Unmasking the Masked

Why do so many of us pretend to be something we’re not?

This post is in response to a follower of this blog who commented on Nosy People.  It seems that TV nowadays is inundated with all these reality shows that promote deplorable behavior.  From Amish Mafia to Jersey Shore to My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, reality shows tend to present the worst of human behavior, and the more outrageous someone acts the more likely it will be aired.  You can’t help but wonder whether some (or many) of these people on reality shows normally behave badly or are they just putting on an act for the cameras to get their 15 minutes of fame?  Are we seeing the real Snooki or a Snooki that’s pretending to be someone she’s not?

Reality TV personalities may wear a metaphorical mask to hide who they really are, but so many non-celebrities, people in our own everyday lives, wear their own masks.  Some of us pretend to be rich even though we’re not; some of us are bossy and controlling even though we’re not dominant characters; some of us are jokers even though we’re not playful spirits.  Billy Joel, in his song, “The Stranger,” comments on how we all wear the faces of a stranger but we only show ourselves the face we hide from everyone else.  This face is our true face.

What causes people to wear so many faces or masks?  I’m not able to offer a professional explanation since I’m not a psychologist, but from my humble layman’s perspective, I think we pretend to be people we’re not because it’s often scary to show others our true selves.  We’re afraid of not being accepted.  I remember putting on an outgoing facade every time I stepped into a classroom to teach because my real character, the quiet introvert, couldn’t speak to a crowd of high school or college students and be respected by them.  We don’t want to feel naked and vulnerable in front of others, so we sometimes behave in ways that are opposite those of our true personalities.

It takes a lot of courage to behave badly on TV in front of millions, but it takes even more courage to be yourself with or without cameras around.  We don’t want to open ourselves up to criticism and attack; we want to be liked and accepted for ourselves.  At the same time, however, we don’t want to be hurt by others when we strip off our masks and expose our skin.  Nevertheless, wouldn’t it be liberating to be ourselves and show others our real personalities, our true faces?  More importantly, why can’t we be more understanding and accepting of others so they don’t have the need to mask themselves with false personalities and bad behavior?

Why, indeed.

Note: If you have a “why” that you would like me to address, please e-mail me at ellen@thehouseofwhy.com


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