The Masks of Living People

Late last night, I caught the premier of this show on HGTV. Let me just say two things.

1. If you’re ever wondering if there’s anything about Nashville I don’t like, it’s these people, who permeate a whole strata of Nashville society and are recognizable by their accents which are all the same, but unlike anyone else’s who live here and the way they smile with terrified eyes, as if they are not, at any moment, sure why anyone else is smiling, but are faking it until they make it, hoping no one important will ask them what they’re smiling about. The thing I like best about Nashville is that it takes no effort to organize your life to hardly ever run into folks like this.

2. Why is “let’s make your house look like a hotel” a design strategy? I could even understand it in terms of furniture, but I would stab a person who wanted to put art on my walls that had no personal meaning to me. Ha, obviously, I have strong feelings about interior design. Who knew?

Okay, now on to the observation I have upon watching LeAnn Rimes for 22 minutes. And I want to make this observation in a way that isn’t body-snarking or, well, only body snarking. But LeAnn Rimes looks terrible. It’s not how skinny she is, though I guess that’s a concern people have. It’s that her face looks like a mask.

It’s like this. You know when you see an actor in a fat suit and you see a fat person and you can see, in their faces, that one person is actually in that face and the other person is somehow behind their face? Like you can just see that it’s not their real face, no matter how good the makeup is, because they just look like they’re wearing a mask, somehow.

That is what LeAnn Rimes looks like–like she’s wearing a mask, except that it obviously looks like it’s made out of skin, so the effect is that she looks like she’s wearing a mask made from the corpse face of LeAnn Rimes. And it’s not just her. There’s a whole group of Hollywood women with so much plastic surgery that they appear to me to be more wearing flesh masks instead of their actual faces. But usually, like Joan Rivers, they all kind of start to look the same, that weird old cat-person look. But Rimes’s face looks fine, except for something I can’t quite put my finger on.

I mean, yes, I know I said it looks terrible, and now I’m saying that it looks fine, but I think, weirdly, that it is sliding into the uncanny valley for me. It’s not that she doesn’t look human. She does. But her face does not give my brain the visual cues I need to recognize her as alive.

And that got me thinking about this bizarre beauty standard our society has. I was telling the Professor this afternoon that I feel like we’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing that fat people are supposed to be thin, but not too thin, but “too thin” isn’t a health-judgment but a value-judgment made by other people (so you can be in this fucked up space where you are too thin for your health, but not thin enough to suit other people). And we do an okay job of talking about how thin women feel pressure to be thin in the right ways–still have boobs, have a butt, don’t be too muscular, etc.

But hiding behind “for your health” and “look like the women in the magazines” (even though they don’t look like that in real life) is this emerging, weird “look like you are not really alive” standard. I’m sure we’re supposed to be striving to look like dolls, but honestly, to me, it’s like we’re being encouraged to look like corpses. You know what I mean? When someone dies, you stand there at their casket loking at them and you know whatever animating force that was them is gone. Something in their face just looks not quite right, not quite human any more. And what worries me about the current Hollywood fashion for these mostly frozen faces, is that it seems to mask their animating force as well.

Maybe that’s the point, though.

I don’t know.