masks and faces

It is not the eyes alone that are the windows to our soul but our faces, whose fluid expressions unconsciously reveal our stream of consciousness, so that, to hide our souls, we resort to putting on fixed expressions, as masks.

In mirrors, people seek to see themselves as others see them. But, as fairytales tell us, mirrors lie. We can never see our face in a mirror but only our masks. As we fix our eyes on our reflection, it becomes impossible even to glimpse how our face looks when our eyes wander freely, or when it reacts to our thoughts, or to other people, or to the world. Mirrors are more insidious even than that, for they show us a face radically different from that which others see.*

Though photographs and videos can show us our face free from the misrepresentations of  mirrors, they too mostly lie: unless manipulated by a skilful hand, a lens does not see a face as does an unmediated human eye.

Mirrors, photographs and video, by encouraging self consiousness, coax us into putting on masks. People in the public eye—filmstars, famously—are forced to live much of their lives behind their masks. Since the advent of the smart phone, alas, we all now live in the public eye—especially the young.

The curse of self-consciousness is that we turn in on ourselves; the more we wish people to see our face as we want them to see it, the more we trap ourselves behind ours masks.

adjunct: unconscious masks

Some masks we wear unconsciously, most of which were adopted when we were children. Some were passed on culturally—when, for example, we unconsciously began mimicking an expression of a person that we admired or found funny. Others, we inherited from our families as we unconsciously mimicked the face of a parent as they expressed a strong emotion or did something as subtle as chew their lip as they concentrated on something. Because our face naturally resembles those of our parents, these unconscious masks may be nearly identical to theirs. Such masks may descend to us from who knows what ancestor.

*unless someone is standing by our side looking at our reflected face as we look in a mirror

Posted by Ricardo

writer and blogger

5 Replies to “masks and faces”

  1. I was always fascinated by masks, therefore, I was really easily prone to buy your first edition of Stone Dance, as soon as I saw masks in the cover. Love the mirror comparison, it reminded me immediatly of Aurum…


    1. I came to masks entirely unconsciously—though, of course, we all know that people often use their faces as masks…in mirrors, we even practice adjusting our faces into masks . . .


    2. what is it about masks that you find fascinating?


  2. An interesting read – it got me thinking about some aspects in particular related to the masks we wear, namely, the masks seen as a refuge and source of comfort… As much as one might be forced to put them on for interactions with others (especially when it comes to social media nowadays), I feel like there is also an underlying positive aspect related to the *choice* to wear some of these masks? Regarding “masks” in a more emotional and psychological sense, shielding parts of oneself at will in different circumstances isn’t always a source of negativity. In many cases, it can be almost a survival or defence mechanism, as the vulnerable and more fragile parts of the self are safely hidden behind the metaphorical masks.

    In relation to more physical masks, I also briefly considered how, when it comes to the perception of one’s image in social media (mainly through any photos that are shared), the absence of any information of this type might itself be a distinct sort of mask…


    1. The problem, is seems to me, is that a mask is a wall between us and the world, like a city wall, and as much as a wall protects it can also imprison what is inside. But, primarily, it disconnects you from the other, and that will often lead to misunderstandings. So, I would say, that we should all strive to live without masks as much as we can bear to

      As for social media, the whole business of ‘selfies’ is a new form of mask gone mad; where people strive to make other people believe that their mask is their real face. What is this but people wishing the fate of the Man in the Iron Mask upon themselves?


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