Living with contradictions

I love consistency. I’m pretty sure the reason why is because my father was super inconsistent when I was growing up, and I really disliked it, so I went way in the other direction. But as with everything, it’s a blessing and a curse! One of the reasons loving consistency is great is because it’s easier for me spot inconsistencies in logic and thus learn faster. And one of the ways it has made life difficult for me is that, for a long time, I’ve struggled to resolve a bunch of internal inconsistencies, so that I can feel alright with myself.

One of the first things that made me realize that it’s not “wrong” to have internal contradictions is when I was starting character work for one of the people I interviewed over the summer (for my solo show!). She is an older woman, and I was confused about how to play both the silliness in her speech and her laughter, as well as the serious, high-achieving part of her. I told my advisor how frustrated I felt, because it was difficult! And she responded with something along the lines of, all these parts of this interviewee have been developed over her entire life, and although it may feel to me like they’re contradicting each other, there are reasons why they all exist.

More recently, my experience traveling to Mexico City (last week) has really allowed me to actually internalize the previous lesson. Around a year ago, I posted this status to Facebook: “I used to believe that it was important for people to learn about metaphors and analogies so that they could use them to understand abstract concepts and the world. Now I realize they’re important because you can use them to understand yourself.” I thought about that a lot this trip while I was walking around all the different neighborhoods. The architecture in Mexico City is beautiful—the colors were so inspiring to me!—and there are so many different styles, all on display next to each other. I don’t know what prompted this, but I asked myself, why is it that I love seeing two completely different buildings right next to each other, but strongly dislike seeing any kind of inconsistencies in myself? And that made me realize that people are just as complex as cities! And it reminded me that it’s fine to house internal contradictions (and it’s so natural to have them!!), because our lives are complicated processes, just like the inner workings of a city are.

One area I’ve been trying to apply this lesson to is my thinking around my body and appearance. The “contradiction” at hand is that your body is, on the one hand, just this physical vessel that contains “you,” but on the other hand, also the thing that lets you interface with the world and vice versa. So when your external state doesn’t match your internal state (dysmorphia), it can feel really bad because the part of you that the world sees doesn’t reflect the you that you feel like you actually are. For instance, this is why I want to have a sense of fashion that reflects my personality. But what I realized from applying the Mexico City metaphor is, while I can have that, it’s also totally fine for the clothes I wear to just be the clothes I wear. And also, I’m so complicated, and there’s no way that my clothing can always be expressing that! I’ve also been able to develop a lot more acceptance towards my acne, which has been something that has been really frustrating me for the past few months.

By not having to reconcile these contradictions—in a way, prescribing less meaning to things and just accepting them as a consequence of the complexity of myself and my life—I feel so much more at peace. (And of course, the journey is never over!)

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My first Reformation experience

I visited the Reformation store in SF (on Valencia) before my trip to Europe to buy some 80/90 degree-weather appropriate clothing. It was Reformation’s 4th brick-and-mortar store, out of the 6 stores now in existence.

I was really confused when I walked into the store; I had walked past it multiple times but this was my first time actually entering. There were several other customers in the store, and their behavior was abnormal in a way that I couldn’t pinpoint. I am terrible at asking for help from customer service reps that aren’t in-your-face friendly, so I just started browsing the racks and pulled a dress off to try on.

A sales associate quickly came over and semi-explained the system to me: she’d create a virtual dressing room, and I should notify her to add anything to the room. She asked for my name and added that dress to the room after verifying what size I wanted, and then put the dress back on the rack and walked away. I was a bit confused at this point, and thought, “I have to get her every time I see something I like?!” so I continued browsing without adding anything else to my virtual dressing room.

At this point I was feeling pretty deflated, but decided to see what the touch screen monitors (I think there are two in the sales room) were about, since the people occupying them had left. As I played around with one, I became excited because it (for the most part) integrated the conveniences of online shopping, like filtering by in-store size availability, seeing the items on sale, and viewing all the colors of a particular item, with the convenience of being able to try things on in stores (and not having to do the returns switcheroo). From there, I added several things to my virtual fitting room, clicked a button saying I was ready to try them on, and walked towards the dressing rooms.

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It was pretty magical when I went to get a fitting room, until I thought about it and figured out the source of the magic. Here’s what went down: a sales associate asked for my name and then went away somewhere, and then told me that my room was ready shortly after. I was confused because I didn’t see her go into the dressing room at all! But when I went in, everything I had requested was in a little closet inside. Magic!

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I felt like a kid in a candy store – they even had several different lighting options and a plug you could use to play music from your phone. I started trying things on, still mesmerized by how it all happened, when someone opened and (rapidly) closed the  back of the closet while I was changing. Notice the seam at the back of the closet. The source of the magic – a back room and a back door – had been revealed, and real life was more disappointing than whatever my imagination had conjured.

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There’s a touch screen in the dressing room, similar to the one in the sales room but smaller, where you can also add new items and get new sizes, which is handy!

The checkout procedure is pretty typical of stores trying to imitate the Apple experience, where an associate just rings you up on their phone and can email you the receipt. I also chuckled internally when I noticed that they offer Boxed Water to customers.

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Overall, I liked the experience after I started using the touch screen, and I see where Reformation is trying to go with the store. I do have several ideas about how the UX could be improved, but I was mainly only interested in talking about my experience in this post.