“I never act. I simply bring out the real animal that’s in me.” – Willem Dafoe
I absolutely love this portrait by Nicolas Guerin of Willem Dafoe. What a brilliant photographer and what a great subject! That face! It exudes character! It’s one of my favourite faces. When I see that Willem Dafoe is in a film, I’ll watch it, not just for his face, but that is part of it, because he brings so much character to his roles which makes them seem real. And the realness of that character inspires me to be real.
You’d think being real was something easy, natural which everyone does without a thought. However being ourselves is something which is thought about to an extreme degree. There are businesses built upon it which make those who sell us to ourselves very wealthy.
We all learn fairly early on in our lives how to pretend to be different from who we are, and hide who we are because… well, it just seems to bother others when we are ourselves, and it appears to bother them less when we are not ourselves. And them being bothered by us bothers us.
Faces are strange. We have them but we can’t see them. We’re just a pair of floating eyes. With some body parts attached somehow somewhere.
Sure we can look at our faces in a mirror or a photo, but that’s not our face that’s a facsimile of our face.
In a photo it is a frozen moment. That’s not our face. Our face moves all the time, changing expression, perhaps minutely, it is in constant flux. People who think they are expressionless are not no matter how blank they try to make themselves appear. A vacant expression is not vacant. It may briefly appear to be so, and some people are very convincing that they are not there in their body behind their face, but someone is home even if the windows and door is boarded up.
In a mirror it is a reflection, and it gets plenty reflected onto it. Different types of mirrors give us different views of it. No matter how precise the mirror or how sharp the light, we still never see our face. The reflection is the opposite of us and even if it was us, it is seen through filters of thought and feeling. In some ways how we see ourselves in a mirror gives us a clue as to how others see us. They don’t really see our face either, they see what our face means to them.
We use faces to decide whether we like someone or not before we even get to know them. We judge people based on their face. On how we perceive their face and what that which we see means to us.
There was an advert many years ago which had the tagline – Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. You may have heard that tagline even if you missed the advert. It was silly and many people took the piss out of it. But it wasn’t as silly as it came across.
We do sometimes hate people just because they are beautiful. Or too beautiful. We like beauty, it pleases our aesthetic eye, but someone who has what we consider to be too much of it annoys us, especially if they have the kind of beauty we wish we had. We might even have that kind of beauty, but we can’t see it. And neither can the person whom we are judging as being too beautiful. When very beautiful people say they see themselves as ugly, they are not lying. They may know they are beautiful because they’ve been told it many times by everyone else, they may even catch a glimpse of it in the photos taken of their beautiful face, but do they believe it behind the face?
When someone tells you what you look like to them, it’s odd isn’t it?
Someone once told me I looked like Meryl Streep. They thought they were giving me a compliment because they adored Meryl Streep. I knew they thought it was a compliment, and I was trying to give them a thank you for the compliment face. But shortly after the comparison they apologised. I guess the expression on my face made them regret their words. I guess my true reaction took over the muscles of my face and I lost control of my expression. Or perhaps it was my eyes, they always cause problems for me with other people.
I love my eyes, I especially love being able to see, but I can’t see how they seem to others when they are looking at others and others are looking at them. I do know from the reactions people have to my gaze that my eyes are rather intense and make other people nervous. Stop looking at me like that and variations of that are common things people say to me. I wish I knew what they were seeing me seeing, because usually I’m just staring with not much thought attached to the stare. I don’t blink as often as perhaps I should. Yet if I think about breaking my stare with a blink, I’ll start over-blinking and then they’ll think I’m sending morse code messages.
It’s not that I didn’t think Meryl Streep was attractive, I just didn’t want to have a face like hers. Being compared to someone else, especially when it is couched in terms which imply that your face is a clone of someone else’s can be more of an insult than a compliment, because we would all like to be original. Our face is our logo, our identity, we’d like people to remember it and not just because it reminds them of someone else. But our faces aren’t what define us, it’s our character, and a face with a lot of character is unforgettable.
Who we are, our character, that makes the features of our face ours, because our features are inherited, our character is our own creation, whether we are expressing our real self as is, or pretending to be a modified version of ourselves. It’s still us, it just has more thought applied to it.
Face it, we can’t escape being ourselves even if we can’t see what we look like when we are being us.