Cowardice, Intimidation and the General Population

From time to time, I write about this topic.  It is the topic of how the masses perceive each other and how there is almost nothing you can do about it.  That's right, I said there is nothing you can do about it.  Let me explain this in detail.

I was born into a normal middle class household in the northern tier of  Pennsylvania.  My genetics are made up of Swedish (that's important), Italian, Irish and English.  Your basic European mutt.   My dad was a salesman and my mom took various jobs to help pay the bills.  I was brought up to respect others, but also to stand up for myself and not lie just to appease others.  But there is more to the story than that.  You see, what I didn't realize as a child is that biology was going to play a major role in how others perceived me and how I interacted with others.

Looks are Very Deceiving 
By the time I became a teenager, I knew I was different than everyone else.  I had plenty of friends, but I knew people perceived me differently.  There was something about how I looked that made me more polarizing.  Those around me either really liked me or really didn't.

As I grew older and went through high school and college I noticed that if anyone got in trouble in a room, it would be me.  People would tend to look at the floor, rather than engage me directly in conversation.  Oh how I longed for good conversation and still do to this day.  I longed for good friends and still do to this day.  So why you may ask have people treated me so differently?

It wouldn't be until about 2008 that I found my answer.  One day my manager told me that the workers found me intimidating.  I honestly laughed out loud when I first heard this because it was so ridiculous to me. After multiple sources from different companies and even some friends told me this, I soon realized that there must be something to this.  Another term I heard bandied about is, "you seem very intense."  What the heck does that mean?

At this point, I began to do research on how people look and how they are perceived and I found some very compelling evidence to suggest that the way our head and body is shaped does indeed affect, profoundly, how we are perceived.  Combine looks with self confidence and you have a soup made for disaster.

Just as someone who is beautiful seems to get all the breaks, the guy who has harsh, strong features is thought of as someone not to be messed with and to be avoided.  It is some weird innate thing that we simply can do nothing about.

The Big Brow
Studies have shown that when someone looks at you for the first time, they often hone right in on your eyes.  This means, that your whole eye and forehead structure comes into play within the first 5 seconds you meet someone.  With some men, the first thing they see are deep set eyes and a large brow.  Humans seem to know innately that someone with a big brow is stronger and tougher.  They know innately that you are not the person they want to hang out with or that you are a person they want for protection.  In fact, studies have shown  that big brow does more than just stick out of your forehead!  That brow actually reinforces your entire facial structure to prevent your skull from taking damage.  So there seems to be some science to support their innate feelings toward me and others like me.  Of course, you guessed it.  I have a big brow.  This is the number one factor in looking intimidating!

Big Chest Cavity and Shoulders
This one is common sense and we see this all the time.  What does a body builder have that makes him look tough?  A big strong chest, abs and shoulders. So when someone sees a man with a big chest and shoulders, they can be intimidated and even more so for women (who seem to be the worst offenders).  We see football players and wrestlers and military fall into this category.  So again we have a very polarized attraction here. Either others are completely intimidated and run away from you or they see you as someone to protect them.  These of course are both the wrong reasons to befriend someone.  Again, you guess it, I have a big chest cavity and shoulders.

Deep, Booming Voice
Those who have big voices get lots of attention and for many this is simply a turn off and for others it can be intimidating.  So this is strike three for me.  I was made with a big voice that you can hear from one side of the building to the other.  This does make me a fairly good singer though!

Being a Big Guy is Not Intimidating
Having big shoulders or height does not make you intimidating.  They are fairly normal traits.  Intimidation (by looks) is all in the head structure and vibe you give off.  Notice I am not talking at all about personality.  That is a topic for another day.  Personality really gets into the psychological which is above my pay grade most likely.  I will say, however, that if people tell you that you are big and tough long enough, you will eventually play the part.  Watch out for that!

Other Warning Signs You Might be Intimidating

  • People see you as making a good police officer or military man when choosing a career.  This is a big warning sign!
  • People look at the floor in your presence.
  • People won't confront you directly, but instead immediately escalate the issue to the next level at work.  
  • People always email you and never call you (not always because of this but could be a warning sign).
  • People may say you are unapproachable (even though they have never approached you).
  • People refer to you as "big guy" even though you are of average height.

The Good News
The good news is that generally, none of the above speaks anything about who I really am in my heart of hearts.  People around you will try to shape you into a monster because that is how they perceive you.  They will try to compartmentalize you because that is what people do.  There is nothing you or I can do about this in general.  The only thing you or I can do is be the best person we can be. You can win people by utilizing the parts of your personality that are in fact likable.

And then, there is also the opposite sex and how they are attracted or not attracted to you.  Just as there are people who innately seem to hate you without knowing you, there are women who find the "big guy" to be attractive.  I would assert that it is not looks they find attractive per say, but rather that this is someone who can protect them and be their strength.  It cuts both ways however.  Just as there are women who find these traits irresistible, there are probably more who find it detestable (especially in modern times).  Good luck guys.

Realize this, there is simply nothing you can do about your looks or how people perceive you. Also, to a large degree there is nothing you can do about your personality.  I didn't really get into that topic here because it is such a huge can of worms, but your personality is what God gave you and it really cannot be altered for the most part.

When we judge someone by mere appearance we make ourselves the worst kind of person.  Furthermore, realize that you will suffer setbacks based on your looks.  Work will become harder and it will be harder to make friends and keep them.  Also, be aware that if you are also an introvert, you have just about doomed yourself to a life of solitude (for the most part).  That may actually be desirable for you :)  I hope at some level though, you do seek the company of others.

Those who really know me, know that I am not intimidating at all.  One of my friends told me that he just doesn't understand why people tell me that.  It is really simple, if you don't know someone, you judge them by their appearance and that is always a big mistake!

Unfortunately, a huge portion of the world's society hasn't gotten the memo that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover!



  1. Well said Matt. I didn't know that we shared the Swedish ancestry. I understand from where you speak. I have always been the tallest and largest girl in grade school and high school, so it is assumed that I am older and more should be expected of me. It was always difficult to play with others because you weren't the same size as the rest of their friends. I always was the one that got scolded because "You're big enough to know better". Therefore I was shy. When I matured emotionally my inner personality started to come out. Now that I am old, I really don't give two hoots about the others but it was rough for a lot of years. I guess that is my "wisdom" that comes with age. I was expecting more. LOL

    1. Thanks, yeah and if you look at Swedish ancestry you get a lot of big men with big foreheads. Based on my own family, I would say that the swedes tended to be more serious which might also play into all this. I think it is a throwback to the Viking days. Totally agree with aging makes you care much less about the topic.