Inner Vs Outer Self

First Impression is a reinterpretation of a concept I had explored previously for the piece Where do I put It (2019). For that work I was trying to visually express what lies underneath the curated facade every individual puts together to survive in our marketing obsessed society. (“On brand” is just an everyday thing people say now.) I tried to convey all the inconvenient feelings that are not “marketable”.

The idea behind the reversible jacket is to visualize how everyone hides parts of themselves. Which I don’t think is necessarily a bad or good thing in general. As someone who has had chronic depression the majority of my life, and wasn’t aware of it for half of that time, I have spent a lot of time hiding my real feelings and pretending to be Ok. As most people with chronic issues tend to do. So I think a lot about the contrast between a person’s outer world and their internal one.

Embroidered Metropolis by Manny Roberston

I think this idea is expressed nicely in D.W. Winnicott’s theory of False True selves, which I stumbled upon while going down a google hole about  inner vs. outer self. In his theory the False sense is basically just a defense mechanism and that can be healthy or not. “False Self” doesn’t seem to be the best descriptor either, it is just his word for your book cover.

You can read about the actual theory HERE.

Or efficiently defined HERE.

Or poorly paraphrased here:

  1. Unhealthy: True Self is completely hidden and the False Self is recognized as the real person. AKA there is nothing inside this book cover, all the pages are blank. 
  1. Less Unhealthy: The True Self has a secret life, but the False Self is still what everyone sees. This book cover has nothing to do with what is written on the inside and there is a lock on it. Like one of those diaries we all had in Jr High. 
  1. Medium Healthy: The False Self is a first line of defense and is looking for conditions where the True Self can be safely expressed. I picture this as a “choose your own adventure” book cover. If you answer correctly you get to turn to the True Self pages. If not then you get to continue to the “False Self” pages. 
  1. Almost Healthy: Individuals’ outward self is based on who they are talking to, they are not completely aware of their True Selves. This book comes with those filter lens glasses. Depending on which lenses you look through the book will be slightly different. 
  2. Healthy: The False Self is just a polite and socially acceptable version of your True Self. Basically the definition of any book cover, presenting the story in the most appealing fashion.
Mountains of the Moon 2012 – a series of 9 volumes of drawings made using Chinese ash ink on calligraphic paper for the Oriental Museum, Durham University – Stephen Livingstone

I grossly oversimplified it here, but I like this way of laying out the spectrum. The relationship between our outer and inner selves does not have to be unhealthy, it can be a very normal healthy way to navigate society. But it can also be extremely unhealthy.

This concept is very relevant today because of how saturated our society is with social media. It takes curating how you present yourself to a whole new level. Not only does it allow all of us to present the best version of ourselves but it makes it incredibly easy to lie. I think this is not only damaging to the people being lied to (unhealthy comparison) but also incredibly unhealthy for the people lying about themselves, creating a larger rift between their true selves and their book covers.

There was a study done in 2017 that found people who develop a better inner awareness of their own mental health become more understanding towards others. So what kind of culture are we creating where it is normal to edit everything unpleasant about yourself making it feel more shameful than it probably is, opposed to being honest and fair with yourself and seeing where that leads?

The point of this piece is to visually depict a person’s inner self. The weird mess of it. When we meet someone we only see a tiny piece of them. We don’t know what they have been through, what they are capable of, or how they got to where they are. We are only seeing a small part of them in context.  But there is so much more, both good and bad. I think people being more genuine and willing to show their messy bits has the potential to lead to more understanding from everyone involved. 

Seriously, how cool would it be if we all tried being honest with ourselves and more self aware and that just naturally made us kinder, more empathic humans?! Wouldn’t that be great!

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