A word „image” has a broader meaning and denotes a subjective perception of a given person, an image created by fragmentary and random capture of particular features and details of the appearance and behaviour, and resulting from the relation in which we leave a given person. An image is a multi-layered and dynamic construct which is permanently changing. Our knowledge about a given person expands, we can notice new features, therefore our subjective perception changes, yet it is remains a mosaic of many details. However, it never is a real picture, but it serves as the point of reference in our social or professional contacts.
A particularly important element of the image is appearance, which encompasses three types of features – 1) permanent, unchangeable features, 2) relatively changeable features, and 3) easily changeable features. Height is a permanent feature, whereas hair colour, weight, posture are changeable; nevertheless, the possibility of modifying these elements is limited. What can be fully modified and changed are clothes, make-up and haircut.
Attributes of the appearance can be recognised within the first few second, and their perception creates the so-called “first impression” and determines the way of perceiving a given person for a longer period of time. The appearance is frequently understood and interpreted in the way which goes beyond the sphere of clothes, make-up and haircut. It is a carrier of information, which is not expressed directly, but associated with a certain appearance. These associations are based on stereotypical convictions related to certain elements of appearance and our tendency to drawing simple conclusions basing on the extrinsic features.
Another element of the image is behaviour, which reveals person’s nature and personal traits. By means of speech, walk, gestures and the whole range of non-verbal signs, we learn person’s internal construction. It is not enough to spend a while in order to construe this code. It consists of a number of signs and contrary to the appearance, it is not unequivocally interpreted.
The process of perceiving another person does not only involve observation of the appearance and the behaviour, but primarily interpretation and drawing conclusions regarding intrinsic features which are not directly exposed.
The last element of the image are individual features of personality, predispositions, competences and knowledge. These, however, take its target form in the long process of upbringing and socialisation, and are dependent on the length and quality of the process of education. They have however a considerable impact on man’s identity and the way it is perceived by our surrounding. Similarly, a family and financial status, as well as professional position will influence the assessment of the image.
In order to render the image convincing, it must be complete, consistent and real. A suitable clothes cannot make up for gaps with respect to behaviour and education, but competences devoid of a suitable appearance cannot evoke trust. Elements of the image, being in harmony and real, have a positive influence on the way of behaving and relations with the surrounding. They strengthen the sense of self-esteem and help overcome the sense of uncertainty with regard to contacts with other people.
The image is not a regular label we are provided with. Changing and reshaping it, we can have an influence on the way other people perceive us. Particular elements can be subject to transformation. Some of them can be quickly changed, others are time-consuming and require hard work and significant financial input. The most important is that all of our actions, aimed at shaping our positive image, are taken consciously, deliberately and consistently. This is the reason for taking professionals’ pieces of advice.