August 2015: Stereotypes

Dissecting the Stereotypes

When Mulan sang the immortal words, “Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?” way back in 1998 it resonated with a lot of people, myself included. I was six, but I was already acutely aware that the skin I was living in didn’t fit me very well.

In the seventeen years since then I have been working on making my outside reflect my inside. Now, at 23 and with a relatively clear idea of my physical identity, I have settled a little in my style of dress and other physical choices, and accepted the things that I cannot change (for the most part).

However, my personal style doesn’t really mesh well with a fairly corporate workplace. I look like an almost entirely different human at work, so anyone looking to pigeonhole me is faced with a bit of a pickle. I thought it would be interesting to look at Work Elena and Play Elena side by side, to see if there really is any value in assessing someone by their appearance. Opinions are all paraphrased from actual feedback received from other humans (friends, colleagues and more brutal family members).


Work Elena has mid-auburn hair with plenty of volume, long layers and a choppy fringe. It’s a cute, near-Deschanel style that makes her look fun, approachable, down-to-Earth and sweet.

Play Elena has shoulder length hair in a colour that can only be described as “swamp monster” after a botched dye attempt which is slowly being rectified. It’s naturally sort of kinky, which mixed with the blue/black/green colour makes it look a bit like Home Elena has dumped seaweed on her head. This look makes her look lazy, maybe a bit unapproachable. In films, unnaturally coloured hair usually means a girl is a bit flaky and weird, and perhaps mentally unstable, so she’s probably all of those things.


Work Elena is a “no makeup makeup” sort of a girl; a touch of concealer as needed, perhaps, a tinted lip balm here or there, and certainly a swipe of mascara but not a lot more. It’s a girl-next-door sort of look for a low-maintenance, happy-go-lucky sort of a gal.

Play will wear a full face of makeup with cat-eye liquid liner and contouring Maleficent would be proud of. It makes her seem a little vain, and overly preoccupied with her appearance. Sometimes she wears lipstick which is almost a bit goth and this makes her look aggressive.


Work Elena wears sensible bras, sensible black tights and sensible “flattering” clothing. Her size 16 hourglass figure is complimented by her choice of ladylike day dresses and demure separates in monochrome or jewel tones. She is clearly the kind of bubbly chubster who knows the rules: hide your flab where possible and emphasise your smallest parts so as not to offend or appal anyone. She probably likes drinking rosé.

Play Elena has rather a different view. Play Elena wears things that girls with thick thighs, bellies and meaty calf muscles shouldn’t wear, like backless dresses, denim shorts and skinny jeans, usually in black or grey like she doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Sometimes she even leaves the house without a bra to restrain her double Ds, which don’t count because fat girl boobs are cheating. Clearly this is a girl who doesn’t care what she looks like, or what people think of her. Also, she’s probably a slut who drinks beer to look cool. She can probably be found in mosh pits, getting sweaty to metal music. She’s feminine but in a sort of spiky, grungy way.


Speaking as neither “Work Elena” nor “Play Elena” but as, simply, “Elena”, I don’t think that many of the above opinions are on the money. I like plinky-plonky acoustic music and sewing. I’m a sporadically insecure, bipolar, bisexual, ukuele-playing, plus-sized girl who likes bunny rabbits, aquariums and reading. I’m not especially unapproachable, as work Elena’s perfect hair and subtle makeup imply (the auburn is a wig, by the way) but neither am I an aloof, standoffish sort of person. Similarly, I was mentally unstable before my hair was blue, and I will likely continue to be until I’m grey. My choice of hairstyle has no bearing on my mental health, and vice versa. My choice of clothing, regardless of the setting, is comfortable for a body that changes shape when I’m sat down. For work this means dresses or jersey pencil skirts and at home that means shorts or really good jeans.

“Never judge a book by its cover” is actually pretty terrible advice if what you’re judging is actually a book. “Never judge a brain by its body” is probably a far better guideline.

– Elena


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