Extreme Makeover: the Unbravegirl Edition

April 17, 2010

I’m sporting a new look these days: both virtually and physically.

First of all, you might notice that my blog has gotten a whole new makeover! Didn’t notice? Well, then, either you’re a new reader to my blog. (If so, welcome! I hope you enjoy your time here and leave me lots of comments about how my new navigation bar really makes my font size look slimmer) or you’re a man (Ha, ha, ha, those men-never-notice-a-new-makeover-no-matter-how-little-your-forehead-moves jokes never get old, do they?! Okay, yes they do… moving on).

My virtual new look is all part of what, we “in the industry”, call personal branding. You may wonder what “industry” it is that I’m talking about seeing as last time you checked I was an unemployed English teacher, cat-sitting in the middle of the Thai jungle and blogging about donuts. I’ll admit, at the moment, my industry is quite small (namely, me… I’m what you would call a “cottage industry”… or, more accurately, a “bungalow in the jungle industry”). But, once my personal brand gets up and rolling, more people will realize that they too could be living the life they always dreamed of (and, seriously, who has not dreamed of a life of unlimited cat-cuddles with the occasional donut thrown in?!).

While personal branding might sound quite painful and arduous (and like it involves permanent disfigurement of some sort), I assure you that it’s not. In fact, according to one article I read, personal branding involves only four steps, and I’ve taken the liberty of paraphrasing these steps below:

1. Discover: Think about who you are, what you do, what you want to do and how other people perceive you.

2. Create: After you’ve thought all about yourself, now you get to create a whole new self (because, let’s face it, nobody really liked that old one). This personality can be loosely based on who you were before, but, it helps if your new personality is better looking and doesn’t have that annoying face twitch.

3. Communicate: Tell everyone who will listen about your brand new personality; including, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers, blog readers, your mom, dad, the cats you’re cat-sitting, that woman at the market who doesn’t speak any English… and so on and so on.

4. Maintain: This is definitely the most difficult part! This is when you have to keep on telling people all about the new you by consistently updating your blog and online profiles. You might also want to call people in the middle of the night to tell them that you’re a totally different person now, and if they’d just go out with you again, they’d realize that, and they should really give you a second chance, and it’s really not fair that they stopped calling you just because you sent them that Valentine’s Day card made out of your own hair… and so on and so on. See, difficult, right?! Especially when people get tired of hearing about the new you and stop being your Facebook friend or Twitter follower… or get call blocking on their phone.

So, basically, personal branding involves thinking about yourself a lot (a favorite pastime of mine!), pretending to be someone better than you are (also, a lifelong hobby!), talking about yourself all the time to anyone who will listen (hello?! who doesn’t love that?!) and calling people up in the middle of the night to tell them that you’ve changed. Hmm, it appears I’ve been engaging in personal branding my entire life! I always knew I was on the cutting edge! (Okay, there I go, pretending to be better than I am. Sorry, just my natural inclination to personally brand myself kicking in again, I guess.).

Since I had all the other steps to my new personal brand down, all I needed was a better looking self (and to get rid of that face twitch). You’ll notice my new better-looking self in the brand new Unbravegirl cartoon character. Isn’t she adorable?! And, no, I did not design her. She was designed by my friend, a graphic designer who actually knows what she’s doing when she designs things… unlike that… uhh… me.

Unfortunately, I look nowhere near this adorable in real life. While, sure the hair and smile and even the glasses are spot-on, capes tend to make my neck look fat and light colors like white and grey wash me out. Luckily, one part of the beauty of personal branding, is that nobody has to see the real you; they can just see the adorable virtual-version of you. Remember, this is not lying; it’s marketing!

In addition to this virtual new look, I am also sporting a real-life new look here in my new home in Thailand. I wouldn’t say my real-life new look is any bit as adorable as my virtual-life new look, but I would say it’s got a certain minimalist, rugged jungle charm to it. (That is a rugged jungle charm that’s been liberally doused in cat hair, sweat and ant-killing chalk).

For me, adopting a new look has always been a big part of adapting to a new country. When I lived in Europe, I stopped wearing jeans and t-shirts and started wearing scarves. In Japan, I swapped my business casual look for business suits. In Brazil, I went from loose and flowy to tight and tiny. On my first morning in the country, my host mother, whose preferred state of dress included a thong bikini and high-heeled plastic sandals, looked at me in my pair of loose linen pants and asked in a distressed voice if all Americans wore such “pantaloons.” On my third day in the country, some workmen showed up to do some construction on the roof. While they were packing up to leave, my host mother ran into my room, grabbed a pair of my underwear, came running out to the front room where she held up my drawers for the entire construction crew to see and yelled, “Have you ever seen anything so huge?” I knew then and there that I’d have to change my attire if I was ever going to feel comfortable in Brazil (I also knew then and there that, had no witnesses been present, I would have been perfectly capable of strangling that woman with the very same pair of underwear she held above her head… but I digress). When I left Brazil twelve months later, all of my pants were made from lycra and my tops were the size of handkerchiefs (I won’t even get into the size of my new drawers!). It took me a couple months back in the States sporting my brand new spandex wardrobe to realize that nobody else in my old neighborhood wore jeans that looked like they had been painted on.

