Just look at her

The other day I sat in a room full of psychotherapists to discuss the topic of prejudice. You know, the idea of pre-judging someone before you have any real knowledge of them.

We all do it. We jump to conclusions based on narrow and often times false preconceptions.

To lead into the topic, we watched an excerpt from a film in which a group of American psychoanalysts, all people of colour, as one woman described herself, talked about how difficult it is when people prejudge them and others on the basis of race.

Race, they reckon is the great unspoken, especially in psychoanalytic circles. It’s far easier to talk about sex than race.

One New York psychoanalyst, a large, well dressed woman and black, seated in what looks to be her consulting room, described how a client arrived one day after making an appointment by phone.

Typically, the client was surprised to find her potential analyst was black, when, ‘On the telephone you sounded like a tall, thin, blond woman’.


I’ve been reading another psychoanalyst, Muriel Dimen, who died recently. She was only 73. It saddens me to think about some aspects of her life. In her book, Surviving Sexual Contradictions: a startling and different look at a day in the life of a contemporary professional woman, she makes it clear she’s ambivalent about having a baby. Part of her wants to fall pregnant at the age of 37, the age at which she writes the book, and another part fears it.

As far as I know Dimen remained childless throughout her life. She was a prolific writer within the psychoanalytic world and a terrific thinker. Would she have been able to keep up the pace had she taken time off to have babies?

Finally, I read a piece by the late great, Adele Horin. Her piece deals with her life as a female journalist. One quote stays with me: ‘It’s hard to imagine a woman with the craggy face of Insiders’ Barrie Cassidy fronting any major TV program, at least on the commercial networks.’

The media prefers its women young and fresh faced.

I spoke briefly to one such young woman at my gym yesterday about the fact that I’d been twice charged for membership fees and was immediately distracted by the slight moustache above her lip.

My eyes narrowed in on this moustache even as I tried not to notice.

I wondered whether she noticed me noticing or whether it was a trick of the light on her face that caused her upper lip to look so dark. I had not noticed this before when I talked to this young woman and then I kicked myself for being distracted by such an irrelevancy.

I thought of my own lips, how thin they have become, and the wrinkles above and below, those fast deepening laughter lines ever on the increase.


What do they signify beyond the obvious and do people notice them as they talk to me and think, my goodness how much she has aged?

We look at one another first and foremost as bodies, registering all these physical facts and filing them away as points of interest or concern.

We prejudge one another on the basis of appearance and forget there’s so much more to us than the way we look.

The appearance of things

This morning, I’m working against the clatter of back ground
voices as my husband convenes a business meeting of sorts in our kitchen with
friends/clients whom he helps out from time to time. 
Last night he told me they wanted a nine o’clock start. 
Nine in the morning.  On
a Sunday. 
It was okay, he said. 
I could just get about as I normally do on a Sunday morning without
interruption, only the presence of strangers in the house meant I was not
comfortable staying in my dressing gown for hours. 
It meant I needed to take a fast shower and dress enough to
be respectable. Not that my dressing gown is not respectable.  It’s a little on the eccentric side or so my
daughters tell me.  Black and white
swirls.  It makes me look like a cartoon
character, especially when set off against my pale pink and white striped bed
I made my tea before these people arrived and now it’s
already cold and I’m struck by the effect of such an intrusion on my writing
It chases away my memory of last night’s dreams, and shifts
the immediacy of the moment into my head. 
The voices in the kitchen are silent for a few minutes and I
find I am distracted once more. 
During the quiet moments my husband will be reading some
document or other and the others around the table will wait in silence for the
verdict, his interpretation of what to them is otherwise double Dutch. 
My husband is knowledgeable on the nature of contracts, those
legal arrangements that people make with one another with all sorts of
conditions and caveats to protect both parties. 
My husband is a stickler for fair and reasonable contracts
wherein the needs of both parties are met. 
It applies to property and wills and all matters related to births,
deaths and marriages.
We made a contract with one another last night.
I promised him I would leave him to get himself organised in
the morning.  I would not set the alarm,
as is my custom, not on Sunday morning, the one day of the week where we sleep
He said that was fine. 
I could hide away and behave as usual. 
He would deal with his visitors.
I opened my eyes to the day at twenty to nine and woke him,
because I realised if he did not get a move on, he would be greeting his guests
in his dressing gown and although it’s not as garish as mine, I think he’d
prefer he were ready for such visitors. 
This is another thing we do; we break our contracts as the
need arises.  They are, after all, not necessarily
set in stone. 
If I had been able to fall back to sleep there and then, I
might have done, but instead I was awake, enough to get myself into readiness
to write and this ideally involves the absence of all distractions; like those
voices from the kitchen. 
The clothes I put on this morning do not match.  Dark blue jeans with a flecked pattern, a
hand me down from one of my daughters. 
She discards her clothes before they’re worn out and I can’t
bear to see them go to waste and so I wear them on weekends when it does not
matter that I wear trousers chosen by someone else for someone else. 
They clash with the orange top I chose as a contrast.  Too much of a contrast, I fear and as I type
and look down to my middle I’m assaulted by this clash. 

And because it’s cold, cold beyond my usual
expectations of winter cold, I chose my cable knit cardigan, a cardigan I only
wear when the temperatures drop below ten degrees Celsius. 
My body is inclined to cook inside this cardigan and the visible
clash worsens.
I spend a lot of time travelling through Facebook and the
number of times I see posts that emphasize appearance is alarming. 
The appearance of things. 
People visit this house and they say it’s lovely, but
immediately my thoughts streak back to the underlying disorder of this house,
the fact there are cracks in walls, it needs a repaint inside and out and there
are places in the parquetry where the dog has dug up tiles. 
My husband never quite finished lining all the floorboards
and over time, over thirty years or so, we’ve grown used to the gaps, but
they’re obvious if you look below the surface. 
The way Sherlock Holmes of the recent TV series can greet a
person for the first time and instantly from his perceptive eye pick up all
sorts of minor details about this person such that he can even know what he’s
had for breakfast. 
Most of us do not have such perceptive vision, and yet we all
see below the surface.  We see things
that are not there, too.  We reverberate
against one another.
I decide almost instantly on whether or not I like a person,
whether I want to spend more time with that person, whether that person is
Most of my decision is based, not only on the appearance of
things, but also on that unspoken thing called ‘transference’, the degree to
which I superimpose my experience of significant others from my life,
especially from my childhood, onto them and they do likewise to me. 
And so it goes, we make up stories about other people in the
back of our minds and we may be completely off in real terms, but it fits our
expectations, and can influence our behaviour. 
There’s a problem here, not just in the business of ‘love at
first sight’ but also, its opposite, ‘hate at first sight’, which most often
sprouts from prejudice, from all the ’isms: racism, ageism, and our tendency to
Best to reserve judgment, therefore whenever we meet new
people.  Maybe get to know them a little
before we decide.