The Wizard of Words

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”


I love “The Wizard of Oz,” and that’s a classic scene when Toto opens a curtain, revealing the Wizard to be an ordinary man operating a bunch of wheels and levers while speaking into a microphone.

The Wizard wanted to seem more powerful than he was. When exposed, he took to explaining to Dorothy and the crew that they already possessed what they had been seeking all along.

Earlier a bunch of midgets came out singing, a “good” witch wearing a dress that would get her roasted on “Fashion Police” appeared in a floating bubble and there were armies of flying monkeys.

Now that I think about it, what the hell is going on in this movie?

Anyway, that particular phrase—“pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”—is one that I sometimes draw a parallel to with blogging. Why? There are a lot of bloggers I respect and see as “powerful,” but I have no clue what they look like. They don’t post pictures, and unless I’m friends with them on Facebook, I only know them through their words.

I also listen to a lot of sports talk radio, and it can be weird to see what the hosts look life in real life. And when I do—regardless of what they look like—it pulls back the curtain on the image I have somehow created of them already stuck in my head.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s great to put a face with a name and the talent—but I have to admit that I think it does initially change my perception of them and the things that say or they write.

I personally don’t post pictures because I really don’t have any—by choice.

You won’t find me snapping shots of myself in the bathroom mirror or in the driver’s seat of my car. There are a few pictures on Facebook, but they’re usually a couple of years old. I’m much more confident in my words than my looks.

As a blogger, part of me doesn’t want to ruin any image you might have of me in your head, even if that image’s skewed. Yes, that’s me in the blog header and I’ll occasionally put up a picture now and then, but I suppose I prefer you to “pay no attention to the woman behind the blog,” so to speak.

Because as odd as it is, I guess I do kind of skew my perception of certain people when I see what they look like.

This isn’t a bad thing, and as soon as the initial, “Hey! That’s XX!” passes, I’m right back to where I was in the beginning. I like being able to see people outside of the radio or the blog or whatever context their voice has attracted me to, but I don’t have to in order to enjoy them.

I also think it’s a great testament to what attracts us to certain people and mediums —blogs, radio, etc.—in that we’re hooked by the attractive words and not necessary just an attractive image.  

When the curtain’s pulled back—when the veil of transparency is lifted up—it doesn’t change what I’ve already come to admire and enjoy.

But just in case you do want to create some image of me based loosely on the pictures I’ve shared in the past, please feel free to give this image of me ample boobs and a smaller nose.

The Wizard really dropped the ball on that one.

Actually, I was on TV Saturday morning. Although I hesitate to share what I look and sound like for all the reason above, here’s the link.

I talk with my hands. Don’t judge.

Does knowing what someone looks like change your perception of them?

43 responses to “The Wizard of Words

  1. Back in the mid-70’s when Samuel R Delany published the book Dhalgren, he put in there a passage about this very thing. He discussed how he creates a “voice” for an author – how he thinks they actually sound when speaking – based on how they write. He gives examples of 2 authors, one whose work he likes and one whose work that he doesn’t.

    Later in his life he meets both authors in person (though not at the same time) and ends up flipping his like and dislike of those author’s works because he then has the chance to apply their “speaking voice” to their written words.

    After I had read this passage, I realized I did the same thing he did. It has allowed me to appreciate authors I didn’t like at first because I could apply their “real” voice to their work (thank you internet).

    If it’s any consolation, I watched you’re news appearance (and now know how you sound) and it hasn’t changed my enjoyment of reading your work.

    • This is such an articulate comment, that I’m not sure I can add anything without screwing it up. Thanks for taking the time to leave something so insightful.

      • Holy Cow, that wasn’t articulate at all! 🙂 I just re-read my comment and I didn’t come close to saying what I meant to.

        *rolls eyes and mumbles about the dangers of writing before the first cup of coffee*

        Basically the gist of what I wanted to say is this: I don’t form any opinions on a writer or their writing by how they look but on how they sound. To me, a voice is more closely tied to the written word than anything else.

        There. I think that’s better.

        And I do know the difference between “your” and “you’re.” Really.

  2. I hear you. I don’t have any pics up because I’m trying to be anonymous, because of the whole “old man Boyfriend who is also a coworker” thing. Also, I don’t want people to be all judgey based on that instead of my words/pictures.

