How many faces do you use?
I’m not being silly or deliberately insincere: this is not a trick question — how many faces do you wear each day?
I use a different face for church than I do when partying with friends. I use a different one when communicating with my (now adult) daughters. Another one when I communicate with my grandchildren (babies). And of course a special & unique face when I interact with my wife.
I use an individualized face for my (male) best friend, but a slightly more formal face when I’m hanging out with less familiar males; and a bold, confident face when hanging out with women. Some of these faces overlap, some may be difficult to distinguish with a glance by a casual observer, but that’s not the point: the point is I know the difference between all these faces. I know how and when to “put them on.” I know they are different, and I know I have to stick them onto my head and choose the “right one” for the right person/right time. Really, that’s all that matters.
- If something unpleasant or upsetting happens, we are told to “put on a brave face.”
- When people disagree with us or they feel uncomfortable around us, they say our face doesn’t fit!
- When we expect honesty from others, we expect to be taken at face value (as if our face were a commodity)
- If we try to make the best of a bad deal, we attempt to “save” our face!
When we tell lies we replace our normal face with a “bare” face!
We “put on” a face like thunder when we are angry, we wear a long face when we are sad… and when we tell lies we replace our normal face with a “bare” face!
Sometimes things are written all over it! And sometimes we fall flat on it!
We are never just another pretty face!
So what does the expression “losing face” actually mean?
Some suggest that it means losing status; becoming less respectable — but I have to ask in whose eyes? And, anyway, which face were we using at the time? For instance, if we’re embarrassed or humiliated at work, we’d lose one face, I suppose, but would the public humiliation “erase” one of the other faces we use? Would it wipe the face we use for church? Or the one we use to go to the football game with mates?
And, anyway, you’d have to do something admirable and credit-worthy to be “allowed” to have this face in the first place, surely, before it can be cruelly snatched away when the “face owner” does something humiliating or scandalous (or just plain pathetic.)
And the opposite of this is to “save face” as if we can cling to our self-respect (even when acting stupid) so long as we wear the appropriate & acceptable face.
Is any of this important? Yes, it is. Because it’s all part of the theatrical role we perform — all of us— in our daily effort to “fit in” with what society deems “acceptable” from us. There is a face allowed for work, another for going out for drinks with friends, another for dealing with strangers at the door, etc. We are only permitted to use authorized faces. It is one of several guidelines set by a society that disapproves of anyone who looks or behaves or acts “out of place” or steps “out of line” or becomes “out of order.” Wearing the wrong face is just one of a million ways we can deviate from “correct” or “expected” behavior. But, these are rules that are used to belittle our sense of identity and self-worth.
We wear faces for other people… that’s a fact! We wear faces so others can feel less anxious, less uncomfortable or less annoyed about us. And wearing faces is submissive & servile behavior that diminishes our self-esteem, impoverishes artistic ingenuity and erodes our awareness of the “real” us. And that’s why it’s wrong…
Because, you already guessed, didn’t you, the real you is not a face you wear for others! No, that face is a pretense, a window dressing, to disguise the “real” you…
The real you is hidden under the face! Don’t lose that sense of individuality! (But, about the face — by all means, yes, lose that!)
Words: @neilmach October 2021 ©
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