In the mirror I see a white face with wrinkles here and there. Rather pale eyes, almost no eyebrows and blemished skin. Do I have to go out like this? I’ve not done that for about twenty-five years. Always do a full make-up first, and then take out the bin. I’m good at make-up and it doesn’t look vulgar to me. Everything is just much more expressive and I move more freely with make-up.
I have recently moved into other circles. I’ve met a bunch of people I feel very comfortable with. None of these people wear make-up. Nobody says anything about it, but slowly it starts to feel uncomfortable. While putting on lipstick, in the morning, I suddenly think of a clown. And of all the things I don’t want to look like… But getting outside without make-up, that’s quite a thing. The first make-up-less walk leads to the supermarket. Promptly I meet a neighbour who immediately says:
Are you unwell perhaps? You look so white!
I shake the man off and go home as soon as possible.
Come on, don’t act like that,
I say to myself,
just keep going.
What soon becomes very clear is that it was a mask, that I carefully composed again and again every morning, because I feel completely naked without make-up. My new circle of acquaintances don’t seem to notice, and the neighbourhood also keeps quiet, but I feel it, every step of the way. As if I should be ashamed, because everyone can see me now.
After the first frightening phase, my face has become ordinary to me. So this is what I really look like, I think, and I have to accept that. Now that this has worked out pretty well, something else is starting to pop up, namely the thought that this face is not ‘me’ either; that there is another face underneath. I am beginning to notice everything: that I am smiling at someone with a friendly smile, but that that smile disappears as soon as the person is out of sight. That a real smile remains for a while afterwards. That I use different tones and accents when I talk to different people. That I talk along with someone in order to be liked. That’s a bit of a scare. I’ve never seen myself like that…
Gradually, I am getting used to that face as well. I know now: I am not really there either. I’m doing something about it, because fortunately I can. I don’t talk along with people anymore, I use the same tone for everyone and I don’t throw unreal smiles at people anymore. I nod at them now.
Another mask off. Now I have to be real… but it’s not true, I already know that. I’m beginning to notice that every time I want something, I quickly come up with a ‘good’ reason why I’m going to do it. And I’m talking about things that I always considered as good deeds. Making something for someone, but actually just because I wanted to make something. Giving someone attention, but actually because I wanted attention myself. To give an expensive gift, to be liked. To say something full of conviction, while I know it’s not true. To carry on with something that I know is unhealthy. Noticing that I spend the whole day making up funny remarks, just to be liked.
And then… an appalling conclusion: that I am just like all sorts of people I’ve always commented on. And suddenly the whole world becomes a mirror in which I look without a mask. I see every spot, every wrinkle and every lump and yet… there is something quite different underneath. Something on which I pin my hopes. It shines softly through everything and also in this respect I am like the others, in whom I recognise it. Behind our masks lives a Real Human Being and suddenly it is not difficult to drop that last mask too – bit by bit, wrinkle by wrinkle. Maybe it doesn’t really fall. Maybe others can still see all those wrinkles and maybe all my former masks. Maybe it will take a while before I can take a look at the fullness that I know is present. Maybe I still have to go through a lot of layers. But in the meantime I live differently, let life take its course with me. Transparent.