Adam’s Mask

An Open Letter on Perspective, to My Fellow Glamberts:

There’s a lot of discussion back and forth about Adam Lambert’s photo shoot for the fashion magazine Fault, where his face has been dramatically airbrushed in the custom of publications dedicated to fashion. Some fans love it, some are just happy to see new pictures; others like most aspects of the photos, except for the airbrushing.

In these airbrushed photos, his forehead lines and freckles disappear. It even enhanced his eyes to an almost Marvel Comics mutant level of glowing blue-green hue. Another thing that was covered up may be more important to Adam than to his fans, namely a slight blemish of acne that comes and goes in various untouched pics (or that show up even under makeup in HD photos).

By using the word “slight”, I don’t mean to diminish Adam’s stated perception of the skin issues that he says has deviled much of his family. I say “slight” to avoid being hunted with pitchforks by that corner of fandom that insists Adam is flawlessly perfect, and how dare anybody say otherwise? Well, fact is, Adam says otherwise; and he’s brought it up more than once.

The night he came on Twitter and talked to us about things we don’t like about ourselves? He said it again: he doesn’t like his acne problem. He was trying to share a group catharsis with us, and many of the replies he got had the power to break hearts. Some of them humbled me, made me cry. I told him about my issues with scars and facial damage, and the atmosphere he had created of open acceptance helped me and others to have the courage to bare our insecurities, to not hide them. It was catharsis. For some, it was the first time an insecurity was admitted to anybody, much less in a public forum. Adam has a gift that gets us to be open and unguarded with him, and he asked us to try to be more open with our loved ones and friends. I wept. I felt closer to him and to everybody else who bared their fears. It reminded me that I’m not the only one who suffers with the ingrained belief that I am ugly, no matter what anybody says.

Some of us expressed feeling silly that their insecurity “wasn’t important” in the midst of “greater traumas” but Adam didn’t say his problem was lesser than anybody else’s. If it makes you hate yourself, or how you look, it’s a big issue, even if it’s acne instead of facial scars. Self-hate (which I struggle with a lot) causes real harm and real problems. Nobody has the right to belittle another person’s pain or fear.

Obviously, Adam doesn’t hate himself, he’s a happy guy. Yet in interviews, in meet and greet videos, and tweets, Adam deflects the “you’re perfect” talk and says he isn’t perfect. He has said some of the HD pics out there make him wince because he sees the acne problem first, even if those who love him don’t focus on it or even notice it at all. All that said, Adam probably loves the Fault photos because of the airbrushing. He gets a break from having to see the issue with his appearance that makes him feel insecure.

Another problem about a person’s perceived blemish, fear, or insecurity: well-meaning people like to reassure and say, “Oh nonsense, Adam, you’re gorgeous, you’re perfect.” As nice as this seems, it can feel not so nice to the other person at times. It feels like one’s insecure feelings are being brushed off as unimportant, and one is left feeling unheard, dismissed, disregarded. Adam has learned to say thanks to more of these “you’re gorgeous” comments, but I noticed he rarely lets a “you’re perfect” go by unremarked. One reason I imagine is that he’d like people to remember that he’s human like the rest of us. What if another reason is that this seemingly nice comment makes him feel a wince coming on? “Perfect” conflicts with one’s self-image when a major insecurity in appearance is present.

Sometimes it is nice to hear a compliment, or be told you’re okay, don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think; that is the difficult dichotomy of this topic, but it’s no less true than what I said before. I love the song “Perfect” by Pink, it has helped some people turn their backs on thoughts of suicide. Here’s the difference: when a person is in the grip of feeling low because of their self-image, and has the courage to express their feelings, fears, or their self-perception, an instant “no, you’re perfect, you’re beautiful” response can actually hurt, because the person doesn’t feel heard, or taken seriously.

A better response might be, “I know you feel that way, I respect your feelings; I just want to let you know that I don’t see you that way. To me, you are beautiful; but I respect your feelings and I thank you for entrusting me with them.” Saying, “You feel that way now, but you won’t always” isn’t fun to hear most of the time, either. If you can’t fix that person’s problem, especially if nobody can, then predicting they won’t always feel that way sounds as disregarding/unheard as the “no you’re perfect” does.

As an abuse and incest survivor who also suffers with rapid cycle bipolar and has one blind eye and some serious facial scarring from abusive violent attacks, I feel happier without a mirror around and I have a serious phobia of photos of myself. I toy with the idea of allowing an artist to draw how I really look to have something to show friends and loved ones online, but most of the time I panic and believe all the old lies from my abusers, awash in self-hate and the belief that I am ugly. There has certainly been no shortage of cruel people in my life from birth to now who gleefully call me ugly, freak, Frankenstein, or monster. The silent ones just look at me in fear, or even cross the street to avoid me. All of this reinforces all the times I was told I was too ugly to be loved, or that I should kill myself to put me out of their misery. School lunch tables I passed, where my peers would say, “Do you mind? We’re trying to eat” and the laughter as I slunk away – these things burrow under the skin and worm into the soul.

Adam was called fat, so he strives to be slender. He said he was teased about the freckles, too, and has often said he doesn’t like them. He was probably teased mercilessly about acne, or he wouldn’t be so hyper-aware of it. He has said he likes makeup because it covers his flaws (to a resounding echo of “you have no flaws”).

