It’s an unexpectedly jarring blow to send out a film audition and end up getting cast for voice-over. Some vain little part of you shrivels up in a pout, just envisioning a bunch of big wigs sitting around watching your video saying—“I just love how this sounds, but I can’t stand to look at it.” Alternatively, it is a shocking source of pride (and your shriveled vanity re-inflates) when you get to the recording session for that same voice-over gig and not only do you finish in one take (with murmured ‘just what we wanted’s and ‘that’s great’s), but they look at you and decide they should film the thing after all because they just “don’t want to waste your photogenicity”
I’d like to say that I’m above thinking about appearances because that’s just so insipid and means absolutely nothing about the character of the person behind the face, but it just wouldn’t be true. Everyone wants to feel that they have some appeal before they open their mouths or at the very least that some of the best parts of themselves can be read in their countenance and don’t have to be explained to people or only recognizable from years of acquaintance.
I’m puzzled of late by a sudden increased awareness of my appearance that’s cropped up in my soul and I’m trying to find a catalyst or at least some sense in it. I remember when I graduated from high school, I got a congratulatory card from my best friend’s family and his sister had written on it “have fun in Utah; don’t come back blonde.” I laughed when I read it, internally amazed that a state’s reputation for inspiring its citizenry to homogenize their hair color could travel across an entire continent to make fodder for a card written 2000 miles away.
There is a certain concern for appearances here that was not present in my East coast adolescence. And no, this is not the part at which I start shooting out condemnations. It’s hard to have a bad face day (even though probably no one in your life will think your face looks any different) or feel particularly without curb appeal or feel like in this purported ‘meat market,’ it seems you’re the meat no one’s after—the proverbial ‘ham butt’ as it were. What’s hardest about those feelings is the more you indulge them—indulge feeling sorry for yourself or feeling unattractive, the more undesirable you become.
The Elephant Man, the show I devote my days and nights to, opens in a little less than two weeks. It is based on the true story of a severely deformed Englishman that lived in the 19th century and the doctor that attempted to give him a life like other men have. You’d think this tale of deformity would ultimately teach that “the mind’s the standard of the man” and that looks have nothing to do with it. In a sense, however, someone isolating that as the lesson has found the contradiction in it. Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), had beautiful thoughts behind his horrifying face, but if he had had those same thoughts, that same romantic imagination behind the face of a normal man, he wouldn’t have been another John Keats. He would’ve just been a man; nobody of note. We don’t remember him for his singular and extraordinary mind, we remember him because we are surprised a thing so ugly could have such a mind.
When we were making ourselves up to shoot publicity photos someone in the room looked around and said “so and so is curling hair, this person is applying lipstick, and Mariah looks annoyed, so everything’s right with the world.” I had not, until that moment felt annoyed, but I certainly did afterwards. She made the comment as though irritation is an expression always or at least often to be found on my face, and I was sorry to hear it because I know that irritation is an emotion rarely to be found in my heart.
I’m not looking for beauty; I’m looking for accuracy.
They made plaster casts of our faces for this show months ago and every time I’m wandering around the bowels of the arts building on campus I’ve kept an eye out hoping to see mine. There have been a couple of times when I squinted or took a closer look thinking perhaps I was looking at my own face. When I actually happened upon the plaster imitation of my own face in the costume shop, however, my stomach dropped because it was so unmistakably me.
I was at a family funeral a couple of weeks ago and one of the best friends of the deceased approached me and said that from the moment I had walked in she’d been amazed how much I looked like him. She said that I resembled him even more than any of his children or grandchildren. I had been feeling strangely disconnected from him until that moment. I never knew him very well, but I suddenly felt very close to him because we share a face.
You can’t go discounting looks completely when you’re wearing your family history on the front of your head (and in your height and in the spacing of your toes). I think the reason I’ve made mirrors more frequent guests in my daily routine is not because I feel some inferiority or some need for validation, but because I want to be sure that what can be seen matches what I feel and who I am. I don’t want people to misinterpret any part of my appearance. It isn’t a matter of dressing to impress it’s a matter of making sure that from someone’s very first sight of me, there is no barrier they have to burst through to understand who or what I am. I want to be true to my face, true to my body, true to my soul.