    I feel like knowing the way someone looks does influence your perception, whether subconsciously or not. I’d prefer to know what a blogger looks like before I start reading the blog or not at all — it’s weirdly jarring when you find out midway through and it’s not at all what you were expecting at all.

  3. Excellent points. I don’t post pictures of myself, or do so sparingly, more for privacy and job security, but I like this reasoning, too. We do definitely judge on appearance, and Id like to think my words are more important. And I personally can’t watch videos of bloggers because their voices never match the way I read them in my head.

  4. Great post. Always loved that phrase from the Wizard of OZ.

  5. I have to compliment you on your grace and articulation on live television. Wow, you blew me away!

    I have mixed feelings about posting pictures of myself. Sometimes I feel like I connect more people when I have a clear image of them in my head. I can visualize them typing the words, thinking through things, etc. However, I think that posting too many pictures on the internet can be rather dangerous. Call me cautious!

    To address your question about perception, I think we do put a lot of stock in appearances. As humans, looking at someone and assessing them is a cognitive shortcut rooted (in my opinion) in our biology. In the past it probably served some survival purpose, but today I think there are unfortunate social consequences associated with (no pun intended, I swear) “judging a book by its cover”. It’s a two-way street though – part of using appearances is based on how we present ourselves.

    Unrelated, but happy new year Abby!

    • As always, your comment is insightful and philosophical and I wish I had applied some of that to the post itself. Can I hire you to flush out my filler and insert psychological theory? And I agree about people who post so many pictures on the Internet. Despite the fact that I don’t have/want that many, I am still cautious about the ones that I do include. You never know.

  6. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

    Alright Abby. 1) You’re adorable. 2) You’re adorable.
    I don’t have pictures of myself either, mostly because of my ED. All I can do is look and decide what % sick I look. The picture on my blog I took specifically so I could put a picture on my blog so it was a seriously stressful ordeal for me. When I gained some weight I took a new one but I still look some % sick to me. Stupid pictures! Who needs ’em?! I like your blog pic. It’s better that it’s a person than say, a flower. Easier to associate a person with a person’s face even if that person is not you. Except now that I’ve seen the video I can visualize you any time I want, lol. Seriously, you are adorable and it’s amazing what you’re doing with the book…WHICH I just bought. Sorry it took me so long. I have many a sob story about money right now.

    • Wow. This comment is pretty much me 100 percent in relation to pictures from the past decade or so. I look sick, and quite frankly, I don’t have or want reminders of where I was/where I am in relation to that whole situation. My blog pic was taken for a charity calendar and obviously photoshopped, so I use it entirely too often. To actually post the video was hard for me for obvious reason, but again, it’s not about me. Any additional awareness is a possible additional donation, so I had to suck it up. Adorable? No, but it is what it is 😉 Also, I relate to the money sob stories entirely too well. Sigh…

  7. I thought long and hard about putting up actual pictures. I decided I would mostly because I am considered medically obese, but am in really good shape and wanted to show the world that being chubby does not necessarily mean someone eats poorly or is lazy. Since that is a point I will be making in some posts, I found it necessary to back it up with images. I also hated pictures when I was younger and always ducked out of them, and now I regret having no photographic memories with friends from high school and college. So I’m working on the hatred of the photograph image by inundating my life with pictures of myself. It’s kind of working, but sometimes it just makes me say, “Ugh!”

    I really try not to judge people based on appearances, but I am guilty of it just like everyone else. I do know that when it comes down to it I respect someone based on who they are, not the shell they are wrapped in.

    • You make interesting points, and hey! Why don’t I know about your blog? Anyway, I do think that pictures are necessary to supplement the copy on so many occasions. They’re like words. I think they’re most effective when appropriately placed and not just used to a) boost an ego or b) fill space. There’s nothing wrong with them at all, but I just choose to stay behind the scenes.

  8. You did great on TV! And as a fellow hand-talker, I didn’t see anything amiss. I’m excited to read your book; it’s on my bookshelf!

  9. This blog post really made me reflect – I know that I have definitely been surprised when I’ve seen a photo/video of a blogger – I have a very vivid imagination, and people rarely look how I expect them to. I have some photos on my blog, in the ‘about’ section, I’m not really sure why I put them there – it wasn’t a conscious decision as such – I just got bored one day and uploaded the photos. As for your interview, you were awesome, I know I’ve already told you that, but I wanted to let you know again. Because you are awesome.

