The Myriad Meanings of Mask

Happy All Hallows Eve, RLB readers!

Halloween is a logical time to be thinking about masks, but coincidentally there are two videos that have been floating around the interwebs for the last week or so that also bring the subject to mind. First, the 37-second photoshop video, and second, the baby weeping at the sound of her mother’s singing voice.

It wasn’t immediately apparent to me why these two things were dancing around together in my mind, but then I was struck by the notion of masks.

In the video where a model is photoshopped into an unrecognizable, inhuman barbie creature, the correlation to masks is painfully obvious. So many of the images that we see every day are masked representations of the people they depict. Think about the last 10 pictures you posted on Facebook or Instagram. How many of them had a filter? 10? Me, too. Nowadays we live in a world where we can so easily manipulate images into the best versions of ourselves, our understanding of what’s “real” has morphed into more of an idea than a solid definition.

There are two things that disturb me the most about the photoshop video. 1. When I first watched it, I looked at the still of the woman pre-alteration and wondered what they were going to do to her. To me, she looked like a perfectly lovely, fit woman.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 2.36.26 PMThen I watched her metamorphosis. After seeing her Barbie-fied image, the video popped back to the still of her as she truly is. Suddenly, I had the thought that the real her now looked thick to me. Not fat, per say, but certainly not as fit and pretty as she had been when I first saw her picture. It was such an immediate and visceral example of how easily manipulated we are by the masked images that we are constantly exposed to.

Side Bar: Looking at a mid-point shot, where she’s wearing tons of makeup and hair extensions, but isn’t retouched at all, I can’t help but think, “WHY is this picture not “good enough”?? What about this image isn’t absolutely gorgeous??? Grr. Mad face.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 2.37.15 PM

2. The next thing that hit me happened when I more closely examined the still of the distorted model. I use the word distorted very intentionally, because the longer I looked at her, the more I saw someone who didn’t even look human:

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.18.48 PM

The curve of her spine and the angle of her torso as it lifts off the ground – it looks like she’s missing several vertebrae. With her head turned, her neck unnaturally lengthened and any ‘unsightly’ skin folds smoothed over, she looks like she’s part ostrich. By shrinking her shoulder and then trimming and lengthening her arm, it looks like she’s using zero effort to prop herself up and may in fact be entirely devoid of any muscles at all. Then there’s the skin glow. What is she, a frakking fairy??

The problem isn’t so much that we manipulate images to enhance certain aspects of ourselves, it’s that the images of people we see in ads and magazines might not even look like people anymore, and because we have been conditioned to do so, those images are now what we think of as real.


Next we have the emotional response of little Mary Leroux as her mother sings to her. If you look at the comments being made around the interwebs, there are quite a few people who are upset, disturbed, and even outraged by this video. ‘How dare this mother do this to her child!’ they say, ‘What a torturous thing to do to an innocent baby!’ they rail, shaking their fists at what they perceive to be cruelty.

MASK. n.3 – 2c. a facial expression assumed deliberately to conceal an emotion or give a false impression; an outward appearance which belies a person’s true nature.
(oxford english dictionary)

When I mentioned this wee lass earlier, I used the word weeping, because that’s what I see her doing. She isn’t crying, at least not in the sense that a baby normally cries. She is weeping, because she is moved to tears by her mother’s singing. She smiles a few times, and her face wrenches up with the intensity of what she is feeling. What I see is pure, unadulterated emotion. Sure, maybe there are moments where this kid is sad. Sometimes a thing is so beautiful that it makes us ache with its beauty. Sometimes a thing is so moving, we have no outlet but to weep.

Growing up, most actors are told that we need to contain ourselves. That there is a time and a place for emotion, and that time and place is not polite society. We become actors because on stage and on film it is always the time and place for emotion. The vast, awesome, glorious range of human emotion is something that many people spend their lives trying to discreetly control, or ignore, or run away from. As artists, we run towards it, we dive in. Baby Mary might grow up to be an accountant, but she has the soul of an artist.

DISCLAIMER: This is not to say that people who feel things more quietly or privately are in any way less valid in their emotional experiences. My point is not that there’s a Right Way to feel things, it’s that too often humans are taught to Not Let Themselves feel things. We are encouraged to wear masks to hide who we are, what we truly think and feel. I think so many people had adverse reactions to this weeping child because we are not equipped to recognize even our own truest emotions. 

