You know the bit in The Matrix when Neo’s been freed, and then they put him into the loading program and he’s got hair again and Morpheus says it’s his residual self-image?
Mine is apparently stuck at age twelve.
In my head I am both more tan and more blonde than I am in reality. This has nothing to do with our culture’s valorization of those qualities — at least I don’t think so — it’s that I used to be such a person, and my hindbrain hasn’t quite gotten the memo that years have passed since then.
As a kid, I spent literally hours a day in the pool. I did swim team in the morning; I played around in the water during the afternoon. And fortunately the Scandinavian genes did not win out, because I tanned instead of burning to a crisp. In college, I worked on digs for a few weeks each summer; my first two years of grad school, I took outdoor jobs for the entirety of the season. I like being outside; I like getting sunshine. I often don’t realize how little I do that anymore. So when I see a photo of myself, my reaction is generally “good GOD what happened?” For some reason, looking in a mirror doesn’t do it; it’s not until I look at a picture that I realize how ridiculously pale I’ve become. Okay, sure, yay for less risk of skin cancer — but being tan makes me happy, because it tells me I’ve been in the sun, and the sun is a major source of joy in my life.
Where the hair is concerned, it’s more genetics than lifestyle (though the lack of sunlight has some effect). Like my mother and brother, I started out very blonde, and have gotten darker over time. Which is fine . . . except that again, my brain hasn’t caught up. I’ve only just wrapped my mind around the fact that I can no longer call myself even a dark blonde. My hair is brown, folks — which will come as no surprise to anybody who’s seen me, but apparently I’m a bit slow on the uptake. In my head, I’m a twenty-nine-year-old version of my twelve-year-old self.
To a lesser degree, it extends to other things, too. Most of them ballet-related. What do you mean, I can’t drop cold into the full front splits anymore? (I can still get there, but it takes warming up. I haven’t used that as the start of my stretching since I was sixteen.) My physical therapist had me doing one-foot toe-raises on the edge of a step, so my heel sinks below the horizontal, and I was appalled to discover that three sets of fifteen was (and still is) WAY beyond my capabilities; I’m up to three sets of ten, and that’s progress from where I started. My days of pointe, they are far behind me. But sometimes I forget that.
I know I’m not the only one with this kind of discrepancy between self-image and reality. We mostly hear about it in the context of weight, though: either the anorexic who sees herself as still fat, or the legions of women who feel they ought to be five or ten or twenty pounds lighter than they are. I’d like to hear about the other aspects, the weird little points where your brain is still stuck in the past, or an alternate reality that never truly existed. What’s your residual self-image?