These days my shirts aren’t getting smaller, but my selection of them certainly has. My new look for Thailand is not a result of wanting to fit in to the culture around me, but a result of what would fit into my luggage. With only one bag, my wardrobe has been reduced to flip-flops, the same three pairs of pants and a small assortment of t-shirts which are, frankly, starting to show the wear and tear of being worn to do everything from the cooking to the cleaning to the killing of ants.

My daily toiletry regime is also down to a minimum. Now that I’m traveling a lot lighter, I’ve had to give up the three different bottles of anti-frizz gel, goop and gobbledygook that I used to use on my hair everyday. Now I rely on lots of conditioner, hair accessories and hiding myself in the house like a hermit. Instead of my former daily regime of thirty-six “essential” daily toiletries, I now rely on about six… none of which I would have considered essential or even a toiletry a couple months ago.

For example, I use two different types of insect repellent including a lotion (available in “floral” and “fresh” fragrances) that I use as a base coat. I then apply an “Extra Strength – Tropical” spray as my top coat. After all, in the jungle, you never can have enough DEET. (Well, I guess you can according to that pesky Internet which is always telling me wonderful things like DEET and bacon are bad for me… sheez.)

Another essential that I carry on my person at all times is anti-itch balm (because, even though my policy is the more DEET the better, I still get bit by lots of insects). The balm looks like vaseline but it’s green and mentholated, which means I spend most days smelling like a cough drop. My new distinctive scent (not to mention the thin veneer of green anti-itch goo that covers my body at all times) just adds another fun element to my new jungle look!

Another toiletry item that I’ve recently started using that I never imagined I would use before is skin whitening face cream. Skin lightening face creams and body lotion are quite popular all over Asia. While in the States people strive for a sun-kissed glow, in Asia the paler the better (just another case of the grass being greener… err, whiter on the other side of the ocean, I suppose). Not only can you find skin whitening face cream, the stores also stock everything from skin whitening body scrubbing mitts to skin whitening anti-perspirant (because everyone wants nice gleaming armpits!). And, guys, don’t feel left out! There are plenty of skin whitening products on the shelves for men, too (you’ll notice it’s usually sold in dark, manly packaging so you don’t feel too girly while picking out your special man lotion).

Even though I’m more than happy to slather my skin with DEET every morning, the idea of slathering myself with skin bleach always seemed a bit scary to me. Besides, I’m pretty pasty as it is; the last thing I need is to become transparent. But after running out of my regular face cream, the only face cream I could find in the store with SPF was this whitening cream “for dull skin”. So I bought it. (Even though I would never call my skin dull… that’s just mean.)

So far, I’ve been using the cream for about a week. One thing that it definitely has going for it is that it smells great (which temporarily counteracts the mentholated cough drop smell I usually have going on). It also makes my lips a bit numb when I apply it, which is slightly worrisome… but, really, how bad can a product be if it is chock-full of nice, natural ingredients like sakura blossoms, lemons and Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid?! Surely, that can’t be bad for me, can it?

After a week and a half of using the skin cream, I can’t say my face has gotten any whiter. If, indeed, I’m looking paler these days it’s probably because I haven’t ventured outside of the house much this past week. You see, this past week has been the week of the traditional Thai New Year festival, Songkran, which is celebrated by throwing water on complete strangers. And, here, you thought kissing complete strangers at midnight on New Year’s Eve was fun! Oh, this is even more fun, let me tell you! In my neighborhood, children and young adults have spent the week camped out on the side of the road waiting for anyone to pass by so they can dump a couple buckets of water on them. This does, in fact, seem like a lot of fun for the kids doing the water throwing. This even seems like lots of fun for those people in cars who can easily roll up their windows to avoid getting too wet.

It’s not necessarily a bunch of fun if your only mode of transportation is a bike that came woefully unequipped with windows. After two days spent peddling myself through bucket after bucket of water, I finally called off any attempt to leave the house on Tuesday and have been indoors pretty much everyday since. So, yes, maybe I’m looking a bit pasty lately… but it may not be the skin whitening cream that’s to blame. (I am pretty sure you can blame the skin whitening cream if my lips cease being able to move, though.)

Should I continue my rigorous application of skin whitening cream and keeping to the indoors, don’t be surprised if I leave Thailand not only whiter but, well, wedded. A couple weeks back I was watching television when I saw a commercial for a skin whitening lotion. In the commercial, the woman carefully applied her skin whitening cream everyday until, at the end of the week, she had become the color of pasteurized milk. Her boyfriend, rather than being alarmed by the fact that his girlfriend seemed to be gradually vanishing, became increasingly enamored of her to the point that by the end of the commercial he was asking her to marry him.

And, that’s how it works, ladies! Should you have one of those boyfriends who seems a bit on the fence about proposing to you, all you need to do is change the complete composition of your skin and you’ll have him popping the question in no time. I’ll admit that I’ve spent my entire life sporting the pale look and have yet to ensnare a man with my beguiling pastiness… but, surely, that commercial wouldn’t lie to me. After all, marketing never lies, right?!

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