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Who Do You Look Like?

On Saturday night, I got together with a group of DC bloggers to remember Susan, who died a year ago last Thursday.  We picked the date of her death to get together, but we were really coming together to talk about her life.  To recount the stories; the touching ones and the funny ones and the ones some of us had never heard before and the ones some of us had forgotten until we were reminded.  I told the story of how Susan collected formula coupons for me after the twins were born early, ensuring that I never paid full price for formula.  For an entire year.

She was a pretty amazing woman.

It was also a time to touch base with friends, and in a few cases, put a face to a name I conversed with via email regularly but for whatever reason had never met.  In one case, a woman recognized me and came over to introduce herself.  We’ve talked for two years or so via email, trading writing news.  I always imagined her as an African-American woman with shoulder-length hair that she straightened.  In my mind, she was about 5 foot 10, willowy.  With a melodic voice and deep laugh.

In reality, she was a short white woman (I can say “short” because I beat her by an inch and a half!) with a totally cute ponytail and mid-Atlantic accent (I’m guessing New York or New Jersey).

Could not have been farther off.

And because I have oral diarrhea, I had to tell her just how off I was in imagining her.  I fear I freaked her out a bit.  I have no idea what in her emails or writing made me picture her the way I did.  There were probably accurate physical descriptions that I tuned out because it didn’t match what was in my head.  Though I couldn’t tune out reality when she was sitting right in front of me.

I was also extremely off in imagining Aerotropolitan Comitissa. In my mind, she was a petite woman resembling a young Joan Chen back when she was on Twin Peaks.  In reality, she is… well… picture the opposite of that.  She doesn’t have an image of herself on her blog, so I don’t want to paint a verbal picture for you.  It should suffice to say that she is quite pretty but in an exact opposite of Joan-Chen-in-Twin-Peaks sort of way.

I was a little bit off with Serenity.  After I met her the first time, I went back to imagining her as I imagined her as I read her blog before meeting her.  In both versions, she had brown hair.  Though a different face.  And different clothes.  Over time, I slowly allowed my mental image of Serenity to be replaced by the real Serenity, and now when I read her, I think of her as she actually looks vs. how I thought she looked.  But that was a much smaller jump to make, from verbal image Serenity (how I imagined her based solely on her words) to actual image Serenity (how I know she looks either due to meeting her face-to-face or seeing an image).

How good are you at guessing what people look like based on their words?  As you can probably guess from this post, I would probably rank somewhere near D+ if we were graded on this sort of thing.  Do you prefer to know what someone looks like and have an accurate mental image, or do you like painting your own mental image based on the words as you would a character in a book?  Sometimes I wonder if seeing the Harry Potter movies ruined the books a bit since I started imagining the characters as looking like the actors vs. as I thought of them before the movies came out.


1 JustHeather { 02.12.13 at 8:50 am }

I suck at imagining how people look and what they really look like.

2 serenity { 02.12.13 at 9:08 am }

I read the Lord of the Rings series probably 15-20 times before the movies came out, and I have to admit, when I saw the Orcs for the first time, I was THRILLED to put a face to the label of Orc. I feel like, for me, the mental image of someone isn’t nearly as strong when I read their words; or it’s changeable depending on what I get out of a post/chapter at a particular moment in time. My imagination is changeable and I never really get a good concrete sense of someone’s appearance when I read them. Their PERSONA, yes. Appearance, not so much.

Except, it seems, with radio personalities. It’s something to do with the voice, I think: I not only get a strong sense of appearance but I am generally wrong. Like D- or F wrong. 🙂

3 Tiara { 02.12.13 at 9:36 am }

I’d give myself a D as I seem to have a wild imagination when it comes to the images in my head for people. I also hate when a movie is made out of a book I love & they cast the characters all wrong visually in my opinion. I also had a war going on in my head while reading Twilight because my image of Bella was so different from Kristen Stewart but since I’d watched the 1st movie before picking up the books, her image & my imagined image of Bella were duking it out in my head.

4 jodifur { 02.12.13 at 10:16 am }

It was sooo good to see you on Saturday! I’m so glad you could come.

