Freshman year of college was a difficult one. Not only was I trying to be accepted and find friends, but I was going through a breakup. There was tons of pressure on me to keep a pleasant face and appear like I had everything together. Especially since my world had just changed with my move to college then fell apart with my breakup.
Part of appearing like I had me life together was just looking good. I started wearing makeup, but I never looked pretty enough. The more that I hid my acne, the more I found. The more eye-liner and mascara I wore, the less I liked my eyes when I took my makeup off. It was frustrating. Makeup was only a temporary fix to my dying self-confidence. I became dependent upon makeup. Eventually, I realized that makeup was just a kind of mask that I used to hide my imperfections and lonely emotions.
My lonely emotions came from the breakup with my 3-year high school relationship. I felt lonely, guilty, and confused about the future. I wanted to fit in, to belong. Naturally, I just wanted a boyfriend to make me feel beautiful and secure so that I could stop crying every time I took a shower. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with wanting a boyfriend, but when a desire exceeds a desire for God, that thing, idea, or person becomes dangerous. This lesson took me a while to learn, and I didn’t learn it on my own.
Somewhere along the path of “faking it” I started going to RUF, a Christian organization on campus. A few weeks in I realized that I’ll never feel whole if I rely on another person, or on myself for security and fulfillment. I started trying to put God ahead of things and let everything else fall in line behind Him. I began to heal, but not without pain. I started finding strength and courage to be honest with God, myself, and others. I stopped wearing makeup as symbolism and a reminder to stop pretending.
Hiding behind masks or personas is something that people from all walks of life do. I know that in high school I felt like I had to pretend to be like the other girls in order to to fit in, but even then, I still felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve seen my pre-teen little sister act differently around different friend groups. I’ve read about people that were married and had a good life, but since they were always pretending, they were miserable.
When reading for a research paper that I wrote on masks or personas in my freshman semester, I discovered that we usually put on masks when we go through big changes such as moving, loosing a loved one, or getting a new job. Since we fear rejection, we hide our true selves behind a personality that we think that the people around us will like. By doing this, we protect our feelings but sacrifice our identity. Covering up or masking the problems and insecurities in ourselves and in life does not fix them, nor does it make us feel better in the long run. The main conclusion of the paper was that masks only separate us from the vital relationships around us and suffocate our identity.
The paper that I wrote related to my situation, but did not explain how a relationship with Christ effected the mask that I wore. In an attempt to understand this, I met with Bryan Storgenfrei, the RUF campus minister. He pointed me to Genesis 3.
This idea of masking your identity developed into an art concept. My Photography Survey class under Dominic Lipillo allowed me to expire this concept visually, which is where these photographs come from.
Through talking with Bryan, I found that wearing masks is something that we do naturally when we are ashamed of ourselves. Genesis 3 is an obvious example. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God and realized their wrongdoing, they saw their vulnerabilities so they clothed themselves in fig leaves.
I’ve never worn fig leaves before, but I cant imagine that they’re very comfortable or appealing. As if clothing wasn’t enough, they hid from God. They didn’t want to face him because they were afraid of what might happen.
Once God found them (because it is impossible to hide from an all knowing God), rebuked them, and told them what their punishment would be, he made clothes for them. Being rebuked by God directly must not have been pleasant, but after that he lovingly clothed them to protect them from the harsh world that the Earth had become. He made tougher, more comfortable and reliable clothes out of animal skins.Those animal skins were a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus (God’s Son) would make to cover the sins of humankind. Jesus’s sacrifice, when accepted, takes the blame off of us and covers us in His Holiness.
I have a lot in common with Adam and Eve because I’m human. Like Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3:12-13, I like to blame my shame on circumstances or on other people. I try to hide from God and from facing the the consequences. Sooner or later, like how God found Adam and Eve, God always finds me. Sooner or later, I’ll have to confront my shame, wether it’s by choice or not. Thankfully, I am loved by God, who gives me the chance to be honest with him before he confronts me. It’s never easy. It’s scary and it’s humbling. However, God always takes care of me and covers me in in his grace and forgiveness which is a thousand. I don’t have to be strong enough to make it through this harsh world because I rely on God’s strength and protection. It’s not just one choice or change that changed my life, it’s an every day progression.
Every day is a battle. In order to live every day without hiding behind a mask, I have to let the reality of God’s love seep in and reside in my heart. Knowing that I have a God that loves me is not what gives me strength. Strength comes from remembering that I have a God who loves me so that I can open up my heart to him. Then his love can come in and reside in me, give me comfort, strength, and heal me. He doesn’t guarantee an easy life. Instead, he promises that he uses our weaknesses to provide us with his strength.