I spent the weekend rewatching The Lord Of The Rings extended edition. Yes, I’m that nerd. But I also caught the trailer for the new movie My Week With Marilyn with Michelle Williams several times. I haven’t had the chance to watch the movie yet, but it seems to me that Marilyn and Orcs have a lot in common. They both struggle at being authentic.
Marilyn Monroe with her curves, her blonde hair, and that walk – stole people’s hearts. Our society equates beautiful with successful, happy, affluent, advantage, choices. A true American Cinderella story, she grew up bounced between foster homes and living with her mentally unstable mother, and got her break in acting through her modeling career. She became known the world-over as a sex symbol.
But, as the movie trailer, and many documentaries and biographies suggest, Marilyn struggled with who the world wanted her to be. She wore a mask for the world.
“In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty.” -Marilyn Monroe
The actors in The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR), I’m thinking of the Orcs specifically, spent hours in a makeup chair getting their masks applied. I was amazed at this video time-capture of the 5-hour process required to transform a not-unattractive young man into an Orc.
We wear masks for two reasons, it seems to me. Either we want to be seen as attractive (physically, socially, romantically, professionally) - the Marilyn mask. Or we want to hide and so appear unattractive or uninviting – the Orc mask. I have to admit, when I don’t feel comfortable or safe in a situation or setting, my don’t-talk-to-me mask comes out and it musn’t be attractive because it seems to work well.
The Jekyll-Hyde Problem
Here’s the problem though, I like to think of it as the Jekyll-Hyde problem. Eventually, you begin to forget which face, which persona, is the real one. We prefer, we come to depend on, the persona over the real us. In the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll is appalled by Mr. Hyde and his many despicable acts, but he takes the mixture so often that he can’t control Mr. Hyde anymore. Mr. Hyde comes out whenever he likes, and stays as long as he likes. Jekyll is forced into hiding. To Marilyn, her public persona was like Mr. Hyde, and to the Orc-man, he needed the Mr. Hyde persona to face the world.
Ever been in that situation? Like Marilyn, you’re forced to wear this happy face all the time and you begin to loathe it. You begin to wonder who the real person is underneath because you can’t remember the last time you didn’t wear the mask? Ever forced into a situation that wears you down, you hate every stinking minute of it – and your attitude is reflected in how you look to other people?
The don’t-talk-to-me mask is a two-edged sword, because I’m sure I’m missing out on some really great conversations if I took a chance at being more approachable, but it’s a coping mechanism. I think masks have a time and place, they help you endure a difficult situation – but it can’t/shouldn’t be maintained long term.
But being authentic is hard. It’s really hard. And sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes you get hurt over and over. So you have to be careful where you begin to practice being authentic. Find a safe place, safe people, a safe conversation topic. Put a toe in the water before you jump in with both feet if you need to – but start the process. It’s worth it. You can be the Orc-man who takes the makeup and the mask off and goes back to his real life at the end of the day, or you can be like Marilyn and rely so much on the beautiful mask that you learn to despise the real you AND the mask. Do you wear a mask? Are you in the process of not wearing a mask? How’s that working out?
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