Before I get off my soap box, the last thing I want to say about masks is that masks can be Fun! It isn’t all ‘hiding who we truly are sadtimes.’ Masks can also be ‘pretending to be someone else funtimes!’ The OED has several additional definitions for mask:

1a. a covering worn on or held in front of the face for disguise, made of velvet, silk, etc., and concealing the whole face or the upper part of it (except the eyes), worn at balls and masques

1b. theatre. an image of a face worn by an actor

2b. a covering of something (material or immaterial), hiding something else from view.

Por ejemplo:

Makeup and Filter Masks
makeup maskCostume Mask (steampunk!)
costume maskDrag Mask (me) & Burlesque Mask (Amelia)
ps look how smokin’ hot Amelia is! helloooooo, eyebrow arch!
drag maskAnd finally, Mask Mask
Frank: You are in half of my mask photos. It appears you and I are both fans of wearing masks for funsies.
mask maskTo wit: Let’s save the masks for fun and the photoshop for flyaways*. Let’s do all that we can to let ourselves feel all the feelings, and to be everything we truly are.

*and filters, because we can’t resist. we are a culture of filter addicts!

age ain’t nothing but a number

Who remembers this song? I love this song. I loved in 1994 when I was 16, and I love it now in 2013 at the shiny new age of 35. Mostly it’s because I have a never-ending love for Aaliyah, but it’s also because age has never really mattered to me. I’ve had romances and friendships with older people, younger people, and people my age. While our age can influence who we are, in my opinion it doesn’t define who we are.

Apparently it does define some things, like pregnancy. Do you know what pregnancy is called in a woman 35 or older? A geriatric pregnancy. Seriously. Geriatric. Because that’s your first connotation when you hear “geriatric” right? 35. Certainly not, oh, I don’t know, 80. This site claims the term has been “changed to ‘advanced maternal age'” but my doctor and everyone at her practice did not get the memo.

So here I am, a 35-year-old actress, singer, and writer preparing for an eventual old lady pregnancy. But what did the internet want me to know? Not anything about enhancing my artistic career, or health tips, or new fun adventures to consider. Instead, I was inundated with methods for Preserving My Youth. The most important thing for anyone ever in the history of humankind. Looking young.

As my birthday drew near, the creepy search engines of google and facebook started posting ads for magic lady face creams promising to take decades off my skin. You know what else takes decades off my skin? Photoshop. I tried to do my own photo to see if I look as alabaster smooth as Cate Blanchett, but Photoshop is complicated, so all I managed to do was remove some fly-aways.

By now we should all know that there is no point in judging ourselves by beauty ads or celebrities on the red carpet. I just read in this month’s Glamour that Jennifer Garner has a standing facial appointment TWICE A WEEK. Guess what else will take decades off your skin? Two facials every single week.

The internets like to tell us what 35 looks like, how old we’ll be when we start turning into uggos, and what age is So Perfect that even younger ladies are aspiring to it via their helpful plastic surgeons. It even provides a forum for random douchebags to create graphs based on their asinine perceptions of when and why a woman is attractive.

Of course the internets also provide the rare glimpse at us real folks, like in this impressive slide show from Esquire that features all kinds of different women (no really!) from ages 18-53. While it’s annoying that the URL refers to women “aging gracefully” – because, truly, what does that mean? why can’t we just call it aging? – it’s an honest portrayal of what the headline claims: “What the Real American Woman Looks at in the Mirror Every Day.” Those look like women I know. Women I would have brunch with.

Also can’t help but love the woman who says “The best thing about being 35 is, you don’t have to pretend to give a f-ck anymore.” Heh. Damn right.

So because I’m Hollywood obsessed, let’s take a look at 35 according to Tinseltown… Do you know how hard it is to find ages of female tv/movie characters?? Very hard. So, here are two I was able to dig up sort of: Joan and C.J.

joan-holloway-650-430In Mad Men Season 5, Episode 4, “Mystery Date,” Joan is probably 35. Her fictional birthday is in February 1931, and this episode is circa 1966.

cj_cregg_the_west_wing_season_2_nbc_18h18i0-18h18kkThis photo is supposedly from Season 2 of The West Wing, and C.J. was supposedly about 34 when she joined the Bartlett campaign, so after two years at the White House she’s possibly maybe supposedly about 36 years old.

That’s all I’ve got. The only movies I could think of where women talk about their age were romantic comedies, in moments which frequently involve lamentations about turning 30. Because when you turn 30 YOUR LIFE IS OVER.


