Three days ago, I decided I shall not share my blogs with The Mrs again…. well, for the immediate future anyway. Not that it would bother her, she has never said my opinions matter anyway. She accused me of writing stuff “without checking” my facts. It was a bad day for me – earlier that morning, a son had similarly castigated me for sharing unreliable advice on how to test ourselves for the coronavirus. “It seems fake news is more contagious than COVID-19”, he basically made me admonish myself. “Then all the more reason to carefully choose reputable sources for information. Especially if you share it.” I tried to defend myself by justifying the article sounded logical for someone who isn’t medically trained. “Come on, ba!” was the reply. It’s not the “come on” you hear in a sports match where the player barracks himself to try harder. Like “Jia Yu”. No, his “come on” was of the cynical type. Like “don’t be an idiot”. “It might sound logical but your logic might not be sound.” Case closed. I lost. The Mrs was so proud of The Son. “He’s so smart and sensible,” she quipped. The realisation that people think I am at best sloppy with what I write or share, or at worst, that I am shonky with fake news is hard to swallow. This hurt my ego, especially coming from people closest to me. It rocked my world again. For much of my life, I did not look at myself in the mirror. The Mrs had said on a few occasions it was my huai-ren (bad person) looks that make people question my honesty. That rocked me. The honesty was expected but not the brutality. I was ill-prepared for that. “Your demeanour and facial features (it is true she may not have used the word bad) are best suited for roles as a bad-ass buffoon in kungfu movies.” Mind you, not as the villain opposite the hero but as one of those who briefly appear in the set before being summarily terminated – she made it clear that was what she meant. “You’d be one of those kicked in the arse and viewers won’t even notice”, she said acidly. For decades, I did not bother to check myself in the mirror. What was the point, right? It did not matter if I looked scruffy or unshaven. I did not even own a comb. It was not until I aped my sons and tried out the expensive hair salon in my neighbourhood that I began to look after my hair. That was about three years ago. “If they can afford an expensive haircut, why can’t I?” It was a question for myself and when the answer came screaming into my mind loud and clear, I made an appointment with Hiro, the Japanese hairdresser there who would later become my hero. He told me I’d look good with long hair. He undid his bun that day and told me to grow my hair long, like his. He told me to look into the mirror and to give it a few months before deciding if long hair did not suit me. He made me look at myself with my own eyes. That day, I thought The Mrs was wrong. My looks are not that bad. But, there are days when I think The Mrs is right – that I have that mean bad-ass look. The “thu-fei” or bandit. I began to like that look. There are surprising advantages when I wear that mean look. Old ladies vacate their seats for me, without me having to ask! The Son bought me a wooden hair brush soon after I had learned to tie a bun, and he said his colleagues thought I looked great for my age. Some days, I think I do not look that insignificant. Viewers would notice me if I got my ass kicked, I assured myself. How I look was never important to me. “Never judge a book by its cover” – but that turned out to be such bad advice. I had that inner confidence, that rock-solid belief in myself. Besides, there were many who believed in me – those who signed up to own a franchise in my business, for instance. But, I was wrong to ignore my looks. I was foolish to consider hair conditioners as unnecessary expenses. Hair conditioners were something I brought home from hotels. I never believed how I presented myself to people mattered. They ought to look for the substance within rather than the surface. It was true. How I dressed or looked did not matter to me but I should have realised it mattered to them! I may have my self-respect but I forgot I needed their respect too. I have my “inner confidence” but I ignored the fact that I needed their confidence in me too. I may be right to think that my looks are irrelevant to a successful business but I was foolish to forget they wanted to follow someone who looked successful. How I did not present myself to people mattered. In the end, the franchise collapsed. I blamed it on a world-wide financial crisis, but the truth may be closer to home. Maybe, my business format failed because people started disbelieving me. Maybe they lost confidence in me when they saw me next to someone with a gold Rolex watch, or someone who flew business class, or someone who drove a Merc or Porsche. I thought as a team member I should look as average as them and wore the same uniform. I carted stock in shopping trolleys to the shops as would any of their casual workers. I drove a twenty-year-old copper-green Pajero which had a badly crumpled rear bumper that never needed fixing. At times, I looked like a nobody, or worse, like an old trolley boy. If I were asked for my advice about the importance of looks today, my answer would be an emphatic affirmation that how a person presents themselves matters. Do not believe those who say “It’s what’s inside that counts!” Looks may be superficial but they are certainly beneficial to convey a nice impression – in job interviews, sometimes the first impression is what gets us into the next round. For someone in the performing arts, how they present themselves may determine what opportunities come their way. “Looks attract but we cannot hide our personality. It is our personality that shines through.” I persuaded myself. In the long run, looks do not matter, that is true. But for many of us, we won’t get to talk about the long term when we can’t even get past the first door. Unfortunately, the world today values instant gratifications, quick success, and influencers teach us to look great and sound fabulous. Many gain their confidence not from their own abilities but from how they look and what accent they apply. A professional appearance buys respect in the workplace. Proper grooming and immaculate dressing often deliver self-confidence. We like what we see and others begin to believe in that image we project. Maybe we ourselves start to believe in our new look – we boost our self-confidence and the feel-good factor in turn lifts our mood and makes us pleasant to be with. Maybe we become nicer and our positivity attracts others. Who can deny that an attractive appearance with a positive attitude is not an advantage?
Maybe that “everything is great” feeling was foreign to me. It caused me to be sloppy. Maybe I became too sure of myself and I let my guard down. It brought out another ugly vein from within me. I used to rely on my inner qualities. Diligence, accountability, responsibility, reliability, trustworthiness, productivity and organisational skills to name a few. Guarding my credibility was a priority. Pa taught me to say my word is my honour and a handshake is not a form of greeting – it is an inviolable agreement. But ever since I started looking at myself in the mirror, I started to believe our looks matter, a lot. Personal hygiene and personal grooming are two key factors to how well we present ourselves to people. Look good, feel good and life will be good. I changed my wardrobe. Out went brand names such as an old favourite Kitten Car Care leather jacket or the fake Lacoste polo shirt from Thailand. In with British India cotton shirts and BOSS cardigans and shirts. I started using Aesop shampoos and conditioners and L’Occitane body milk. But, did I not check my facts before I write? Surely not. I asked The Mrs. “Show me, where did I get it wrong?” Fact-checking is vital, for anyone who values their credibility. Even for a non-professional writer like me. I do not earn a single cent from the one hundred and fifty thousand words I have written. Why bother to fact-check when there is no fat cheque coming my way? Could it be that I want to be accurate just to satisfy my ego? Just so I feel good about myself? So that I look good in others’ eyes? This is what happens when we are pre-occupied with how we look and attach importance to what people think of us. No, I have decided to stop looking into the mirror – I have learned to be comfortable with my “inner confidence”, warts and all. That, I have fact-checked.