A Mask: Freedom or a Prison?

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In the movie Never Been Kissed, Drew Barrymore plays Josie, a journalist who goes undercover as a high school student. In her disguise as a student she is able to deal with her identity issues while falling in love with a teacher. This idea of being in disguise is paralleled by the story her class reads, Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It,’ where Rosalind was able, through her disguise, to express her love for Orlando. The teacher makes the point that there’s a freedom that comes from being in disguise.

What the teacher said resonated with me because I can relate to it. For example, when all my friends are tipsy or drunk, and I’m the only sober one, I am so much freer because I’m not worried about what anyone thinks of me; no-one’s thinking clearly, and they’ll probably forget anyway. The disguise in this case is alcohol, and I can say what I really think and be more open. I’m the definition of cool, calm and collected but in disguise I’m free to be anything I want to be.

The same kind of thing happens when I meet a stranger or am in an environment different to my normal day-to-day life. I feel I can be whoever I want to be because the stranger or the people in the new environment don’t know anything about me. That’s why sometimes I share things with a stranger that I wouldn’t normally share with anyone else, because I feel free to be me around them. They have no expectations of me, and I probably won’t ever see them again so I’m not worried about what they’ll think of me.

So while I understand this concept of freedom coming from being in disguise and wearing a mask, there’s another part of me that wonders if a disguise is really just a disguise and a mask is just a mask. What happens when you become the disguise and you start to live a lie? There’s no freedom, just a prison.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in a prison. Have I done such a good job at being the person everyone sees, that I’ve come to believe this is who I really am? How do you know who you are when the masks you wear never come off? The mask becomes real and you become the mask. Sometimes I don’t know the difference between the mask and me. It seems like the mask and I have been moulded together over the years, and they are so deeply entwined with each other that they’ve turned into something that has become who I am, leading me to question if there is even a mask at all.

Sometimes a mask gives me freedom to let my real self come out; other times it’s a prison and all I do is hide.

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5 responses »

  1. I have learned how to become what people want me to be when I am with them. The problem is I eventually come home and have to be just me. Having done this for so long I learned that wearing masks, or as I like to call it, an alternate persona, is actually good in some circumstances as long as I don’t forget who I really am. My most recent blog post coincidentally touches on some of this:

    http://writingsasha.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/self-loathing-indulgence-or-burden/

    “Sometimes a mask gives me freedom to let my real self come out; other times it’s a prison and all I do is hide.”

    This is a really interesting summary. I am going to contemplate it for awhile. I feel un-safe most of the time and letting my true self out, even with a mask, is pretty terrifying. I never thought of it in the sense of a mask being protection making it more safe to reveal myself than when un-masked. Hmmm.

    • Interesting. I know I’m me when I’m alone but as you say, I become what people want me to be when I’m with them. It makes it hard when I’m different with different people, that’s all, and it gets confusing. I think maybe wearing masks isn’t such a bad thing, if we know who we really are, as you say.
      Glad to have given you something to think about. It makes me think too.

      • Yes! It does get confusing especially if different groups of people all come together. I have, in fact, been trying to cultivate a universal image, so to speak, as a cross-over for in case this happens. I’ve started with wearing my free spirit type clothes when hanging with my more conservative friends, and alternatively wearing my more high fashion clothes (and heels) with my free-spirited friends. I am also inching my way into cross over comments too, if you know what I mean.

  2. You would love to listen to (or perhaps read) Alan Watts. He talks/writes quite a bit about wearing the mask, or as he calls it, the persona. He points out that the etymological origins of the word mask stem from the word persona, which is the greek term given to the greek actors of old as they work masks to amplify themselves and their voices during theatre performances. From this, we get our understanding of ‘personality.’

    Alan Watts goes on to illustrate the duality of wearing the mask, as you speak of, the prison and the disguise. He also gives excellent talks and philosophy about the real you behind the mask. I think you would find him quite interesting based on the content of your posts.

    • I have checked out Alan Watts, there’s a video called Music and Life that really changed part of me. Loved it.
      I’m sure I’ll check out some more of his stuff since I love the philosophy realm.
      Thanks for sharing, and by the way, you write really well and love your helpful comments.

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