16 Mar 2011

Behind the Masks - Word of The Week

(Identity n: The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known, The distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity; individuality. Ety: from Latin idem, the same, being, and identidem, repeatedly, from id, it; see i- in Indo-European roots.)

Tonight's WoTW is a bit naughty of me. As some of you might know, I've been seeing a counselor to deal with my er, black dog issues. She knows I write this blog and she asked me to write a blog post on `identity` as my homework for our next session. However, I don't think she expected me to post this online.

So, identity - it's something that I think I'm becoming more and more aware of as I wade deeper into that pool that calls itself `Social Media`. Increasingly it seems, we are required to define ourselves - and as briefly as possible, from the elevator speech to Twitter's 140 character limit on profile descriptions. Who are we - or more importantly how do we wish to be perceived? Sometimes I don't even think that people are conscious of their words coming to define themselves. 

Something I've noticed a lot on Twitter is that women seem to define themselves predominantly by their relationships to others; I would say 60% of the women I follow do this. Their profile definition is always `wife/mother/sister/daugher/aunt` etc. Clearly these relationships are very important to them - as they are to the majority of us - but do they come to define you as a person and are they the first thing that you want people to notice about you? 

I found it really hard to define myself, or `Brand Me` as some social media users consider it, in 140 characters; it seems just so arbitrary. Why yes, I *am* a wife thank you - and I'm a daughter and a sister and a best friend and a sales manager and a niece and a cousin  - all of these chart the various relationships I have. But they're not all me - what is the essence of `Stupidgirl45` and is that any different to `Becky` (my real name). Is `stupidgirl45` an internet persona that I choose to wear? Are all these relationships personas that I choose to wear in any given and appropriate situation?

For those who don't know, my twitter profile says " I have webbed toes I'm left handed, deaf+deeply uncool". You may be wondering why I chose to highlight a) my disability b) a deformity c) the hand I write with and d) my lack of coolness? Well I chose them because I was trying to differentiate myself from all the other Tweeps out there but also because, as I said before, they're arbitrary words. People can make judgments on me based on what I've chosen to tell you about myself. I guess I was hoping that you'd see that mainly, I have a sense of humour about myself and also that I like to be different. 

 It genuinely never occurred to me to describe myself in relation to my relationships with other people. What does it mean that I'm a wife or a sister? It doesn't mean nothing but equally, to me, those relationships are far too personal and complex to use them to define myself in 140 characters. 

Btw clearly I am just talking about myself here, please do not feel that if you do this that I am judging you, as I'm not - I'm merely curious about why people do this. I would be very keen to hear your thoughts on this - and also your perceptions of me, based on my 140 character description.

Linking to this I'd like to touch on why I use the ID of Stupidgirl45. It's a question I've been asked about a million times - and it's a good question - but also seems to really infuriate people that I've chosen the name stupidgirl (as apparently, I'm not). I've used stupidgirl45 as an online ID for nearly 15 years now. It initially acted as a sort of filter for me - the stupidgirl part comes from the song by  Garbage, as I'm a huge fan. The number part is kind of random - I was setting up an email account and there were apparently, 44 other stupidgirls. Also this song had just come out. I also like wearing the name stupid; it acknowledges that a) I really don't know anywhere near as much as I'd like to think I do and b) that we're always learning - it reminds me to be humble about myself. So I hope that clears that one up for you guys!

So who am I really? I'm stupidgirl, I'm Becky/Rebecca/Beckle/Bex, I'm SG45, I'm Betty to one particular friend, what does it all mean? My counselor seems to think that I have trouble feeling a sense of identity that comes from myself. That my identity at any given moment is a reflection of the situation I'm in and the appropriate behaviour for that - friend, wife, climbing partner, professional, blogger, writer, daughter, daughter-in-law, colleague. When my counselor asked me "But who are you?" I really struggled to answer. 

