The first time I ever counseled church camp, the curriculum had something to do with being our true selves, which is the hope for every child of God. I had the bright idea to have the youth put on masks (like the ones you buy at the drugstore for exfoliation and such). So, there we were, two adult counselors and male and female middle schoolers putting green goo on our faces. I talked about the masks we wear. One of the boys said his face was feeling tingly; another said his skin was burning. Oops. I turned it into an opportunity to talk about how sometimes the masks we wear hurt us. And in order to feel like ourselves, we removed the green masks none too soon. Of course, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have subjected young people to such an experiment. I have no idea if they learned anything or not.
But in the thirteen years since, I have thought a lot about the faces that we put forward – for ourselves and others. We may not always don an actual costume or exfoliating treatment, but we do wear masks.
Now this is different from wearing different hats. I wear a different hat depending if I am being wife or mom or daughter or friend or minister or workshop leader. Hats are the metaphors for various roles we play in life.
Masks are different.
Masks conceal our true identity.
We wear masks that tell the world that we have it all together when our lives are falling apart at the seams.
We wear masks with smiles on them that say we are happy when we are incredibly depressed.
We wear masks of organized people when we are a mess inside.
We wear masks of easy-going straight A students when we stress out and don’t sleep because we are expected to achieve.
We wear masks at home, at work, at the grocery store, at church, whenever someone asks us how we are and are faces tell a different story from what is really going on in our hearts.
Women (mostly) have the ability to wear actually masks with make-up. We can cover up the tear-stained cheeks, dark circles of sleepless nights, middle-aged acne, and more.
This isn’t all necessarily bad, but if we wear the mask of make-up just to fit into the media-made ideal of what we “should” look like, then we are concealing our true selves.
Recently, a celebrity revealed her make-up free face for a music video. Colbie Caillat wrote that she was tired of being photoshopped, putting a false face out into the world. Before heading out to an event, she would call over her make-up artist and hairstylist to help her get ready. If only we were all so lucky to have regular facials and a professional team to help us put on our public persona. Or not.
It is tiresome, and Caillat realized that she was not being honest when pictures of her were being altered in such a way as were unattainable.
But so many “try” so hard to emulate what they see in TV and magazines and movies. Women (and men) spend ungodly amounts of money on cosmetics and plastic surgery and “masks” in order to be someone they’re not.
A local young woman began an experiment going without make-up for an entire year in order to show her true face to the world. I applaud her efforts.
But I don’t know if I could do it. Not for a year. Oh sure, if I were in the Peace Corps and lived that lifestyle, I could do without, I think. And I certainly go places without my “face” on - the gym or grocery. And honestly, I don’t even wear that much make-up to begin with. A little tinted moisturizer, under-eye cream, mascara and lip-gloss, and I am good to go. I am not trying to hide myself behind a mask. I am simply enhancing what I’ve got.
But it has not always been so easy for me. As a model, I had the luxury of showing up to a studio of professionals to make me “beautiful.” But that barefaced train ride there was hard for me. I was overly concerned with how I looked without concealing those parts of my face I didn’t like.
During initiation to a high school sorority (don’t ask), I had to attend school without make-up for a week! The horror! Teachers asked me if I felt ok or if I was tired. No, I was just me. No make-up me.
It is easier now than when I was a teenager. I understand that teens are still trying to figure out their true identities, and some put on masks even at church camp. The masks of lots of make-up even on hot, humid days in the midst of people who love them as beautiful children of God regardless of skin tone or pimples or . . .
I get that sometimes the masks we wear are a way to self-confidence. Faking it until we make it. And sure, when I have been low, actually getting dolled up helped my psyche.
But when masks or make-up hide rather than enhance our true selves, we have done a disservice to ourselves, others, and God. Sometimes, we need to reveal the faces that tell that we are sad or tired or stressed or whatever so that others realize that they are not alone, or so that we may receive a comforting word. We don’t all have it together all the time. We don’t all have blemish-free skin. We are not all “perfect.”
Except, we are! We are perfectly imperfectly, as John Legend sings. We are made in the image of God, and God is who we reflect in the mirror, make-up free and all. God can see through the masks we wear, but it may be harder for us to do so.
I will not vow to go without make-up for a year, but I vow to try to reserve my masks for costume parties. When you see me, I pray that you see the person God created me to be, enhanced with light-reflecting particles perhaps, but not hidden. This is my prayer for you, too.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.