It amuses the hell out of me when people ask for your birthdate to fill out some random form, and they tiptoe around it for fear of offending you. “….we don’t need the year, but could we get your birthdate?” I always give the year. Why not give the year? What is there to be ashamed of? I don’t feel any different then I did five years ago. I didn’t have a meltdown over turning 30, and I’m not having one now. Better than the alternative, I always say!

Here’s me last week as I careened toward the geriatric baby making, maybe hottest but maybe ugliest, Game Over or is it Game On next year of my life:

Photo on 8-12-13 at 8.00 AM                                                 No makeup, with bangs

Photo on 8-15-13 at 8.08 AM

Makeup, with bangs

Photo on 8-14-13 at 8.03 AM

No makeup, no bangs!

Photo on 8-20-13 at 8.32 AM

Makeup… oops, cut my bangs so now they’re hard to pull back

So I can’t tell you What 35 Looks Like, or How to Stay Young Forever, and I don’t want to. What I can tell you is that this is what My 35 looks like, and that youth may have its perks, but so do growing and changing and learning and evolving and living.
581798_10151519966016933_151280541_nBirthday! Celebrating with friends. One is 32 and one is 27, and I’m not telling you which is which because it doesn’t matter. Cheers!

Airbrush Schmairbrush

Happy Friday, RLBers!

Today we will examine everyone’s favorite contentious modern beauty issue: Photoshop. Since the practice has become ubiquitous in the last decade or so, Photoshop has its proponents, its critics, and those of us who fall somewhere in the realm of ambivalence.

Yes, I am ambivalent about Photoshop. The visceral, Real Beauty Champion part of me dismisses it out of hand, as a tool that compromises and distorts our perception of reality. The part of me that appreciates Photoshop is best summarized by your best friend, Tina Fey:

“Feminists do the best Photoshop, because they leave the meat on your bones. They don’t change your size or your skin color. They leave your disgusting knuckles, but they take out some armpit stubble. Not because they’re denying its existence, but because they understand that it’s okay to make a photo look as if you were caught on your best day in the best light.”

It’s why we all Instagram and Infinicam and Photo Splash flattering, flaw-hiding filters to every picture we tweet or post on Facebook. We want to be seen at our very best, and the modern era allows us to do that at every digital turn.

It’s when photo editing goes to extremes that it becomes a fundamental problem in how beauty is presented. Every woman featured in that slideshow looks amazing in her Before picture, but we have been conditioned to think that they don’t look Amazing Enough. God forbid we acknowledge that Jessica Alba has loose flesh on her kneecaps, or that Eva Longoria is Hispanic but she doesn’t have bangin’ hips, or that Kanye West’s girlfriend isn’t actually Jessica Rabbit brought to fleshy life in an impossible combination of buxom/compact, or that – come on now, she’s 54 and has spent half her life on tour – Madonna is aging. (Who else thinks Megan Fox the “actress” actually looks far prettier with her freckles sprinkled across her nose? Why are we so afraid of letting women look human?)

With all of the attention around image retouching, it still makes headlines when models or celebrities ‘allow’ themselves to be photographed without it, or without the benefit of professional hair/makeup stylists. Imagine a world in which women without makeup and  photos of women that haven’t been (or have minimally been) manipulated are unremarkable. Commonplace. The images we see all day every day. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Let’s contribute to making this hypothetical future a reality! Here are some 100% real pictures of me, as I am right now, sitting here writing this post. I have shadows under my eyes and crooked teeth and crows feet when I smile. I also have killer cheekbones and charming freckles and my eyes are a cool shade of gray today.

Photo on 3-15-13 at 11.19 AM #3 Photo on 3-15-13 at 11.20 AM

Share your real pictures with us! Post on our Facebook page, tweet them to us, or share a link here in the comments. Shower the interwebs with real pictures of real ladies looking really lovely. 

xo, E

Keeping it Fresh/Boyfriends Doing Makeup

Hey there, Real Living Beauties!

On Friday, RLB discussed MissRepresentation‘s Fresh Face Friday campaign, a call for concerned citizens across the internet to discuss the limited portrayal of female beauty in the media, as well as show off their natural faces, make up free– just to remind everybody what that actually looks like.

Ladies posted photos of themselves, smiling proudly without a stitch makeup, and looking great.  Check them out over at twitter, tagged: #freshface.