I thought of things I liked - books, music, chocolate, crap telly, dancing, climbing, hanging out. I thought of personality traits I think I have - loyalty, tact, kindness, chattiness, exuberance. But me, essence of me? I've spent so long hiding behind developing parts of myself that I thought other people wanted to see that I think I've lost sight of who I really am. I'm never quite sure if I have a characteristic because I am genuinely inclined that way or because I want people to perceive me as being like that. All I know for sure is that I probably need to work on developing my sense of identity based on both external *and* internal measures.

But am I really alone in feeling like this - can any of us really define for sure who we are? And really does any of it even matter? If you really want to be a certain way - and act like it - does that mean it's you? Do any of us really have a concrete sense of `self`?

 I suspect any psychologists that read this blog are having a field day with today's WoTW. I know I've not talked about identity in relation to writing at all, but rest assured, next week's post will be about `Characterisation` which in some ways is Identity Part 2. So tune in then.

I'd love to hear any and all of your comments about this - and I hope I've not scared you off by sounding like a complete nutcase!

Thank you and goodnight

Stupidgirl has left the building

PS Talking of great minds think alike, if you're interested in other blogposts about identity, check out this by my great friend Rach!


  1. I dunno Becky, I have a real problem with thinking hard about identity and yet most art explores it, minorities pursue their identities because otherwise they are subsumed by the majority, the virtual world permits fluidity and hiding of identity and so it goes on.

    I do feel that the English (not the Scots, Welsh & Irish since they have strong sense of who they are culturally, part defined through asserting themselves in opposition to the English majority) are now really struggling for a sense of who we are. A hundred years ago the English could point to a map of the world covered in British pink, the wealth of the nation, its central part in international relations & diplomacy and just tap their chest with pride & say that's who I am - all that surety and confidence has long gone and the English have not done the work on who we are now in the 21st Century. Some still yearn for the glorious past. Others are just lost in drift.

    Me, I know who I am. I don't feel a need to broadcast it. I write books. They contain parts of me and I am happy to reveal that, since it is worked on & distorted through fiction.

    Like I say, I dunno... but I would never take issue with anyone else who undergoes that journey of 'who am I?'

    marc nash x

  2. Wow excellent post! Really gets you thinking...I shall be pondering my own identity now

  3. I always find identity particularly interesting. I've got my net handle pipsytip which I use on twitter and LJ and other forums and places. I've also got a facebook under my real name. I don't like linking my lj and twitter to FB because I see facebook as my public face on the internet my family and rl friends interact with me there. Its where I'm conservative and certainly don't post anything I wouldn't want my mum seeing.

    I certainly censor myself on there because I'm aware that the audience I have there is family and I'm not necessarily comfortable with them seeing me warts and all.

    The warts and all side of me I post in my live journal and on twitter. I find myself assuming different personas when I'm in different company. I'm very particular these days about how I construct my identities. In the past I got into a relationship where my identity was usurped from me. I wouldn't want that to happen again.

    I'm waffling, but this post kind of resonated.

  4. Oh yeah, Marc Nash isn't my real name.

    marc nash x

  5. Scientists say every cell in our bodies is completely replaced at least once every seven years. So when you look at old photographs of yourself, you truly are looking at a different person. Even memories get reshufflrd over the years. So those maintaining the same 'identity' for life are suffering from arrested development. We all change over time. A central set of core beliefs may persist. But even they can become relocated within the greater matrix. Life is a play written in multiple acts. Expect change, both external and internal. Sometimes I think 'identity' means simply - what are you into now. Maybe there is a basic, genetic component that stays with us for life. Maybe not. Look around. Personal reinvention is an art form in the twentyfirst century. Go out and paint your own self-portrait....And if you don't like it...paint it again. That's why I write about vampires. They can endure for ages, yet are constantly forced to confront new challenges and evolving situations...And BOY DO THET HAVE NEEDS...the perfect metaphor for our identity/image seeking time.

  6. Awesome post - as always. I agree absolutely with you re the relationship thing. I'm NOT someone's mum/wife/friend/lover ... at least not if that's how you're trying to define me ... I'm ME. And I am bloody proud of that.

