As Mechelle Lee, a contributor to myriad fashion magazines, explained in her book The Fashion Victim’s Ten Commandments, “How we dress is an extension of how we ourselves, but more commonly, it is an expression of how we want others to see us”. It reflects that we want others see what kind of people we are like by tailoring personal appearance. For example, someone who dress very formally probably want others to think they are affluent or in a higher class.
Mass media such as social network sites, TV, advertisement, and magazines become an integral part of public sphere, making it an ideal place to constantly reshape people’s identity by publicizing concepts over and over again. A documentary called Miss presentation made by Jennifer Siebel Newsom focus on how mass media guides people’s emotion, social concept and values shared that American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, 3 hours watching movies, and 10 hours on Internet. We expose ourselves to media and try to understand external world through vast information, but hardly doubt its truth. It can embody in news commentaries. Once an event happens, it will repeatedly emerge from TV to Internet.
Unaware of that reporters generally extract the most crucial and representative part of the event, then coupled with personal viewpoints to report, people automatically regard what they said is a version of reality. This is a basic pattern media uses to shape people’s identity. By providing young people a resource that gives a seemingly constant flow of information, adolescents can use this information as a guide for identity.
Let’s take the gender as an example. The disparities between gender are greatly exaggerate through the social media by portraying both women and men in stereotyped ways. Typically, men are portrayed in a dormant place with a series characters like powerful, active, and adventurous. Media urges males become better to fit in these features, which is different from the treatment for females since it sets up harsher criterion to make women think they are not good. For instance, ideal women display in advertisement or magazines are usually tall, white, and thin, with a tubular body. Sometimes, they even use some tools like Photoshop to make it unrealistic and much thinner than real one. When females judge themselves by artificial beauty stander, they may not satisfy that compelled them to change. Boys and girls are aware of gender differences by media from an early age.
Another image of gender the media offers us is man mainly deal with social affairs and the woman should pay more attention on looking after family, which is the reason why powerful women treated in a derogatory way in the media. As Newsom showed in the movie called Miss Representation, no matter how successful a woman is, media prefers to focus and comment on how she looks like rather than what she do. Also briefly evident in film. Majority Heroic roles in highly popular films such as the spider-man, Captain America, and even the cartoon-Big hero performed by male star. According to Miss Representation, only 15 percent top film put women in leader role. If we closely look back to films we have seen, it is easy to find that even for these female leaders, gaining a harmonious family, satisfactory love or men’s attention is the norm outcome, which verifies a woman can be strong and successful only if she exemplifies traditional stereotypes of femininity- positive, beautiful, and keeping a relationship with one or more men. After adolescents engage in social media and receives these information, they are inclined to transform identity to fit in media’s expectation, especially the role male and female take in family. There are lot of housewife, but hardly see a male choose to become a househusband.
Though appearance and media greatly influence how people define identity, personal decisions play a vital role in changing identity. What Kathy Wilson illustrates in essay “Dude Looks Like a Lady” epitomizes an independent woman who ignores public opinion and insists her choice. “"I am a black woman whose bald head makes me invisible to some, boyish to others, and beautiful to me”, proposed by Wilson. Influencing by the traditional image of women, which is females often go hand in hand with longhair, lots of people inadvertently regard Wilson as a boy. Though hair style contributes to embarrass experiences for wiles, she still chooses to be herself instead of satisfying with others' expectation. Moreover, upholding decision a person makes by self even can reshape the of expectation and conception of identity which provides in the outside environment. This is how racism has been improved. Martin Luther King, whose speech “I Have a Dream” was known to all, devoted all effort to fighting against racial discrimination, then it was protested in federal and state law that improved the black people’s state. The same as Barack Obama. He defined his heritage as a precious identity that successfully drive him to become the first black president of the United States. Because there is a huge amount of people like Martin Luther King and Obama who bravely consider race as their indispensable and important identity, the racial discrimination has improved a lot. It can be applied to other identity markers such as gender and social class. People can change disadvantaged group’s situation by standing for their basic and equal rights. Therefore, race, gender, and social class will no longer be identity markers that lead people be treated differently.
To sum up, appearance, which shows what people think of themselves and affects others views, forms the intuitive identity. Then Mass media appears to influence identity is through persuasion. We are in essence receiving the ideas of identity from media when we engage in it. Finally, people can shape identity by making personal decisions. These internal and external factors combine to shape people’s identity.
Grealy, Lucy. "Masks." Aging & Wisdom 126-G. MA: Umass Boston, 2015. 14-19. Print.
Lee, Michelle. "The Fashion Victim's Ten Commandments." Aging & Wisdom 126-G. MA:
Umass Boston, 2015. 21-23. Print.
Miss Representation. Prod. Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Miss Representation. Youtube, n.d. Web. 5
Oct. 2015. .
Wilson, Kathy. "Dude Looks Like a Lady." Aging & Wisdom 126-G. MA: Umass Boston, 2015.