This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A few days ago, I listened to a television reporter interview what had to be one of the most clueless people on Earth.

MORON: "We shouldn't have to live in a country where people get judged for the way they look."

It's a ridiculous claim given that few things matter more to Americans than the freedom to express ourselves with our appearances.

And ironically, few things offend us more than being judged negatively based on patently negative expressions. You want to look gangsta? OK, but don't be surprised when people take you at your word/appearance. My old man tried teaching me this back when I wanted to grow my hair long to assert my individuality (just like everyone else). He said long hair was seen by many employers as a sign of dubious character.

My argument was based on emotion: Jesus had long hair. The old man was more of a realist. He said I wasn't Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus got nailed to a cross. Being a rebel, even a legitimate one, came with a price.

Today I realize that my father was right — and so was every employer who refused to hire me because I insisted on advertising the fact that I could be hard to manage.

You want a circle of skulls tattooed around your neck? Cool. You'll probably look fabulous. Just don't be surprised when people give you the benefit of the doubt — namely that you're precisely what you say you are.

Note: I got a tattoo. This isn't about ink being bad. But if you can't figure out what some tattoos tell other people, you got bigger problems than ink you can't scrub off.

Is it fair to make assumptions about people's appearances? After all, there's the old adage that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.

And there's another maxim that says if something looks and acts like a duck, it's probably a duck. Which of those is the most true depends, I suppose, on which side of the judgment you are. And if you're the one who has to guess, you tend to rely on percentages.

I have this game I play when I ride TRAX. I bet with myself on who will put their feet on the seats across from them despite regular announcements asking them not to, signs indicating that they shouldn't, and even TRAX officers ordering them to stop. When they do, it's almost always a kid (late teens, early 20s).

I break about even with the bet. If a kid sits down alone and there's no one sitting across from him/her, the feet go up on the seat a little over half the time.

I never see elderly people do this. I rarely see anyone of middle age do it, including people who appear to be homeless. Ditto children, people in business dress, church office building uniforms and women by themselves.

Granted, not all kids are so inconsiderate. And it's here where the game gets interesting. The more cool a kid tries to look, the more often the feet go up.

If they're styling — gauged ears, pierced lips, cocked hats, low-slung pants, tatted up, lugging a board or lurking in a hoodie — up the feet go.

Is there a legitimate correlation between appearance and behavior? Is it fair to judge people's potential behavior based on their actual looks? I think so.

You might not. This column could sound to you like it was written by a cranky, cynical old coot who's suspicious of anything that doesn't look just so. And you'd be right.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

comments powered by Disqus