  10. 1) You did awesome on your TV spot. Congrats to you, you brave girl.

    2) I kind of relate it to always wanting to read the book before I see the movie. The actors never quite match up to how I had imagined them while reading their stories and words. And for those of us who write, our words are much more telling than our picture ever will be.

    Cheers and Happy New Year.

  11. I congratulate you on a job well done. I’d hate to be interviewed on TV. I’d rather stay “behind the curtain,” although I do have a photo up on my blog.

  12. Well, I totally screwed that up. I posted my picture in my profile, and then what I really look like is on my header! No cloak of intrigue, what you see is the real me……maybe I’d have more followers if I’d been more discreet! I often wonder what some of my blogging friends look like, but I guess I don’t dwell on it….I’m more interested in what they have to say.

    • Whatever, woman. Every blog and every blogger is different. I am in no way saying it’s weird to have pictures up, just that I’m not that into it myself. Your words are much more interesting than your header–no offense–and I don’t think I would ever NOT read a blog because it did or didn’t include pictures. It’s all a matter of taste and context. Rock on!

  13. ha, i love this topic. I admit, I looked at your news debut but you are what i imagined already. Cute, Clever, and poised!
    I’ve let my cards be shown on my blog, even with video (scary, i know) but i guess i feel more “real” when i do that. People will judge, that i know, but i knew that going into it.
    I think the mystery of certain writers though is what keeps us going back. We’re intrigued by words, not pictures. Thats how i got to read your blog, words, thoughts, feeling, etc. But even now, if you started posting more pictures, i’d still read because I developed that “sense” of Abby.

    okay i ramble.

    • Have we met? I am the QUEEN of rambling, so you’re not even close in comparison 😉 However, I love that you have videos and pictures as I think it’s totally relevant to who you “are” and what you share. It makes my “sense” of you much more real. I dig it.

  14. Hi Abby,
    First, Happy New Years!! Ok, got that off my chest, whew. :o)
    Because I have a weight problem I always work very, very hard NOT to let someone’s appearance affect the way I see them. However, some fashion decisions can skew my view for a few minutes. Until the person opens their mouth (so to speak, lol) and shows me who they are, I really try hard not to form negative opinions. It’s hard though. Some people make it exceedingly difficult (a backwards baseball hat, dirty, short, baggy dungarees with socks and not clean shaven is just too much for me on a man!). He better have a great vocabulary and a sense of humor to impress me or I’m done. Hehehe. Bad Jenn, very baaaad. ;o)

    • That’s interesting because I also have a weight problem on the other end of the spectrum, which is why I am always hesitant to post pictures and also a factor in why I really don’t judge people based on their appearance. I know it’s simply a shell for what they have inside. However, there’s something to be said for self-respect, and certain “fashion” choices do skew my initial perception, as you mentioned. It’s all in context!

  15. I can understand being self conscious. I dislike posting pictures of myself unless there’s some context – like my conversation with my 18 year old me – because I think I’m average looking and it will turn people off. I like it when do post your pictures because of our friendship over the past year.

    One of the things I despised about the facebook is there was barrier between what you read and what you saw.

    I thought your 2 tv interviews were great because your cause is so worthy and I got to hear the midwestern accent.

    I don’t like the behind the scenes/making of dvds of my favorite movies and actors. It removes mystique and gives away too much. I know how sausage is made, don’t tell me.

    • I’m also confused when people say I have an accent, especially people from the South 😉 As for your pictures, I love that you include them. It makes you much more real to me and adds an authenticity and richness to your words in the context that you use them.

  16. I don’t post many photos on my blog due to privacy, but deciding to put any up at all was difficult. I totally take “how a person looks and sounds” into my overall perception of that person – it’s natural – so there’s a part of me that didn’t want to be judged. A few years ago, a blogger actually commented when I put up a photo that she was shocked at how I look like – she said I look so much sweeter and less “mouthy” than she imagined, whatever “mouthy” looks like. It bothered me because I felt accused of somehow “not being myself” in my writing, but actually feel like the “written me” is more “me” than the “me” I see in the mirror. Does that make any sense at all? Anyway, I have since stopped caring about things like readers, and blog mostly for myself, to write. Once in a while, I include photos, if they make me laugh or if they’re of other people 🙂

    • Total sense. I’m much more “me” in my writing than what I see in the mirror. To be honest, I almost don’t recognize myself in pictures/video simply because I don’t pay attention to that, although perhaps I should. And I think “mouthy” might be be evident in the video link attached…let’s call it a good thing, eh?