5 Ana { 02.12.13 at 10:18 am }

Total F. F-. I’m always shocked when I see a picture & it is hard to reconcile. Same with books/movies. For really anonymous bloggers I also geographically “place” them in my head…and when I actually figure out where they live, it similarly freaks me out, because THAT”S NOT WHERE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE!

6 a { 02.12.13 at 10:36 am }

I’m not very good at imagining what people look like. My husband, however, is in the A-/B+ range – he’s right about 90% of the time. I don’t know – I don’t really picture things anyway. My mental pictures are mostly in words rather than images. Or, I guess, I only have mental pictures of things that I’ve actually seen? My brain is weird. I sometimes have expectations of what people will look like, but if the person doesn’t meet the expectation, I don’t find myself shocked about it, I guess.

I think I assume everyone is tall and thin and pretty until I meet them.

7 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 02.12.13 at 11:27 am }

I think I pretty much suck.

And I think I’ve freaked at least one person out by sucking and then saying gosh, you’re not at all what I expected.

I think the interesting thing to look at is how it changes your perception of them as a person. How does it change the way we act towards them, or filter what we hear/see? We all tend to pigeon-hole to a certain extent, and in one way it’s bad – our perceptions of intelligence should be based on measures of intelligence, not hair length or cheekbones or skin colour or accent – and in another way more information can lead to greater understanding (provided we don’t get caught with a false assumption).

I think your “pretty” description is out of date. I’ve seen me in the mirror lately.

I didn’t know Susan well, but everything I knew, read, heard about or from her put her in a good light. I should say that every loss is a loss, but sometimes it’s hard not to think that some losses are just that little bit greater. The formula coupons blows my mind.

8 Heather { 02.12.13 at 11:28 am }

I would give myself a C in the imaging what people look like class. It’s really hit or miss. Sometimes people leave unintended clues to their apperance. I constantly look for this, it’s like a Where’s Waldo of appearance adjectives.
I think mostly that when someone talks about themselves in their blog we get an interior view of the person. So, sometimes the description they give isn’t all that accurate. As a quick example, right now I write about how fat I feel and feel I look. However, if someone was just meeting me they would see me as thin.

9 loribeth { 02.12.13 at 11:40 am }

I have been dealing with the same travel agent, B., for the past 10 years or so — all over the phone. Their office used to be close to my office, but then they moved, and then the agent I was dealing with moved on and the next time I called her number, B. the answered the phone — and she’s been my agent ever since then.

Part of me thinks that some day I should visit her office to finally meet her and see if the picture of her I have in my head, based on her voice, matches reality. And part of me thinks perhaps we should just maintain the mystery. ; )

10 Gail { 02.12.13 at 11:51 am }

If I can hear their voice, I would give myself a solid A-. However, if I can only read their words, I am down to a D-. I usually can pick age, gender, area of the country from words, but that’s about it. Unless they give me a physical description of themselves. Then, I can move to a C.

11 Tigger { 02.12.13 at 12:06 pm }

I don’t really try to imagine what people look like, at least not consciously. I have a pic of me up on my blog, but it’s about 5 or 6 years old. Probably closer to 6. I don’t think I’ve changed it since I started blogging! I look exactly like my mother, although that doesn’t really help anyone who has never met her. I have, however, been recognized by people who knew her but not me…or at least, haven’t seen me as an adult. I get “holy crap, are you Linda’s daughter?” from time to time. 🙂

12 Lisa @ hapahopes { 02.12.13 at 12:57 pm }

My husband works from home and never sees his coworkers. We live on the east coast and there is a woman on the west coast he has been working with for years and years. Shortly after our wedding, she was so excited for him to send her our wedding photos. They were on the phone together when he sent her a link to the slideshow, and she started laughing hysterically. She said, “In my head, you were a blond surfer dude. I had no idea you were Asian!”

13 Chickenpig { 02.12.13 at 2:04 pm }

I would give myself a N/A 🙂 I don’t picture bloggers at all unless their blog has a photograph on it. I know what you look like, so I picture you, but without a picture I see a blogger as…colors…or an icon. I see an image that connects the personality to the blog, but not to a face. I also remember what I hear visually, I can read what I’ve heard. I can also remember every word on a page in a book IF it has a photograph or illustration, but not otherwise unless I make an effort to commit it to memory.

