In preparation for Halloween, we took my four year-old daughter to the pirate store in San Francisco, where she got a pirate mask, an eye patch, a black swashbuckler hat, and a sword. She was very clear with us that she didn’t want to be a nice pirate. She wanted to be a mean, scary pirate that kills people (go figure). She was so excited to get dressed up, and as soon as we got home, she donned her garb and ran to the mirror to check herself out. But after taking a gander at herself, she screamed bloody murder and stripped off the costume. When we asked her what was wrong, she said, “I’m too scary.” And now she wants to be a fairy instead.
It got me thinking about the masks we wear.
I know for years, I wore masks that didn’t quite fit right -- in fact, some of them were downright scary. There was the doctor mask, which was supposed to strip me of my real emotion, elevate me to some unnatural pedestal, drain me of my humanity, require me to sacrifice my personal needs in service to those of others, and distance me from others. Then there was the starving artist mask, the perfect Mommy mask, the good wife mask, the church girl mask -- you know what I’m talking about.
Just like my daughter felt, I remember getting to a point in my life where I saw myself in the mirror and went screaming bloody murder in the other direction, because I was so scared by what I saw. Just like Siena, I decided to strip off my masks to reveal the authentic me underneath. Instead of fragmenting myself into these masks, I longed to integrate all the facets of what makes me whole, to stop wearing costumes, pretending to play some role that’s really not me.
A constant recommitment
My mask-stripping revelation happened almost five years ago, so you’d think I’d be comfortable walking around mask-less. But the world constantly pressures us to wear new masks. Right now, I feel pressure to don this “celebrated author” mask that doesn’t fit me at all. Yes, I’m on a 20 city book tour for What’s Up Down There?, and yes, I’m getting a lot of attention these days. But I’m still me. Same old Lissa. Everything has changed but nothing has changed.
It makes me realize that stripping off the masks we wear is not a one-time thing. It’s a process, a constant recommitment to looking in the mirror and determining how scary we look. A few weeks back, I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. I had to step back, take stock, search my soul, and pull out the make-up remover, yank off the false eyelashes, and rip that mask right off my face.
Now I’m back to me.
No mask. No make-up. What you see is what you get. I’m not trying to be a party pooper. I love Halloween, and dressing up in costumes is clean, All-American fun. But when the fun is over, don’t forget to take off your costume. Don’t fear what people will think if they see the real you. Don’t worry about what you might reveal. You are beautiful, just the way you are, without anything covering you up.
What about you? Do you wear masks? Do they protect you or hold you back? Do they make you appear more attractive or less so? Are you scared when you look at yourself in the mirror, or do you like what you see?
Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).