  17. I think I talk with my hands more than you do. I also use a lot less real words. Which leads to hand flailing because I can’t remember real words.

    Anyhow. I think definitely in some situations knowing what someone looks like changes my perception of them. I don’t know that I always notice it right off. . . and I think it depends on how long it is before I find out what they really look like and how much of an idea of what they might look like has formed in my brain.

    I originally considered keeping photos of myself off the blog, because I wasn’t sure if I’d want clients to know it was me. . . But then I decided I’d just be extra careful nothing went up that I wouldn’t want clients to know, because I am a big fan of photos and it seemed like to much work to avoid having me in any of them ;P

    It’s funny, too, that I’m reading this today. . . because I was thinking earlier about how people seem in writing, on the phone, in person, etc. One of my best friend’s is visiting his family in BC right now, and he called me when he woke up (ridiculously hungover), and though I had already been up for awhile, I wasn’t super talkative myself (I actually don’t like talking on the phone). He commented about how he finds it interesting how talkative I’m NOT on the phone (in person, sometimes I hardly shut up. and I’m a texting FIEND. if you couldn’t tell by my lengthy rambly comments….).

    And on the complete backwards side of things… I met my best friend, Candice, of in person first. I was at a couple parties where she was to. Never really talked to her much, wasn’t really sure if we’d really get along for a few reasons. Then I found out she had a blog, got the address, read it, and discovered I totally love her. Her writting reminded me of another good friend of mine, and I just knew we’d get along. We emailed back and forth for awhile before we ever really hung out as friends. So, yeah, that was a case where I knew what she looked like right off. . . but her writting changed my perspective 🙂

    • That’s funny and you bring up a couple good points. I’m MUCH more open on the blog/FB/Twitter/texting than I am in person, so I think people who know me in real life get a totally different view of me online than they do on a daily basis. I’m just more comfortable writing than I am actually being social in person. It’s a weird mix of what we choose to show and what people see anyway. I’m always careful about what I share, as you never know who will find it–professionally or personally–but it’s always authentic. I think that takes away the weirdness/worry about consequences.

  18. You were great in your tv spot. Congratulations! I always have to read the book first because I don’t want to picture actors in my mind or have their acting affect the way I interpret the writing. Blogging is different though. It’s hard for me to get into a blog if I don’t know what the person looks like. I’m not sure why that is, but you have me thinking!

  19. I just realized the two pictures on my blog ever (both in the about me) are me wearing a winter coat – the first as mostly a silhouette and the most recent with me all bundled up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t semi-conscious of my attempt to hide my body. This hasn’t really been an issue yet (you’re far braver than I!) but I wanted to be able to mention my struggle with eating without risking someone being able to go check my pictures and think “she doesn’t even look that skinny to me”.

    and that was way more honest than I’ve been with myself in a while. Serious props for inspiring that sort of thing.

  20. Years ago I used to work in Human Resources, so I mostly spoke to people on the phone. Every. Single. Time I met someone face-to-face after having a “phone relationship”, they’d say I looked absolutely nothing like they pictured. (Most often, I got that I sounded like a petite, chipper brunette…which I am so not.)

    I think it does change perception a little, but usually it makes it richer. People judge themselves on their own looks, and are judged by others on their looks. Finally knowing what someone looks like can help us understand more about them, their voice.

    (Says the girl who doesn’t post pictures of herself)

    Also? I wouldn’t change a think about you. I think you look great. And I love a girl who gesticulates. We just won’t be able to stand too close to each other when we meet in person, because someone may lose an eye. Which would be rather unfortunate.

  21. You were great! The first time I was on tv I said “cool” like four times and did a weird talking-out-the-side-of-my-mouth a la Joey Potter so you should be really proud 🙂
    And I like pictures, but I’m a very visual person. When I read about personal stories and adventures I like to imagine what it all looks like as I’m reading along and when I know what someone looks like, it just helps me read along and play out scenarios. It doesn’t really influence how much I like a blog, but I guess it just makes it feel more personal…if that makes sense….

  22. When I was new to blogging, I wrote anonymously. Pen name, no photos. I was VERY surprised months later to learn that my readers thought I was a guy. I guess I was not at all what they expected.

