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“You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.” ~ Alan Moore
I’ve been putting on different masks my entire life.
As a child, I quickly learned from friends and family that being “me” wasn’t acceptable and that I needed to be someone else.
It was made clear to me, both verbally and non-verbally, that my physical appearance and personality did not make people feel comfortable and that I, and everyone else, would be happier if I could change. If I could be, well, less me.
So, from an early age, I pretended to be anyone rather than who I actually was. Every occasion called for a different “representative,” a different mask.
If I was with family, my representative needed to be responsible, smart, a peacemaker—and I should lose some weight.
If I was with friends, my representative needed to be more outgoing, friendlier, funnier, a better conversationalist—and I should lose some weight.
If I was with boys, my representative needed to be more charming, giggly, prettier and—you guessed it—I should lose some weight.
Over the decades, I’ve had so many representatives, worn so many masks, and tried on so many alternative personalities that I have lost my true self.
I realize that I have no idea who I am anymore. I don’t remember who I was before I started wearing masks and I don’t know who I would be if I had never worn them. What if I had just been me? Loved me? Showed up as me? I wonder if, perhaps, she’s entirely lost.
Am I shy, quiet, and observant, or am I outgoing and chatty? Am I a big crowd person, or an intimate gathering person? Am I confident meeting others and making new friends, or am I “fake it until I make it,” hoping others won’t see through my act?
Fact is, I am all of these. I have simply perfected being who I think others want me to be and, in doing so, lost myself in the process.
Sometimes, it will be apparent who the “real me” is versus my numerous representatives. In certain situations, I may feel relaxed and comfortable, forgetting to put on a mask and, for brief moments, reveal the “real me.” Then inevitably, I will do or say something that feels weird. I might get funny looks, and instantaneously I understand that it wasn’t safe to leave off my mask and I must immediately figure out which “me” is expected in that moment.
Which “me” will be accepted? Which “me” will they like? That way, I’ll know who needs to show up next time.
In turn, I transform into a quiet observer. I take notice of who’s popular, who’s sought out, who gets the laughs, who gets invited to lunch, and who people are drawn to. I attempt to emulate those people—their behavior, their personality, their energy—and it’s uncomfortable, awkward, fake, and fails me every single time.
Inevitably, I simply withdraw and decide, once again, that I am not enough. I better figure out how to be less weird, or just make sure to wear the right mask at the right time.
What is ironic is the result of me putting on so many masks to belong ends up alienating me even more. If I am not comfortable with myself, how can anyone else be?
All of my “representatives” are exhausted. I’m exhausted. The masks are tattered, worn out, and I wish to pack them away. But I’m afraid I don’t know how.
How do I not wear a mask? How can I be “naked” in front of others? How do I not send a “representative” with my face, wearing my clothes, but not be “me”?
I’m afraid it will be scary. That in removing the mask, I’ll remove some of my own skin. That the masks have become permanent. That they have become such a part of me that to separate from them will cause pain—physical, mental, and emotional pain. Most often, the masks feel truer to me than what lies behind them. I’ve used them to hide for so long that I fear I’ve become more comfortable remaining in the dark.
However, that’s not true. I despise my masks and my representatives. I loathe my need to put on an act and pretend, all in the hopes of being accepted. I wish to set fire to them and banish them from my island forever.
I was listening to a podcast recently and the speaker was talking about how she spends so much time, after being in the presence of other humans, worrying about how she acted, what she said, and wondering if they discovered that she’s weird.
After many years of this, what she realized is that she, like so many of us, often shows only her shiny, cute self because she knows that the shiny, cute version will be welcomed. People will laugh at our jokes and enjoy our conversation. Some of us have, for so long, felt we needed to keep our true, weird selves hidden because we make us and others uncomfortable. The people don’t know what to say, how to act, or what to ask; they want and need us to be different to make themselves feel better, more comfortable.
But perhaps what we should be doing is bringing out our weird, true self at every given opportunity because she is authentic and loyal. She doesn’t care if you get her or not and isn’t bothered by your feeling uncomfortable because she isn’t wearing the mask you expected. She didn’t send a representative in her place. Take her or leave her. Love her or hate her. She is us, and is desperate to be seen, completely unmasked.
“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” ~ André Berthiaume
How often do you let your true self out in the world? Just you, with your face out there for all to see?
Each time you walk out the door, is it you, or a “representative” you’re sending? Do you pause and think about which “you” is expected to show up? Do you have different masks you wear, depending on the situation, the people, and how you are currently feeling about yourself?
Or can you walk out the door with all your you-ness and feel confident?
Because here’s the truth about your weird, true self:
>> She will show up when she’s sad and things aren’t okay, as well as when she’s happy and ready to smile again.
>> She will not always be laughing and will sometimes need to cry.
>> She won’t always look “pretty” or want to talk about light, fluffy things but will want to know you, allowing you to be vulnerable and real, asking for the same in return.
>> She won’t try to make you feel comfortable by being fake. Instead, she will welcome you as you are and see you exactly as you show up.
>> She will still laugh too loud, often say the wrong thing, and might even have spinach between her teeth.
>> She will tell you that small talk isn’t necessary or even enjoyable. She wants to talk about things that matter and find meaning in the mundane moments while also tackling the monumental, sometimes soul-crushing, often glorious events that make up a life.
>> She will quickly identify those individuals who she can be real with, and those who are simply passing by. She will not hide when she is feeling broken but will fall to pieces and expect that you will help pick up the pieces, or at least, provide the glue and look past her cracks.
>> She will be okay with not being liked by everyone, knowing she is adored by those who see her real face.
>> She will shout from the treetops when her people are good, content, and connected. She will provide community; a safe place filled with love and acceptance because she will know that she can put away her masks forever, send her representatives back from where they came and be her true, weird self.
This is what I ache for. I crave a time when I can be in a group of individuals and be “me.” When I can walk in with my real face, thoughts, and words. When I don’t worry about every utterance, every smile, every nod, every frown—every everything.
A time when I don’t look around, as I do now, at all the others and try to figure out what makes them likable. What makes others seek them out and how can I become that.
A time when I don’t desperately feel the need, after over four decades of living, to try and fit in. To not be so awkward, so uncomfortable. To not feel like I’m always standing on the periphery of a circle or outside a window looking in, waiting to be asked to come inside, out of the cold, into the warm embrace of acceptance and love—just as I am.
To not feel so weird.
But you know what? I am weird. We’re all weird. And I wish we would all desire to be completely and fully our weird and wonderful selves. To stand in front of others, putting only our true face out there in the world, no longer wanting to hide it.
Most of all, I wish for the people who matter in my life to see and know my real face. To celebrate my weirdness and permit me to remain maskless. In fact, they wouldn’t want me any other way.
I will always want my people to be their true, weird, and wonderful selves. I want to see all of them—my people, hiding behind nothing.
So please put away your masks and fire your representatives. Let your weird self out of the closet. She doesn’t need to hide; she deserves to shine. She is who I want to see, who I want to know, and who I want to celebrate.
Both yours and mine.
I look forward to meeting her.