How to Ditch the Mask and Find Your True Identity
- Patricia Engler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 28 May
“Why are so many people wearing surgical masks?” I asked my friend as we rode the Tokyo subway.
“Some people just want to stay healthy,” she replied, “but often, females wear masks to hide their faces.”
To hide their faces?!
“Well, they might not have makeup on,” she explained. “And in Japan, it’s rude to be seen without makeup. It’d be like not wearing clothes.”
Suddenly, the smudge of mascara I’d applied seemed worth its weight in pixy dust. But the day’s surprises weren’t over.
“Have you been in that store?” my friend asked when we’d exited the subway.
I peered inside, seeing nothing but portraits of made-up women.
“What is this place?”
“It’s where we take photos! They make our teeth whiter, and our skin look so nice—”
“Wait,” I followed her inside, “you mean this is where girls go to photoshop themselves for Instagram?”
She crossed to the nearest photobooth, inserted several coins, and started punching options into a touchscreen.
“Come in,” she swept aside the curtain. “Look at the camera!”
I looked alright—and the photoshopped apparition gaping back at me could have starred in any nightmare.
From the massive forehead and saucer eyes, down the thin nose to the fake lips, this plaid-shirted alien looked like the cover of a sci-fi novel.
But in this story, the monster was me!
Why the masks?
As I stared at the photos the next morning, I wondered why so many cultures (including mine) are so locked in the talons of this monster—not the plaid-shirted photobooth alien, but the identity-eating monster of ‘ideal’ body image concepts.
Just think about how much of our time, money and happiness this monster devours! We run up credit buying name brands, spend hours at the mirror, and meticulously construct our online images, marketing ourselves in a thousand little Insta-filtered ways which we hope will compel people—quite literally—to ‘like’ us more.
So, with faces masked, we spend our lives as self-constructed avatars running through a forest of comparisons, relentlessly perused by the image monster. Why?
Maybe it’s because we’re insecure. For whatever reason, we don’t think people will like our real selves. We feel like we’re not quite good enough unless we’re wearing some physical or figurative mask. Or maybe, we don’t know who the person behind the mask even is. At that point, our masks come to define us. We don’t know our real identities, so we create fake ones. Isn’t that what the words make up mean?
To be sure, I’m not against makeup, fashion, photoshoots, or social media in and of themselves. Like any other tools wielded appropriately, they can be assets for excelling in our God-given tasks, to His glory. So, I don’t oppose looking pretty, professional, or put-together, and I’m certainly not against wearing mascara on Japanese subways.
But I am against using anything as a mask for identity theft. We steal the identities of the persons we think we should be, or who we think others think we should be, or who our cultures tell us we should be. But in striving to steal our culture’s identity, we discover that it has actually stolen ours.
Deceptive and Fleeting
The problem with all this, beyond the stress that accompanies trying to maintain made-up identities, is that we’ve constructed these identities around things which can’t last. Proverbs 31:30 hints at this:
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
A glance at the nearest magazine rack is probably evidence enough that our culture prizes charm and beauty over godliness or the fear of the Lord. Yet Scripture and common sense assure us that physical appeal—along with so many other traits which culture reveres—is fleeting and deceptive. Sooner or later, charm, beauty, health, youthfulness, money, careers, and fame will wear out, time out, and run out—proving themselves to be deceptive saviors. False lovers. Hopeless facades.
In other words, we must all eventually lose our masks. And then who will we be?
The only solution is to stake our identities on something that lasts: the eternal love of Christ.
He reminds us that our value lies not in our looks, but in His love. Like Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:17-19:
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
When we know who He, our Creator, is, we learn who we, His creations, are. If He is the ultimate artist, we are His irreplaceable masterpieces, fashioned individually (Psalm 33:15), known intimately (Psalm 139:1-18), and called very good (Genesis 1:31). If He is our Redeemer, we are His priceless purchase, worth more to Him than life itself (1 Peter 1:18-19). And if He is our Abba Father, who are we except His cherished kids (Galatians 4:6)?
As these verses exemplify, our Father’s word is the only accurate mirror, revealing our true identities: we are His.
And if we are His, our masks can’t define us. Only our Maker can.
1 John 3:1-2 captures His true portrait of us beautifully:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
The world doesn’t recognize our real identities, because it doesn’t recognize Christ. So, a mask is the most that culture can offer us. But Christ offers us reality—the reality of who we are, completed in the reality of who He is.
This reality can release us from the talons of ideal body image concepts, freeing us to rip our gazes off ourselves, throw away our masks, and run in a new direction. Instead of running from the image monster until we steal our culture’s identity, let’s pursue Christ until we adopt His identity—until we look like, love like, and become like Him. Unmasked at last, let’s remember that our identities are grounded not in who we think we should be, but in who He says we are.
That’s an assurance which not even a plaid-shirted alien could ever take away.
Patricia Engler is an adventurous writer who explores how Christians can navigate secular cultures and classrooms, with Christ. After 12 years of homeschool and a B.Sc. degree, she backpacked 360°around the world documenting how Christian students keep their faith at university. You can follow her stories and get connected at www.patriciaengler.com.
Photo Credit: unsplash/nong-vang