“It’s amusing how well your pictures match your bio,” he said. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of wacky one-liners while engaged in the weird alternate universe that is online dating, but this one gave me pause.
My first inclination was to laugh. Of course my pictures match my bio. What was he expecting? That the 25-year-old who describes herself as an introverted nerd who loves to read and works in publishing would be a six-foot-tall Norwegian supermodel with long blonde hair and tons of bikini pics? Instead, I wear oversized glasses and oddly printed sweaters. I don’t even own a bikini, much less take pictures in one. It seems like anyone who reads my bio should somehow know this.
I decided to take it as a compliment that he felt my self-described nerdy persona matched the images I wanted to share with prospective dates. And yet the longer I sat with his off-handed comment, the weirder I felt about it.
Finding My Personal Brand
There was a time where I would’ve lived for a compliment like this. To feel I had cultivated a sense of self that was worth noticing was my grand goal. I’ve never been the pretty one. Or the athletic one. Or the party girl. So my best bet was to buy a lot of dresses with polka dots and hope the Zooey Deschanel look didn’t go away anytime soon.
In college, I took a few PR classes. Mostly because as an English major you can only hear that print journalism is dead so many times before you feel the urge to run into the safe and stable arms of the closest marketing firm. I had a professor who talked at length about personal branding. Apparently, you need to have a pronounced sense of self-image for your resume, for your social media profiles, and for your blog, if you want any chance at getting a job.
Little did I know then, but in post-grad life, personal branding comes in handy for more than just the job hunt. We cultivate a certain persona on social media to convince our friends we’re cool. We do it on dating profiles to attract potential mates. To find the angle that makes you interesting is to make yourself be heard in a world that is increasingly loud and noisy.
Finding My Aesthetic
I’ve never pretended to be the smartest or the prettiest person in the room. But I’ve gotten quite good at personal branding. At some point in college I picked up the bookworm persona and ran with it. Fortunately they make everything from coffee mugs to socks with Jane Austen quotes on them, so it wasn’t as hard as you might think. Then I was given a piece of paper saying I have a degree in English, and I found a publisher that didn’t squint too hard at my Jane Austen socks before hiring me. The rest, as they say, is history.
Somewhere along the line my personal brand morphed into a whole aesthetic complete with vaguely vintage-y furniture for my new apartment and throw blankets bought off of Etsy. I once purchased a pair of oxford heels because they reminded me of something Sylvia Plath would wear. I’m sure one of the most famous female poets of all time would be comforted to know her legacy lives on in the footwear choices of the modern editorial assistant.
Not Who Am I but Why Am I
I sometimes wonder if I have perfected this image because I am quirky, or am I quirky because it’s the self-image I want to project? I look at my bios on everything from LinkedIn to Bumble and wonder is this who I really am? Or am I just trying to grab people’s attention?
Then there are days when I don’t think it matters anymore. I’m finally at the point in my life where I’m comfortable with myself. I no longer want to be the pretty one, or the athletic one, or the party girl. Perhaps it took a bit of personal branding for me to become comfortable in my own skin. Perhaps I chose this persona or perhaps it chose me, but at this point it feels like a chicken or the egg scenario. There isn’t anyone else I’d rather be.
As I approach my mid-twenties, I am no longer trying to figure out who I am. But I find that life is still full of questions. Like, why am I the way that I am? And have I fully become the person who I want to be?
Once you hit the point in life where you are comfortable in your own skin, you need to make the conscientious decision whether you want to continue to grow and change, or whether you want to continue being comfortable exactly as you are.
It’s OK to Keep Exploring Who You Are
The only problem with creating a personal brand is when you let it affect your personal growth. Just because I’ve carved out a niche for myself right now does not necessarily mean it is the person I will be for the rest of my life. Nor should I allow it to be.
I used to think that by my mid-twenties I’d be settled down. If not in one place, then at least with that one version of my life I’d be most content with. These days I wonder if I am any closer to being settled than I was as an anxious college kid. Sometimes I think I will never know every possibility of who I could be, whether I am 25, 35, or 85. Perhaps that is how it should be.
If I live to be 100, I’m not sure I’ll ever be settled with just one version of who I truly am. Branding yourself with a certain persona might be satisfying and easy for a while, but eventually it gets boring. I want to be always trying on a new skin and chasing a new horizon. That doesn’t mean I can’t be content with who I am right now. However, it also means knowing that the future holds possibilities that I can’t even fathom yet.
I sometimes get anxious wondering how I’m going to fit all of these possibilities into this one life. Yet, I know I have evolved into who I am, and I can continue to change as I need to. Or, better yet, I can continue to change who I am as I want to. And I can always wear the Jane Austen socks, even as I reach for a new horizon.