ARTICLES

WHO'S THAT - ME?

JAMES BANNERMAN August 15 1949
ARTICLES

WHO'S THAT - ME?

JAMES BANNERMAN August 15 1949

WHO'S THAT - ME?

JAMES BANNERMAN

UNLESS you live in a remote swamp, don’t have a radio, don’t read anything and never talk to anybody, you know all sort of things about all sorts of famous people. You know how the Aly Khan feels about Rita Hayworth. You know President Truman gets up early and isn’t fussy about being photographed in a bathing suit. You know Winston Churchill paints pictures and lays bricks. But how much do you know about your own self?

If you’re like most people the answer will surprise you. Suppose you were asked how often you have one of those bad nights when you don’t sleep

a wink, how fast you walk, how much you weigh, how tall you are, how your voice sounds, or even what you look like. Maybe you think that’s the kind of quiz you couldn’t go wrong on, hut it isn’t. The average citizen couldn’t score better than zero on it to save his life.

’Lake the business of not sleeping. There isn’t a man or woman in Canada who dec&n’t come down to breakfast every so often and insist they never closed an eye all night. They say this in perfect good faith and would he prepared to swear to it in court. You’ve made it too, feeling red-eyed, hollow-cheeked and awdully sorry for yourself; you, too, would take your dying oath that you were telling the truth.

Now let’s see what kind of a night you really had. Psychologists and psychiatrists have been studying sleep habits for years, and by now they’ve got the whole thing pret ty well taped. The experiments of

Dr. Burtrum C. Schiele of the University of Minnesota tell the tale about as authoritatively as it’s ever been told, so we’ll run over a couple of his case histories. I’m going to put them into my own words, and I guess I’d better start, by explaining how he did the checking.

Attached to the bed of the person being studied was a gimmick called a motilograph which recorded every single movement, the subject made. Earlier experiments at Colgate University had shown that the average sleeper tosses and turns from 10 to 12 times every hour. Thus, Dr. Schiele concluded that if a subject didn’t move more than three times in a given 10-minut.e period he was more than likely asleep. And on top of that check a nurse peeped into the room at half-hour intervals and looked for such signs of sleep as firmly closed eyes and steady snoring.

I’ve picked two cases out of 100 in this particular study because they make a striking contrast—a woman in her early 30’s who wasn’t right in the head and complained bitterly that she couldn’t sleep at all, and a successful and highly respected professional man who said he suffered acutely from insomnia.

Each was tucked into bed in a private room at the university hospital, the motilograph was started, and the night nurse began tiptoeing from one room to the other to see how they were gettjng on. Next morning the wacky woman reported that as usual she hadn’t slept a wink. The professional man, so greatly admired for his sound judgment, claimed he’d only had a few short catnaps, and had spent the whole night tossing and turning like a cork in a whirlpool. The facts were that he had lain normally still and slept for seven and a half hours, and that the woman had slept six hours.

That’s how it went for the other 98 people who thought they were suffering from insomnia, and for hundreds of others in similar experiments conducted by other investigators. Some, like the lady whose case we’ve just noted, were more than a little balmy. Some, like our friend the professional man, were known for their wisdom and good sense. It didn’t make the slightest difference when the motilograph was running. Everybody who insisted they didn’t sleep a wink actually slept from five to seven hours—and so do you when you think you lie awake all night.

Now, about your voice. Unless you are stone deaf, you’ve been hearing yourself talk every day since you first learned to say da da and mom mom. Nevertheless, you know rather less about the way you sound to others than you do about the ceremonial clarification of yak butter in Tibet, and listening to yourself on a recording is likely to be an experience that will leave you gaping with astonishment.

That Gravel Voice Is Yours!

Not long ago one of the big Toronto department stores had a Homemakers’ Show, and one of the features was a booth fitted with a high-fidelity tape recorder. Visitors came up, said a few words, then had what they said played back for them to hear. I hung around the fringes of the crowd, listening to reactions and watching faces, and there wasn’t one experimenter who seemed happy about the result.

On the contrary they were anything from slightly disappointed to downright upset. Most of them stared unbelievingly at the loudspeaker when their words came back at them and said, “That isn’t me! I don’t sound like that . . .” One old lady on the store’s cleaning staff was persuaded to talk into the mike the first morning of the show, just before the doors were opened. On hearing herself she screamed, burst into tears, and ran off to hide at the far end of the exhibition floor. A stately matron from the highrent district, having unbent to the extent of recording a few fashionable words, discovered that she sounded like a crow with croup and stalked away in a queen-sized snit, muttering, “Really, you know, that cawn’t possibly be I.”

A hard-boiled character who looked like a vice-president of Murder Inc. eagerly grabbed the microphone with the long tobacco-stained fingers of one sinister hand and recited, of all things, the first lines of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Smirking proudly he waited for the playback, but when he heard

it the smirk changed to a curled-lip snarl.

