Orcs and Marilyn Monroe

I spent the weekend rewatching The Lord Of The Rings extended edition. Yes, I’m that nerd. But I also caught the trailer for the new movie My Week With Marilyn with Michelle Williams several times. I haven’t had the chance to watch the movie yet, but it seems to me that Marilyn and Orcs have a lot in common. They both struggle at being authentic.

Movie Poster

Marilyn Monroe with her curves, her blonde hair, and that walk – stole people’s hearts. Our society equates beautiful with successful, happy, affluent, advantage, choices. A true American Cinderella story, she grew up bounced between foster homes and living with her mentally unstable mother, and got her break in acting through her modeling career. She became known the world-over as a sex symbol.

But, as the movie trailer, and many documentaries and biographies suggest, Marilyn struggled with who the world wanted her to be. She wore a mask for the world.

“In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty.” -Marilyn Monroe

The actors in The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR), I’m thinking of the Orcs specifically, spent hours in a makeup chair getting their masks applied. I was amazed at this video time-capture of  the 5-hour process required to transform a not-unattractive young man into an Orc.

We wear masks for two reasons, it seems to me. Either we want to be seen as attractive (physically, socially, romantically, professionally) – the Marilyn mask. Or we want to hide and so appear unattractive or uninviting – the Orc mask. I have to admit, when I don’t feel comfortable or safe in a situation or setting, my don’t-talk-to-me mask comes out and it musn’t be attractive because it seems to work well.

The Jekyll-Hyde Problem

Here’s the problem though, I like to think of it as the Jekyll-Hyde problem. Eventually, you begin to forget which face, which persona, is the real one. We prefer, we come to depend on, the persona over the real us. In the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll is appalled by Mr. Hyde and his many despicable acts, but he takes the mixture so often that he can’t control Mr. Hyde anymore. Mr. Hyde comes out whenever he likes, and stays as long as he likes. Jekyll is forced into hiding. To Marilyn, her public persona was like Mr. Hyde, and to the Orc-man, he needed the Mr. Hyde persona to face the world.

Ever been in that situation? Like Marilyn, you’re forced to wear this happy face all the time and you begin to loathe it. You begin to wonder who the real person is underneath because you can’t remember the last time you didn’t wear the mask? Ever forced into a situation that wears you down, you hate every stinking minute of it – and your attitude is reflected in how you look to other people?

The don’t-talk-to-me mask is a two-edged sword, because I’m sure I’m missing out on some really great conversations if I took a chance at being more approachable, but it’s a coping mechanism. I think masks have a time and place, they help you endure a difficult situation – but it can’t/shouldn’t be maintained long term.

But being authentic is hard. It’s really hard. And sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes you get hurt over and over. So you have to be careful where you begin to practice being authentic. Find a safe place, safe people, a safe conversation topic. Put a toe in the water before you jump in with both feet if you need to – but start the process. It’s worth it. You can be the Orc-man who takes the makeup and the mask off and goes back to his real life at the end of the day, or you can be like Marilyn and rely so much on the beautiful mask that you learn to despise the real you AND the mask. Do you wear a mask? Are you in the process of not wearing a mask? How’s that working out?

I grew up using photos as story prompts, so every Monday I post a new photo on my Facebook page. Come and tell the story in the picture, leave a caption, or encourage others who do participate. I love reading your ideas.


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  1. says

    I was the queen of masks for a long time and it really does start to wear on you. Eventually you just have to decide that despite what it might cost, it’s usually better to be the real you and be happy. Nice post :)
    Marcy Kennedy recently posted…Could You Be An Evil Person?

    • says

      hahaha – the Orc is the first mask I pull out because I prefer to keep people at a distance when I don’t feel safe.

  2. says

    I’m with Rebecca here. I tend to wear the happy mask, the Momma Pru mask until suddenly the Highland warrior comes out swinging.
    great post and lots of food for thought, for we all wear masks.
    Prudence MacLeod recently posted…Returned

  3. says

    Great post, Lisa. My heart aches for people like Marilyn. Those masks, whether we’re famous or not, can be damaging. In some cases, they seem like one’s only hope for survival. I strive to always be authentic, though I suspect everyone wears a mask of sorts on occasion. It helps that I’m ultra-sensitive. Mask-wearing hurts too much after a while, so off they fly. 😉
    August McLaughlin recently posted…Mountain Man Willy’s Untimely Advice

    • says

      Agreed. I used to wear a number of masks depending on the situation – then I stopped caring what people thought and for the most part don’t bother anymore.

  4. says

    Oh wow Lisa, what a great topic. I love people and sometime too much I think. I like being authentic even though it might be a risk. And yes, I keep getting my felling hurt. But that can’t be helped. It does tend to get old though. But I can’t get into supperficial.It’s just not who I am. I feel sorry for those who feel they have to wear a mask. They’re living with a lot of pain, that’s for sure.

    And Lisa, I understand your feelings on blog-confidence. I haven’t been feeling it either lately. So hang in there. Your post was great! :)
    Karen McFarland recently posted…Guest Post by Bob Mayer

    • says

      You know, I have 3 kids and I’ve never read the Velveteen Rabbit. Watched it on TV once when I was young, but never read it. Maybe I should 😉

  5. says

    I have such a hard time hiding who I am that I can’t really ever wear a mask. There are times that it would be nice to hide, but I can’t seem to do it. The truth of who I am just shows on my face. That’s probably why I’ve never been able to lie. I love what you said about Marilyn. The truth is that is still probably true for a lot of women in Hollywood. The fame doesn’t seem to be worth giving up who you are.
    Emma Burcart recently posted…The Chinet is Breaking

  6. says

    Love this post! I used to wear the people pleaser mask but for the most part, she’s gone by the way side. The only time a mask comes out is when I’m tired and I have to be social. If I were to be authentic I wouldn’t muster a smile but I hate feeling fake at the same time. So I’ve learned to get properly rested before social engagements :)
    Ingrid Schaffenburg recently posted…To Type or Not to Type?

    • says

      Wise words – make sure you’re physically prepared for social engagements. It’s hard when you’re forced to return to a difficult situation though – I understand those who wear a mask just to survive, but it can’t be maintained long term.

  7. says

    I have to wear the happy, Marilyn mask all day at work. Talk about tiring! Smile, listen and nod, and then off they go. Small wonder when I leave work I don’t want to go out and be around people making more small talk! Too many hours with the ‘happy mask’ on and not enough time being myself. I find I really need time to decompress and bring my true self out. Writing definitely helps, so does gardening, walking my dog and yeah, that does make me kind of a hermit. Excellent post, Lisa!
    Serena Dracis recently posted…Eleven Questions

  8. says

    I pretty much live through masks, so while I can agree to a point with what you’re saying, I do think for some people there isn’t a better option. My childhood was spent around people a lot older than me outside of school, and school was just a nightmare…by the time I started hanging out with people remotely my age on a regular basis I was spending time with some very not normal counter culture types. Anymore I’ve almost no idea how to talk to people about normal things, unless I’m actively faking it. There’s just no background in normalcy here.
    Austin Berkel recently posted…I Told You I Was A Liar


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