  23. Happy New Year!

    The Wizard of Oz has always scared the crap out of me.

    Personally, I like to associate a face with the words. But, your icon is awesome, so I just imagine you walking around with cool scarves and cigarette holders.

    And I clicked on the link which HAS you picture and you are without a doubt TOTALLY-SUPER-ADORABLE.

  24. I always pictured you as an 87 year old black man. Right? Was I off?

  25. It meant a lot to me to see you in person, friend. And your nose is lovely. You have yet to experience the largess of my Greek schnoz.

  26. Oh, the “me vs. my blogging self” dichotomy…I know it well…

    I don’t think it’s necessary for a blogger to always reveal their “true identity” if they have their reasons for keeping it concealed; but I also know that every time I’ve seen someone pull back the curtain (myself included), readers always respond positively. It’s comforting and interesting to see the person who’s been writing the words you’ve come to know and love.

    All this is to say that a) if you never put up a picture, I’d still read you, and b) having seen (and heard) you, I continue to think we should be buds and will continue to read you with delight.

    Don’t be too hard on “you in real life”; she’s just as charming and down-to-earth as the voice we’ve all come to enjoy. It can be scarey to reveal the person behind the curtain because with our blogs, we get 100% control over how we’re perceived. But you’ve got nothing to hide, girl. You rock, behind and in front of the curtain. 🙂

  27. Wow, when I saw your tv clip, I was totally thinking “man behind the curtain” to myself. I swear.
    At first it did feel kinda weird to know what the wizard looked like, to hear his voice without the projection. But now I’ve stepped away from the curtain, and as I listen to you once again from the depths of the blogosphere, all weirdness is totally gone and I’m back to appreciating your writing for it’s inherent value, no matter how much you think you talk with your hands (which, by the way, I didn’t even notice).

  28. You were so impressive in your interview! This doesn’t surprise me though. I consider you to be an intelligent, articulate and, overall just lovely, person on your blog and was not dissapointed to see how freaking poised and well spoken you were on the news. I also just love that you donated the proceeds of your book by actually buying things for the animals.

    I have to agree with another comment above that you do, indeed, have a midwestern accent. (I never knew that I had one until I moved to L.A) And it makes me like you even more 🙂

  29. This is a really interesting question. I put lots of photos up on my blog, mainly because I like to READ blogs where there are lots of photos of the author.

    I’ve noticed before that when I am listening to someone, I maintain eye contact the entire time they are talking. It’s kind of my thing–the second I look away, I feel really “off.” I am a visual learner (and I score lowest on the auditory learning style,) so I think that my intense eye contact is my mind’s unconscious way of compensating and getting the information it needs.

    Following that pattern (I think–armchair psychologist in the house!,) I really do prefer to see photos of the author and/or his/her subjects on a blog…I do feel like the photos give me info that I didn’t have before. I can’t remember ever looking at someone’s picture and thinking, “well, now that I know what they look like, I can’t possibly keep reading.”

    Instead, photos are more likely to make me feel like I connected with them, unless their photos are unrelated to their subject matter and/or odd (“here’s me in a bikini! Oh look, here I am in a bikini again! Here’s 19 wedding photos that have nothing to do with how I look now! Emo shot! Here’s me hugging my dog when I was drunk one night! Self-photo shot at flattering angle!” You get the drift. And even then, it’s not like I think, “wow, you’re ugly so I can’t read” or “oh, you didn’t look like I pictured so I can’t read”–it’s more like, “wow, you have a disorganized mind so I can’t read.”)

    That being said, sometimes I regret putting photos on my blog because it makes me less anonymous, BUT that was also part of the point–I wanted readers to be able to picture me like we were catching up over coffee. It’s a catch 22. #longestblogcommenteversorrybutitwasareallygoodquestion

    • #longestblogcommenteversorrybutitwasareallygoodquestion

      Nah. #greatinsightfulcommentthatithoroughlyenjoyedreadingandimsogladthatyoustoppedbyandleftit 😉

  30. I do look for a photo when I visit a blog as it gives me a quick sense of the person. On some blogs I don’t know whether the author is a man or a woman, young or old, and I find it harder to connect. I like those moments when the curtain is pulled back and the true character is revealed for a moment, rather than the image a person is trying to create.

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