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The Concept of “Looking Glass Self” Essay


According to Cooley and Schubert (1998), the concept of ‘looking glass self’ holds that the ‘self’ bit of a person emanates from the individual’s social communications with others. How people view, themselves is derived from the observation of personal qualities and parodies in a manner that matches how other individuals perceive people. The concept explains further that how people recognize themselves does not indicate their real selves, but somewhat who they believe they are.

This discussion focuses on this concept. In line with Wood’s (2016) position, the paper shows how the ‘self’ is produced and shaped through people’s interaction with others. This goal will be achieved by explaining and giving examples of observations that prove this concept in real-life situations. Besides, the paper will explain how a young woman who cannot bear children might develop a sense of self. In addition, it discusses how different cultural rules and established patterns of interaction, for instance, the Arab world and the USA, may produce different kinds of ‘‘self’’ or identities. Furthermore, the paper will reflect on how this process is currently affected by various mass media.

How the ‘‘Self’’ is Produced and Shaped through Interaction with Others

A person’s self is shaped based on his or her understanding of how other people perceive him or her. The personal representation that people establish is a manifestation of their surroundings and reactions from others. For example, according to Wood (2016), during childhood, parents, relatives, and other people treated their kids in various ways. If this kid was viewed as well groomed, then individuals could bring him or her with particular prospects associating him with stylishness and success.

In line with Oishi’s (2006) speech act theory, the application of the ‘speech acts’ concept was evident where other people could address the child in a manner that could motivate him or her to maintain the status. As a result, the child could ultimately believe that he or she was a smart person, a process that the child demonstrated throughout his or her growth process. In a way, when people believe that their friends look at them as heroes, they get the self-image projected, regardless of whether what others say about is true or not.

On the other hand, if other friends see people as heroes, just like the other group, but also perceive individuals as kind and loving, the group to which the perception is directed will tend to harmonize the two traits by appearing as loving, kind, and heroic. In essence, the environment here acts as a mirror that reflects images of different people. The definitive result is that people adjust their behavior basing on the way others perceive them (Wood, 2016).

As a real-life personal example, while in our elementary classes, Ivy, one of my best friends, used to perform poorly in class, a situation that made her withdraw from normal interactions with other members of our class who had stereotyped her as ‘dunderhead’. The name depicted her poor performance. She used to stay in class most of the time while we were playing in the field. When I realized this matter, I decided to take my time to offer the company to her.

This move was in line with TRIPOD’s (2016) claim, “Civil societies can only thrive when damaging stereotypes are broken down” (Para. 4). She openly revealed to me what she thought about herself based on the scolding views of other classmates. I always encouraged her that she was destined to be a great person and that she could perform better than anyone else in our class. These words could cheer her up.

The concept of adjacency pair was applied here, where I could let Ivy speak her mind first before I followed by giving my positive view of her situation. When we did our end term exams, she performed poorly because of the negative sentiments she had received from her classmates. Our class teacher realized this poor performance and the reason behind Ivy’s low self-esteem. She developed a good relationship with her. Most of the time, she offered her private coaching in the evenings. While in class, the teacher advised us to respect each other, encourage each one of us, and work together. She advised us to form groups.

In our group, Ivy was the leader. Her behavior started changing gradually. After one year, she was not only position five overall, but also the class secretary and netball captain. In line with Cooley and Schubert’s (1998) views, the people in Ivy’s close environment served as a mirror to reflect her ‘self.’ When her performance was poor, she received the impression that she was a failure and less capable, especially when other students laughed at her. When the teacher and I intervened and changed the environment, she again mirrored herself through us and saw herself as a capable student who could perform well.

Another example involves a story that trended in social media in 2012 about President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when the pair decided to go for casual dinner at Michelle’s former boyfriend restaurant. After President Obama was granted a chance to speak to Michelle in private, President Obama asked her why he really wanted to speak to her. Upon learning about the man’s earlier quest to her have Michelle as his girlfriend, President Obama told her that now she would be the wife of the owner of that beautiful restaurant.

On the other hand, Michelle told President Obama that the man would be the president of the USA instead. In this story, Michelle creates the assumption that the environment that President Obama has to become the US President is the same that the restaurant owner. Hence, such an environment could have influenced the restaurant owner to become a president, just like President Obama.

How a Woman who has a Scar in her face might Develop her Sense of Self

Building a sense of self requires people to break away from what their immediate environment perceives of them. The concept of proxemics is applied here where one has to investigate people’s spatial demands and the impact that other elements have on their conduct, communication, and collective relations (Griffin, 2006). According to Edward Hall’s (1976) proxemic theory, building and nurturing a strong self-image starts in one’s mind, especially what he or she thinks not only about his or her inner environment but also about the outside settings. The woman with a scar on her face is facing several issues about her self-image.