Well, that was Friday, and what is easy to feel great about on Friday is not always so on Monday. Enter, a YouTube makeup tag to brighten your Monday: My Boyfriend Does My Makeup.

I think we’re all in agreement that makeup is hard. There is a thing called primer. There is a (scary) thing called lip plumper. One does not come by these skills easily. It takes trial and error. There is eye poking. That is why I could watch this simple formula repeat itself all day: YouTubers post videos of their boyfriends putting on their makeup, with no instruction. The results of this “YouTube tutorial” spinoff are mixed, but consistently satisfying, and frequently cute.

Not all of these are safe for work, language-wise, so, headphones.

Enjoy, beauties! Maybe you’ll pick up some tips. Maybe we’ll even do a series of these, RLB style??! Happy Monday, you can do it!

Fresh Face Fridays

MissRepresentation is at it again! This time, they’re promoting a campaign conceived by one of their Action Reps (we’re like grassroots superheros), a teenager wanting to challenge the face-painting status quo. And I don’t mean butterflies and tigers on kids at the state fair. I mean you and your daily face-painting habits that likely began sometime circa junior high.

In all honesty, when I first saw the campaign, my immediate reaction was “Ha. I’m not doing that.”

So of course, here we are.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Never in my life have I been a Major Makeup girl. Day-to-day I have a very simple, basic routine. But it is my routine, and this little challenge made me realize that I cling to it like plastic wrap at a plastic wrap party. You see, dear reader, I have substantial/genetic/doesn’t matter how I eat or live, dark circles under my eyes. Once, in the seventh grade, a kid asked me if I’d been in a fight. His friend laughed, but I don’t think the kid was being snarky – he sounded genuinely concerned. Or at least that’s what my twelve-year-old self chose to believe.

Enter: Concealer. My constant companion since approximately my fourteenth year on the planet. Never foundation, always concealer, and just for my infernal, perpetually raccoony eyes. Even if my only plans involve the couch and a stack of magazines, I almost always wear concealer. Someone could stop by unexpectedly, and like a boy scout, I am always prepared.

The kicker here is that as a working professional, it feels like even a day without makeup isn’t really an option. My particular eye condition* makes people tell me I look tired, even when I’m not. It makes me look like I have a poor diet, even though I don’t. So going without makeup feels somehow… unprofessional. It’s an unfortunate conundrum.

Thankfully, RLB exists. A platform for me and S and sometimes Lou to celebrate, critique, pontificate, and take the occasional risk – all in the name of True Beauty. So while I am too nervous about challenging the world’s obsession with makeup in my workplace, I will instead post it all over the internets. As S once declared: “Here is a picture of me with no make up. On the internet. All in the name of science.”

The best I could do was ride my bike to work, makeup-free, then sit down at my desk and document this process. All photos are 100% untweaked. No Hipstamatic, no Photoshop, no magic wand enhancing. And at first, the photo above did make me flinch a little. And I questioned moving forward. But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us, and progress, and confidence, and truth, and beauty! (that one was for you, B)

First step: Apply precious concealer to mask fatigue beliers.
Imagine my surprise when these two images turned out to be… really similar. In my mind, my pre-concealer self is very sloth-like. Apparently my mind likes to embellish. Suspicions point to exaggeration as a common problem among most females: we think we’re too fat, too thin, too pointy, too curvy, too this, too that… when in truth we could all use a refresher on the Goldilocks worldview.

Next step: Apply mascara, a little blush, and some lip balm.
And I’m done!

That’s it for me and everyday makeup. Is it a big difference? Not at all! Am I ready to rock my Fresh Face for an entire Friday at work? Probably not as long as I have the fancy job in the fancy office working among lots of fancy, important people. But thanks to this little exercise, I can now honestly say that I wear makeup at work because I feel the need to present a polished and professional persona** not because I think me without makeup = wildebeest.

Perhaps I’ll aim for Fresh Face Sundays… Not as catchy, but hopefully just as effective in starting conversations about the role of makeup in our daily lives.

So what do you think, RLB readers? What is your relationship to makeup? When did you start wearing it and why? Does your job or school or vocation support you rocking a Fresh Face once in a while, or do you feel it’s a key part of your daily persona? How does it make you feel when you venture out in public, Fresh-Faced? Share your thoughts in the comments, or email us at

*I almost wrote affliction. Working hard to turn it around, people!
**Yay, alliteration!