Well of course we all want to make a good first impression with everyone. Everyone. Including our gynaecologist. I know I do. That’s why people put on clean shirts to work and pretend they like their boss’ cats. Say what you will, but even beneath the very statement of a person’s “I don’t care what people think” lies a certain level of consciousness, however small, to want to be impressionable. This perhaps roots from the human’s genetic need to belong to a society, a unit, or even a family.
Sometimes we get a little too desperate to nail an impression that we begin saying things that are not necessarily true. One day when trying to make new female friends at the office, I noticed that most of them were mothers who liked talking about children and I began lying that I adored children just to get myself in the group. As a result I ended up being forced to view so many phone snapshots of babies in one sitting that it was like a witness interrogation program. Similarly, I went out for lunch with a boss once due to saying I would like his thoughts on the economy and almost snoozed and drowned in my bowl of soup as he went on and on for a good hour about the US oil sanction.
Similarly, I have also made up versions of myself to try and impress boys. This happened mostly when I was younger and I was a lot more insecure about myself. I said I liked metal music (I don’t. It’s horrendous). I pretended to enjoy an RM17 plate of banana fritters (not really. The pisang goreng stall near my parents’ house for RM2 per plastic bag is still the bomb). I said I believed in things I didn't. I admitted that I was a night bug to appear fun, got dragged to do things in the city into the early a.m. and ended up spending the next day with a headache at work. I piled on so much makeup that I looked like a Cher reincarnation. I even claimed that I am not at all concerned about money, which for some reason invited really cheap guys into my life (and honey, I know the difference between ‘careful’ and just plain old stingy).
By the age of 25 I began to realise that making up things just for the sake of impression is a sure fire way to create destructive, pretentious relationships with people around me. I mean, how long can you pretend that you enjoy exchanging thoughts on collagen youth drinks during lunch hour? One week. One week until you realise that it is just not worth spending all that time talking about seaweed that can make your skin fairer. On a bigger scale, appearing that you share the same aspirations, interests, passion and opinions just to seem agreeable to other people is exhausting and frankly, pointless. There is absolutely no way you could please everyone. Not even Oprah can pull that off.
So these days I go down the road less taken. I think we all do as we get a little older, as Meryl Streep once said, “I find that I care a lot less about a lot more stuff with age”. By no means at all implying that I am as old as Meryl, I think we all get more and more comfortable being ourselves with time. There is less and less personal need to exhibit ourselves as something we’re not whether it is in the workplace, with friends or with dates.
That being said, it is no question that first impressions are crucial. It’s what gets us a job. It’s what latches people’s interest to further probe. It’s how we make new connections. But at least by understanding where the line is drawn between portraying our best self and pretending someone we are not, we inch a step closer to build sincere, substantial and meaningful relationships with people around us.
In December 2014, somewhere around New Year’s Eve, I woke up in the morning to find my Dad sitting in the reading chair in the twilight. He had been sitting there all night, not being able to sleep as he was experiencing an extremely tight feeling on his chest. “Let’s go to the hospital,” he said.
He was having a minor heart attack.
A few months later, after different doctors, various tests, many late night drives to the emergency room and a lot of anxiety and worry for the family, my Dad finally had a triple bypass surgery. He had three blockages in three different places, and he was looking at a long road to recovery. Not surprisingly though, this was not the first time the family has heard of a lifestyle-related illness. When I was in college my uncle died in his forties due to heart failure. When I was younger my grandmother died in her fifties due to diabetes. Almost all of my aunties are experiencing levels of hypertension and high blood pressure.
I knew early on of the genetic risks of these illnesses, and so after my uncle’s passing, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I stopped taking sugared drinks cold turkey. No soda, no Coke, no syrup and not even sweetened fruit juice. Do you have any idea how hard it is to not drink slurpies in college? But today, nine years later, I don’t miss sugared drinks for even a bit. I don't even think about it anymore - they became automatically ignored.
When my Dad was sick I witnessed how health-related illnesses creep up to you without you even realising it. My Dad is a pretty active man. He is not overweight, he seemed like he ate relatively healthy, with early dinners, not too unhealthy menus and not enough dessert. But what a lot of us fail to realize is that age, as much as we hate to admit it, takes a toll on our physical capabilities. We can no longer eat like we used to in our early twenties and we can no longer afford not exercising, no matter how ‘naturally skinny’ we are. Bit by bit, it will take a massive toll on us before we even notice it.
After that episode everyone was a little spooked, myself included. My family began to take this subject seriously. Heck, even I was making drastic changes to myself. I stopped eating all types of processed meats (except for the occasional prime sausages because damn it, old habits die hard). I reduced my meat and sodium intake significantly, cooked more, forced myself to exercise at least 3 times a week and began conscious eating (no, eating noodles instead of rice isn’t better!). A lot of people remarked that this was a new diet craze I was into. Not really. I just wanted to do everything in my power to ensure that I don’t spend the second half of my life being sick and popping pills for hypertension, heart problems and diabetes. I am working so hard in my youth to earn the perks of retirement, and I sure as hell would like to be able to enjoy them when it comes.
‘Looking healthy’ is also associated with the vanity of wanting to look a certain way. This is absolutely true to a certain extent. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), this vanity also tend to shed little by little as we grow older, and as harsh as it is, for many people a new venture into married life and raising babies reduces the need for this vanity and henceforth the energy to maintain a healthier lifestyle. And as we all know well by now, it is an effort to keep it up sometimes.
I felt intrigued to write about this subject as I have successfully made a tray of brownies with my brother last night and devoured them at 10 pm. As much as there is a need for smart decisions, some days we all tend to bend the rules as well. Such is life. But when my Dad was diagnosed, he felt a constant regret for not being more mindful of his health before. I hope to never experience that, and I hope neither would you. Health is meant to be enjoyed and appreciated throughout your entire life, not only when you were young. And anyway, isn’t taking care of your body a form of gratitude for what you have been blessed with?