All of these things tell me I probably can guess that he likes the airbrushed Fault photos quite a bit. Yet Adam isn’t in the habit of hiding. I bet he sees the airbrushed and/or photoshopped pics of glossy fashion magazines as a costume, like if he chose to wear a mask at Halloween. It’s a break from yourself, a chance to toy with ways to actually enjoy looking in a mirror. Like makeup, it can boost your self-esteem.

For those who really don’t like these airbrushed photos, they are allowed to not like them (or they should be allowed). Especially if they prefer to see Adam as is, because to them, he is beautiful that way. That’s great, too. I just think when we have the chance to talk to him directly, online or off, that telling him he’s gorgeous will get a happier response than telling him he’s flawless and perfect. Yet if he’s sharing how he feels about his insecurities, pause a minute and hear him? Let him know his feelings matter too, even if you really do think he’s perfect. He’ll most likely thank you for it.

Personally, I love the Fault photos. I think he looks amazing in them. It doesn’t mean he isn’t amazing in more natural photos, however; I haven’t met many pics of Adam I didn’t like. To me, his joy leaps off of these images. I see no tell-tale shadow in his eyes of worry; and that makes me happy just for his private joy.

In the end, the mask only obscures perception; when it is set aside, the real person is still there underneath.

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 4/25/2012
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

About W.R.R.

Bipolar & survivor of incest/child sex abuse and adult male rape; bisexual, polyamorist, poet/writer/advocate & married father of four. View all posts by W.R.R.

5 responses to “Adam’s Mask

  • buffy522

    This essay was “perfect”. No cruelty intended…just a joke. I know about acne all too well, and am quick to notice it on Adam pics…especially those high defs. It is my insecurity and I don’t project onto him. Just know how he feels and often people reassure inappropriately. And the clean diet really helped. And he did seem to have some work done after the European and Grammy interview campaigns. I am all for it! Thanks ragman

  • annehedonia

    Thank you for helping us to better understand things we may not have been sensitive to. I can see that this can be a complicated subject, but above all, it seems the most important thing you’ve said is to not be dismissive – to be open and listen.

    Perhaps some of the sensitivity arises from what we ourselves associate with the marks or imperfections we bear. If they’ve been inflicted in a purposefully hurtful manner, or represent to us our having been ostracized in some way, it follows we’d internalize those feelings. On the other hand, MAYBE some scars received as the result of say, battle wounds could be felt about differently. There’s the famous Heidelberg dueling scar, a sign of status and bravery. But… ok, big exception.

    Since I’m the one who painted what we’ve called the soul portrait of you, let me say this: I cringe just a little bit when I see it, disappointed with myself that it’s not good enough. And by that, I mean not beautiful enough. There are things I like about it, but it’s not what was in my head.

    I’m sorry I didn’t know until recently the extent of the damage you had to endure. But I promise you that it only would have mattered to me in that I would have been sad for your pain. The circumstances of your life don’t change your soul, unless it will have been polished and burnished by having survived such trying things.

    After having read this essay, I opened a book by the late Celtic mystic and poet, John O’Donohue titled “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace”. The page I opened to was his poem, “Love Notes”. I won’t quote the whole thing but the last lines (after he and the beloved have been together) are:

    And the return
    Is from a distant Kingdom
    Where there are
    Neither mirrors
    Nor eyes

  • wismiss3

    I haven’t received any Ashes posts for quite awhile. I so enjoyed them and have copied most to make a notebook. It’s useful to Adam’s fans to be realistic about his imperfections. We always push forward our ideals of someone we love and fail to see that this attitude may be frustrating to the person who just wishes we would see him or her as they “really” are. We love Adam, no matter what. Now, we’re just being lovingly real. Please e-mail your postings and poems. Thanks, Sandy

  • jesha84

    I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this entry.

    My personal favorite pictures of Adam are from the 2011 Grammys. He looks absolutely stunning in them. But in the super HD pictures, you can see the acne scars you talk about. They’re not “attractive”, but to me, they make him human. As you mentioned, he’s quick to remind us that he’s just like anyone else; he has flaws and is certainly not a god or wax figure or anything like it. I love that he’s so real and humble.

    I never understood the blind “Adam’s 100% perfect and anyone who says otherwise is WRONG WRONG WRONG” mentality. Even the people we love the most in our lives have their faults and flaws; it doesn’t diminish our feelings for them. Why should it be different with Adam?

    Your comment about escapism and wearing a mask made me want to stand up and applaud you. It’s so true; those moments when we can escape and be made up to be beautiful in our own eyes are wonderful. It makes us light up, makes us walk straighter, and our whole demeanor changes for the better. It doesn’t mean that the way we look every day makes us lesser people. It simply means that, for a time, we can feel special.

    I never looked at the Fault pictures as anything demeaning to Adam because they’re a bit over-processed. I was one of the “yay new pictures” people. I’m glad you put your two cents in; I completely agree with what you said in this entry.

    Fantastic writing, as always. This one’s going in my favorites.

  • mhobbs0430

    You are beautiful and I just want to give you a hug! Thank you for sharing that story. For Adam, I think the thing to say is not, you are perfect, but, You are perfect to us!

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