What distressed them all so much, as I found by talking to recorder operators and speech specialists, was that nearly everyone thinks his voice is a couple of tones lower than it actually is, and a great deal more pleasant and clear. Once in a blue moon somebody has the opposite experience, and finds that whereas they’ve always thought they had a pretty dull and unattractive voice, it’s actually low-pitched, charming and as clear as a bell.

If you think you’re an exception all you have to do is nip around to the nearest recording studio and put yourself to the test. The average studio will make you a two-minute transcription on one side of an eight-inch record for as little as $2. You can then take the record home and play it on your own phonograph if you want to. You won’t. Unless you’re a very remarkable person indeed you’ll smash the record to smithereens, and feel sick for days afterward.

The chances are that you’re almost as wrong about how much you weigh. Provided you aren’t trying to reduce— if you are you can probably call the turn correct to the last ounce—your idea of your weight is definitely mistaken.

How I know is because I once traveled for two weeks with an old gypsy couple, going from one little English country fair to another in a bright red caravan drawn by a dusty white horse—Mrs. Gypsy being a palmist and fortune teller and her husband a professional weight guesser.

When we would get to the fair grounds at Much Sniffing or Tightly Corseted or whatever the name of the village happened to be, my friend rigged up a tripod which supported a bucket seat hanging from a big brass scale and there he was, all set for business. Apple-cheeked youths and buxom lasses would then flock round, giggling helplessly, and accept his hoarsely shouted offer to guess their weight within two pounds or else give them back their threepence and pay them a shilling besides.

At first I couldn’t get enough of watching him work, but after a few days I tired of it and wandered around the grounds looking at the other acts instead—the bearded lady, who sometimes asked me in for a cup of tea between shows, or the family of pinheads on exhibition in a green-andyellow striped tent next to hers.

The reason I wasn’t gripped for long by my gypsy friend’s performance was that he never made a mistake, except once in a while when he deliberately guessed wild to avoid the suspicion that his scales were fixed.

His customers almost never failed to say how surprised they were to learn what they actually weighed. Maybe one person in 200 nodded wisely and said yes, that was right. The rest were anything from five to 20 pounds wrong in their idea of their own weight, and my friend had the answers all figured out.

Well, What Do You Weigh?

“The thin ones,” he said, “alius think they’re ’eavier than wot they reely are —barrin’ them as is regular livin’ skeletons, and they fancy themselves thinner. Them that’s no more’n middlin’ bulgy think they’re lighter’n they are, and the balloons think they’re fatter. Wot does it is partly iggerance, ’cos they don’t weigh themselves often enough, but mostly it’s vanity. If they ain’t too far off carryin’ the proper amount of flesh they let on to themselves they’re abaht right. If they’re ’opeless one way or t’other they get proud of it after a while, and pretend they’re worse nor they are. People as is ordinary-sized don’t know wot they weigh because they ain’t interested.”

He looked at me, and suddenly grinned all over his wrinkled brown face. “I needn’t toll you them rules don’t ’old good for wimmin as much as they do for men. When wimmin don’t weigh somewhere close to wot they would if they was film stars they generally don’t get on no scales unless there’s nobody lookin’. My missus ain’t, ventured near these ’ere ones of mine for years.”

I asked what about him (he was a stout swag-bellied old fellow with a chest like a barrel of flour), and he flushed and said lu; hadn’t bothered to weigh himself since he was a young man. I said 1 supposed it wasn’t worth while because he could always guess correctly, and he brightened and said ‘‘of course.” Then I asked him what his guess would he.

He ran his hands lightly over himself the way he did with the men customers and any girls who looked as if they wouldn’t object, said he’d go 15 s.tone 2 (meaning 212pounds), waddled across to the scales and sat down. They registered 219. The seven-pound mistake was particularly embarassing because seven pounds high or low is about the average error of people who aren’t professional weight guessers— including, most likely, you.

When I told a psychiatrist I know— he’s a high official of Canada’s National Committee for Mental Hygiene— about the gypsy’s theory of weight mistakes, he agreed completely. And fie agreed also people made the same errors about their own height.

It has been found that although pint-sized men usually add an inch or two to their height they think of themselves as shorter than they are. So do itty-bitty women in the 4 ft. 10 ins. to 5 ft. bracket. But whereas short men hate being short and secretly underestimate themselves out of a kind of self-pity, little women love it and do the same thing for exactly opposite reasons.

The sexes have different attitudes toward being very tall, too. Six-foot girls tend to think of themselves as 5 ft . 10 ins. or maybe a shade less, because their towering height doesn’t attract most men. Men who actually stand a scant 5 ft. 11 in their socks, on the other hand, nearly always consider themselves strapping six-footers; and when genuine six-footers think about their own height they seldom fail to count the extra inch their heels add. Middle-sized men think they’re an inch or two taller than they really are, and women of average height go around under the impression they’re shorter.