14 Katherine A { 02.12.13 at 2:11 pm }

It’s always interesting to meet people I’ve only communicated with in writing or on the phone. I was really surprised once when I had a training session at corporate headquarters for a former job and met a woman I’d spoken extensively with on the phone – she definitely did not look as I’d pictured her. Not that this was a bad thing, just that I was a little surprised for a moment. I’m very bad at picturing what people look like from their writing or talking.
As far as movies, one of the things that always geeks me out is the few occasions where casting/costuming gets it right and the character is exactly as I imagined them. When I first read Harry Potter, I always pictured Bellatrix as Helena Bonham Carter – I don’t know why, I just always did. So I was pretty excited when I saw her in the movies.

15 jjiraffe { 02.12.13 at 3:48 pm }

Susan sounds like she was a really special person.

I’d probably give myself a D. I didn’t expect Lori to be tall, I thought Esperanza was a tiny, petite Latina. Other bloggers have looked exactly how I imagined.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.12.13 at 5:23 pm }

Laughing at JJiraffe.

I’d get a D, too. I had you pictured as a tall , muscular blond. Until you wrote a post that said you looked “ethnic.” Then you became a tall, muscular Italian woman with long dark straight hair.

JJiraffe I had pegged, but only because I saw pix of her. Kathy, and Justine, too. I’m really curious what A looks like.

17 Mali { 02.12.13 at 8:57 pm }

Like everyone else, I’m pretty terrible at guessing what people look like. There was a reporter I used to listen to on morning radio. He had the most beautiful voice, and I imagined him to be tall, dark and handsome to match. Nope, you guessed it, I was completely wrong. And now I can never take the same pleasure in his lovely speaking voice.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of internet friends. Whilst they NEVER looked like I had imagined (and I’m sure I didn’t for them either), their voices, attitudes, personalities all carried through from the written word, making our initial meetings almost seamless. (Once we got over the shock of how we all looked!)

Two of the scariest parts of having my piece on the Huff Post was having to a) provide my real name, and b) provide a head shot.

And yes, some movies completely spoil books for me. Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County was so wrong in the part, and played it so differently to how I had read it, that I just couldn’t bear the movie.

18 TasIVFer { 02.12.13 at 11:43 pm }

Not only am I not good at imagining what people look like no matter how long I’ve known them online, I’m also pretty good at wishing I saw people I know so much that I flag down random strangers on the street because I think they are someone from my past. I’ll be minding my own business, and out of the corner of my eye I think I see someone I once knew and would love to catch up with. So I’ll yell across the street or run after a bus – and invariably when the person comes into focus (i.e. the fog in my brain lifts) it is someone I’ve never met before.

And who do I look like? A nurse at my IVF clinic let slip that I apparently look exactly like my son’s ovum donor (except her profile says she’s much taller, slimmer, has a different eye colour. . .). So, well, that’s what I look like. Whatever that looks like.

19 lostintranslation { 02.13.13 at 7:00 am }

Well, I first wasn’t quite sure what to answer, so I decided not to comment. Then I went on linke.din to connect with someone I’ve recently started working with (with only email and phone exchanges) and then I saw her photo… So now I know for sure, I’m a D+ too. 😉

20 Battynurse { 02.13.13 at 10:24 am }

Horrible at imaging how people look. Also horrible at guessing ages.

21 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 02.20.13 at 12:44 am }

The first time we met, the first thing you said was how different I looked from what you’d imagined. Though I totally understand why you imagined what you did. And no offense taken at all.

I agree with Mali that most bloggers I’ve met have really matched my imagination of their personalities if not their appearances — though one blogger’s accent really surprised me and initially threw me off, even though of course she has that accent based on where she’s from. Just not what I imagined.

If someone doesn’t have a photo up then I don’t really imagine their appearance. If they do have a photo but it’s not a true likeness then that can throw me off. My husband has a colleague whose Twitter avatar is extremely flattering; in person she’s probably 50 pounds heavier. I absolutely get her decision to use a flattering photo — almost everyone does the same — but the first time I met her I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was trying to trick the Internet.

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