First, she lacks confidence in herself. Secondly, she hates the fact that her face lacks evenness because of the scar. She has a feeling of rejection, especially when her female friends attract the company of their male peers who, in turn, scorned her because of the unpleasant mark on her face. She feels that the scar has denied her the privilege that others are enjoying. For her to create a strong self-image, she needs to know and appreciate her appearance.

She needs to acknowledge her real self and separate it from all the inconveniences outside her social world concerning her self-image. She has given room to the external world to determine what she already discerns from within about herself. Such a person should start by believing in herself. Because of the scar on her face, the woman has a low sense of worth. She feels uncertain about herself. Regardless of what other people think, believe, and/or say about her appearance, she needs to develop trust in herself. She should not question herself about what led to getting the scar or how she could have avoided the incident.

Instead, she should decide to trust and only deal with the best interests of heart that uphold her self-worth. To achieve a sense of self, she should spend quality time appreciating her appearance, including what she deems worthy concerning herself such as her job and psychological smartness. Second, she should take note of her assets, including what she does better than anyone else, her achievements, and/or what other people praise her for. Third, she should diversify her interests, her friends, and the environment in which she operates. This strategy will strengthen her self-worth, regardless of what other people say about her.

How Japan and the USA’s Different Cultural Rules produce Different Kinds of Self

Chapter 4 that is titled, ‘Cultural Patterns and Communication: Foundations’ in Lustig and Koester’s (2013) book addresses the need for appreciating cultural disparities that are evident among people and nations. Japan and the USA exhibit distinct cultural differences. In line with Hall’s (1976) presumption of low/high perspective cultures, individuals from different nations or interact in a manner that attracts misunderstanding and that the difference arises from the countries’ diverse communication patterns. The different cultural aspects include individualism and collectivism. A society that practices an individualistic culture emphasizes individual’s objectives.

On the other hand, societies that emphasize the in-group way of life are referred to as collective cultures since they prefer obtaining goals as a group than on an individual basis. Japan practices the collective form of culture while the USA practices individualistic culture. For example, in Japan, when people are working in groups, they communicate using direct verbal messages. On the other hand, in the USA, people use non-verbal and indirect verbal messages.

Self-construal dependence and self-construal interdependence also form an interesting cultural difference between Japan and the USA. With self-construal interdependence that is evident in the US, a person tends to exist and practice separately from others. He or she demonstrates discrete abilities, motives, values, and traits that define his or her sense of self. People seek sovereignty as witnessed in the case of many US candidates such as Donald Trump. On the contrary, in terms of self-construal interdependence that prevails in Japan, the concept of self is characterized by relatedness that is linked to other persons’ awareness and wellness. People feel complete when they are under unionized social units.

How the Sense of Identity is affected by Various Mass Media

When people are born, they do not manifest any distinctiveness since the aspect is shaped by societal features. According to Wood (2016), social media acts as a tool that transforms people’s sense of identity. For example, it is estimated that American adolescents take more than six hours interacting with different people around the globe via social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter among others.

Besides being entertaining, this form of engagement acts as an external force that leads people’s identity. Many users of social media concentrate on a particular aspect, which they follow up on a daily basis. For instance, one may decide to focus on sports updates or music. In line with Chandler’s transmission model of communication, he or she believes that whatever is posted on social media is meant to pass a particular message that is aimed at shaping one’s identity (Schröppel, 2009). Here, the person who watches the football first-hand acts as the source. The internet is the transmitter while the fanatic who downloads the contents is the receiver.

This habit becomes part of his or her life and hence self. He or she will end up becoming what he or she prefers in social media. A good illustration is evident where football fanatics are currently associating themselves with musicians or football clubs that are miles away from their geographical positions. This situation drives people’s identity as football or music fans. The identity makes many of them gather what is needed to develop a similar status.


From the above discussion, it is agreeable that the concept of ‘self’ bears a crucial role in shaping a person. The story of Ivy reveals that the environment can derail people from achieving their goals in life. The paper has shown how various concepts, including the looking glass self, proxemics, and the transmission model of communication influence the ‘self’ in a person. Furthermore, the paper has also shown how media influences people’s choice of self-identity.

Reference List

Cooley, H., & Schubert, H. (1998). On self and social organization. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, E. (1976). Beyond Culture: High context and Low context Cultures. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

Lustig, M., & Koester, J. (2013). Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication across Cultures. San Francisco, SA: Peachpit Press.

Oishi, E. (2006). . Web.

Schröppel, M. (2009). . Web.

TRIPOD. (2016). . Web.

Wood, J. (2016). Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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"The Concept of "Looking Glass Self"." IvyPanda, 22 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-concept-of-looking-glass-self/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Concept of "Looking Glass Self"." September 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-concept-of-looking-glass-self/.


IvyPanda. "The Concept of "Looking Glass Self"." September 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-concept-of-looking-glass-self/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Concept of "Looking Glass Self"." September 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-concept-of-looking-glass-self/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Concept of "Looking Glass Self"'. 22 September.

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