In virtually every case wot does it, as my gypsy chum would say, is vanity— simple, natural, built-in vanity. Tallj ness is usually a social asset to a man, j rating him the carefully concealed envy j and respect of men who aren’t tall and i the open admiration of girls of all sizes,

! so he kids himself up. It usually isn’t an j asset to a woman, so she kids herself down. And there you are, and unless j you’re a specially well-adjusted type I ! do mean yon.

Now let’s take your idea of how fast you walk, which you’re probably wrong about too. A surprisingly large number ; of men are firmly convinced their normal walking speed is four miles an hour (women know they’re going to drive or take a bus or streetcar and just don’t care). Repeated checks have shown that four miles an hour, far from being normal, is unusual. The average man doesn’t walk much more than half that fast (21 _> to 2?4 ; m.p.h.) in the city, and seldom tops j a moderate three even when he’s out in ! the country striding along for exercise. Wes McVicar, physical director of

Toronto’s Central YMCA, confirms this.

If you find the difference between the four-mile myth and the facts a hit hard to believe, remember the old 30-inch pace, at 120 to the minute, which you had to keep up mile after mile in the services. Remember how tough it was until you got used to it? Well, that pace, the standard marching speed of the services, works out at less than three and a half miles an hour— 3.409 to be exact.

The final piece of self-ignorance we’ll deal with is the matter of how you look. There’s no need to go into the effect of personal vanity—it’s been obvious ever since our shaggy ancestors leaned over a pool of still water and said to themselves: ‘‘What, a lovely low forehead! What beautiful matted hair! What magnificent dull yellow teeth ! How charmingly that long lower lip droops! What a nice flat nose!”

But would you recognize yourself if you met yourself on the street? My psychiatrist friend agrees that although you see yourself on the average about a dozen times a day in mirrors you aren’t a much better authority on your own looks than Ugh and the other sabretoothed tiger dodgers were on their own.

Yourself in Your Dreams

There’s a simple reason for this. You have a kind of dream picture of yourself—what you’d like to be rather than what you actually are. Every man and woman alive, and even the odd precocious child, has a dream picture too, so you needn’t think such self-portraits are only for the vain. Quite often they’re unflattering, and many of us look more attractive to others than we do to ourselves: A classic example was Abraham Lincoln, who considered himself downright hideous but almost everyone thought he looked wonderful.

Usually it’s the reverse. I know a distinguished English writer (I’m afraid 1 don’t dare name him here) who believes he’s a dead ringer for Julius Caesar. To me lie looks like Caesar the way Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom looks like Whistler’s Mother, and his other friends agree with me. But there’s no use telling him we think he’s wrong. He could no more be talked out of his flattering delusion than you could if you happen to feel you’re a lot like Humphrey Bogart or Lana Turner.

This dream-picture angle, which does so much to keep you from knowing how you really look, is just part of the story. About the only way you’re likely to see yourself, except in a photograph or a drawing, is in a mirror. That means you appear to yourself in two dimensions instead of three--that is, flat instead of in the round, which is the way other people see you. And dropping out the third dimension makes a whale of a difference.

Another thing is that you can’t see your own profile in an ordinary mirror. Did you ever notice how strange you look when you’re trying on clothes in ! front of one of those multiple mirrors tailors, dressmakers and milliners have? It’s the sideways view you get that makes the strangeness. Cartoonists will tell you that the people they sketch almost never recognize their own profile and generally aren’t any too pleased when they do see it.

This all adds up to so much distortion that you could probably give a better description of your third cousin once removed than of your own self. Take what happened to me a couple of weeks ago, something that shook me to the teeth.

1 was going down stairs in an old| fashioned office building and on a landj ing I passed a man on his way up. 1 had | a vague impression that I’d seen him 1 before somewhere, but I couldn’t place him. After we passed I turned back for a second look. He did the same thing. He stared at me, and I stared at him, and we both frowned the way you do when you’re trying to remember something.

Then we decided we probably had met before and that we’d better say hello and apologize for staring. So we did, but it turned out we couldn’t have met because he was a stranger just arrived in town, and lived in a city where I’d never been.

I guess we’d still be puzzling over the thing if he hadn’t spotted a big mirror behind me on the landing. He grabbed me by the shoulder.

“Look!” he said. “Look at us! No wonder we thought we’d seen one another before—we’re doubles!”

And we were. We might have been identical twins. We stood gaping at ourselves in that ancient flv-specked mirror, and the longer we gaped the more exactly alike we looked. If we’d been dressed alike too I doubt whether I could have been sure which of us was which without wiggling my hand.

Perhaps you’ll meet your double some day. If you do it’s dollars to doughnuts you’ll feel the same way about it. Your first reaction, to that or any other experience of yourself as other people see you, will be a heartfelt cry of amazement—“That isn’t me!” ★