Behind the Mask.

It was recently reported that a former contestant on "Love Island", Sophie Gradon, aged only 32, tragically took her own life. After finding her body, her boyfriend, Aaron Armstrong, even younger at only 25, also later took the drastic action of ending his life.
According to reports, only two weeks before her death, Sophie was said to have been in "good spirits", and there seemed to have been no cause for concern about her welfare. It was, then, a massive shock to her family and friends when her suicide was revealed.
Indeed, Sophie, in any purely outward assessment, would appear to have had a pretty good life. Blessed with good looks and a burgeoning career as a reality TV star, on the surface everything would have seemed rosy. However, she had been on the receiving end of many hurtful and unsavoury remarks from online trolls, and indeed, had spoken about bouts of anxiety and depression. All was not, then, as it may have first seemed through the happy glare of television and social media.
Indeed, all this got me thinking about the increasing pressure, particularly on the young, to somehow project an image of happiness and social perfection. Through the lens of social media, we can all show how we think society wants us to be. Look, here is my perfect house, my perfect wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend, my prefect children. Life, it seems, is now partly about almost advertising your own social capital and credibility. In such a milieu, who wants to hear about messy, upsetting things like depression or anxiety? Surely such things would only ruin the image. Welcome to the brand of "me".
Many years ago Carl Jung created the notion of the persona. For Jung, the persona was the outward mask we present to the world. He used this term because, in Latin, it means both personality and the masks worn by Roman actors of the classical period. Jung regarded the "persona-mask" as a complex system which mediates between individual consciousness and the social community. Rather than any true reflection of individuality, it was more like a role being played. As he stated, it is "a compromise between the individual and society as to what a man should appear to be". It also has a dual function - both to project a certain image to others and to hide other parts of the true nature of the individual.    
This idea seems to me to appositely encompass not only our own relationship to the immediate outer world, but also to that of social media. After all, what is social media if not an added layer of our personas? A mediating space between us and society where we can project what we should appear to be. And in this world, there also seems to be a dual function. We always want to project the best side of ourselves, and to perhaps hide the less comfortable or comforting aspects of our natures. Maybe it's a sort of vicious circle, where societal pressures subtly prod us towards projecting images of perfection, but the more we give in to those pressures, the more the monster is fed.
Indeed, the tragic deaths of Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend reveal that there is always more going on than we might think. There is always more to the world than what we project onto it and what it projects onto us. There is always more going on behind the mask.  



bazza said…
Hi David. It has always seemed to me that one plays a number of different roles in one's life.
I am a bit of a different character when I am either a husband, a father, a grandfather, delivering a seminar or out drinking with 'the lads'. So; if we only know someone in one of their personas (such as a reality television star) there is a large part of them that we don't see and cannot know.
This tragedy highlights one of the big dangers of trolls lurking in the wings aiming to damage someone seen as successful or weak.
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