    I hope the counselling helps you find some answers xx

  7. You've made me think before 9 am. Ouch!What a brilliant blog post.

    I have "wife, mother, medical writer..." on my twitter profile because I am those things and in that order of priority.

    I guess perhaps what I do is what defines me? I can think about flying a plane but unless I'm taking off and landing one, I can't identify myself as a pilot.

    The problem being that what being a wife means to me, outside of the legal definition, may not be what other people read into it. I mean, I don't think wife equals nag, drudge or asexual being whereas you'd think that was the definition watching some comedians!

    Then again, my twitter name is Leglesszebra and that's reflecting my tattoo which was designed to be the essence of me - zebras are stubborn, determined. They are barrel shaped, they have meaty legs for going long distances and, while they are beautiful to me, they ain't the prettiest of equids.

    I now have to go away and think whether the first bit really matches the second. *scratches head*

  8. I personally think that everything you appear to be to both the outside world as well as what you admit to yourself is what you are.

    We none of us are just one face; we adapt our personna for the occasion and the people we meet/work with/blog/tweet etc. After all, some people you make contact with will be interested in the fact that you are married, have no children and are a siblng; others won't relate to these facts about you.

    In any case it matters not one bit how other people define us; in most cases they need to know just so they have a common interest: for instance 'I have an elderly parent who suffers from alzheimers and is in a nursing home,' or 'I got married last year' or 'I write (therefore I am') OK OK sorry don't mean to be flippant.

    We spend much of our lives wondering who we are cos, altho we may not change per se, we are constantly evolving thanks to our life experiences.

    FYI I also want to be a published author :-) this means I would have to forgo most of my social life and just sit indoors hands to computer until I'd written the requisite 70,000 words, and rewritten them at least twice more until I am heartily sick of them!And if I am sick of them, I guess any potential readers will be too :-( Meanwhile the frog in my life tells me to stop spending so much time onine....

    PS Some bright spark once said that everyone has a book in them. That is cxxp - everyone has a story or two but this doesn't mean it would necessarily make a good book! Writing is not just an art, it is a craft.

  9. Great post Becky. It's interesting to hear your angle on identity on the internet.

    Personally, whenever I start a new account on the internet I'm not sure what angle to take - do I hide my true self, even by not giving my real name, if I go for my own name which username do I go for? Which photo do I upload? Do I upload my cartoon avatar instead?

    Even with things like my blogs, Facebook and Twitter and other accounts I can link together, I wonder which ones I should link together? I wonder who will see them? Will it be friends in the real world, internet friends, family? Do I want them to see this part of myself?

    Depending which site I'm on I act differently. I sort of tailor myself to the people around me, even with personal accounts. With the "professional" accounts I just have to hold back and be grown up. :-/

    I'm not sure people I know in the real world recognise me as the same person on the internet. Maybe they do. I often feel as if I'm more open on the internet. Maybe because I've not met a lot of the people I talk to in real life... even though I know I might well meet them in future it still doesn't matter that I give stuff away about myself that I might not do face to face.

    And I do worry what people think of me all the time, no matter what identity I've think I've taken on.


  10. Thanks for all your carefully thought out responses people. It's a funny subject isn't it - identity. And I keep thinking, does it really matter, and do I need to put a label on my issues (do i have borderline personality disorder etc) or, as long as I'm happy, should I just keep on?

    It seems from what everyone says, that we're all - to some extent - all things to all people, depending on the situation. I guess it's when it comes down to only being able to see yourself through the mirror of others' perceptions and not having a sense of self at all.

    The session really made me think and I wonder what my counsellor will think of this piece on wednesday. I will feedback if I can!

    Thanks for all your support on what was a really tough, personal piece to write - and thanks for sharing personal stuff yourself


  11. I think for years i have tried to avoid the notion of identity...for fear of not having an answer, not even a stab in the dark. So, i find myself now questioning the very subject that has been buried so long that i'm sruggling even to type...life often feels like unreality, like i'm i'm in some kind of twilight world, i'm making all the right noises but i have no connection with 'self'.
    Great blog post. I, will continue to ponder.