Faces 3/4/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Billy Joel wrote “Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk, and some are leather, they’re the faces of a stranger.” He’s talking about the various faces we put on for various situations and people who cross our paths. I interpret the satin face as showing beauty but hiding strength underneath, steel as being inflexible and strong, silk as being beautiful and fragile and leather being a face of experience and strength. No doubt there are a plethora of other faces as well, perhaps even more diverse than the number of people in the world as each of us carries a variety of faces.

Many years ago, my therapist tried very hard to get my “other faces” to show themselves. I tend to be a very nice guy, but not the way so many “nice guys” define themselves. I think about others, and am a very giving person, but I don’t have expectations for return as I do. Helping people gives my life meaning, so I will often bend over backwards for people. Unfortunately, I know that so many men do the kinds of things that I do and then become upset when they’re not offered a reward, often sexual in nature. Those are not nice guys; they’re jerks. But because of these jerks (and I’m using the term “jerk” so as not to offend by using the word “asshole”), my actions often come across as suspicious. I get that, but it always breaks my heart.

But there are times for the face of steel or leather, and if I have to bring them out, I am more than capable of doing so. I’m not comfortable wearing these faces, but if the situation calls for me to be tough and unyielding the steel face shows itself. I learned this face from my father, and you can trust me when I say that it is quite intimidating.

Because of the war on women (which is all to real), women these days often refer to “resting bitch face”. This is a face of steel as well, designed to send warning signs and exude coldness to any would-be harassers. It’s a great tragedy in our society that women need to even think like this. People should be kind to each other. There is, in our grocery store, an absolutely adorable young woman that I would very much like to compliment but being that I’m old enough to be her grandfather (but not yet old enough to be a non-threatening doddering old fool) I really have no interest in her beyond the relationship we have as cashier and client. But if I were to try to compliment her, it would come across as threatening and I’m more likely to make her afraid of me than to make her feel good about herself.

I can hear readers now saying, “why don’t you compliment her intelligence or kindness to animals?” The easy answer is that with the conversations we’ve had I have no idea how intelligent she is, or if she kicks rodents. But the point is what I would mean to be a simple compliment to make her feel good, thanks to men who often have deeper intentions than this, it would come across as threatening. My silk face would convert hers to leather or steel.

Personally, I would rather live in a world where I’m allowed to compliment a woman without her feeling threatened. I would love to be able to ask a woman out and have her feel comfortable to decline the offer without her worrying if I’m going to stalk her as a result. I can take rejection, but sadly, too many men simply cannot. So, I understand the resting bitch face, and mourn it at the same time.

Interestingly, Billy Joel goes on to say, “you may never understand how the stranger is inspired, but he isn’t always evil, and he is not always wrong.” Here, “he” refers to those various masks that we all carry, and “the stranger” are those aspects of our personality that come out only under certain circumstances. I can show my face of leather and steel, but I’m never comfortable doing so. I feel like a stranger when I have to put these masks on, but sometimes it’s just what is needed.

As it turns out, you can be tough, and you can still be nice. You can be unyielding and still be right in doing so. Sporting a “resting bitch face” doesn’t mean that the wearer doesn’t have a good heart, isn’t kind and wouldn’t stop to help somebody in need. It’s just a defense mechanism to keep herself safe from those who would take advantage of her kindness and good heart. An unyielding face of steel is sometimes required because people will take advantage of flexibility. Seeing somebody display these masks could simply mean the situation requires it. We should be careful to avoid judging based on masks. It takes time to know the person underneath the armor.