This piece is the first in a new series titled “Subway Philosophy,” where I make diagrams to explain the things I think about during my 25-minute commute on the red line.
Brief explainer for those who don’t follow Bachelor nation: Bachelor in Paradise is a show where castoffs from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette mingle in beautiful, un-air-conditioned Sayulita, Mexico for three weeks to find love and greater Instagram fame. Ashley tried to date Jared in Paradise last year, but now they’re just good friends. Jared and Caila tried to date this year. Ashley cries a lot. Caila smiles a lot, even when she’s not happy.
There’s a lot more to this story, but the point of this article is not to dive into the nuances of who did what and how they each felt and who’s culpable for what, because at this point, nobody cares.
Instead, I want to talk about what it means to be “fake” and what we are saying when we call someone “fake.”
While Jared was trying to date Caila, Ashley frequently called Caila “fake” and “robotic.” Doubling down on the feelings she expressed during the June filming period, Ashley wrote the following in her August 25 Cosmo recap:
“I didn’t like the robotic vibes I was getting from Caila; all her conversations were so careful and filtered, and she’d always put a happy face on no matter what the situation.”
Again, a lot more to this story (which seems to have concluded in a rather civil manner), but the point of this article isn’t to give a play-by-play of how editing on a reality show caused a lot of people to take sides on Twitter. It’s about the general notion of calling someone “fake.”
Many people, inside and outside of Bachelor nation, have used and continue to use sentiments like the ones in the quote above to justify calling someone fake.
This raises a few questions:
Does withholding a majority of your thoughts make you a “fake” person?
Does smiling a lot, even when you want to throw a brick at someone, make you a “fake” person?
Does crafting your language to put a positive spin on things make you a “fake” person?
To delve into these questions, I’ve made a few diagrams. The first shows three types of people: one who is completely open with all of her thoughts and emotions, one who withholds the majority of her thoughts and emotions, and a third who presents a completely manufactured persona to the world:
I imagine that most people who describe others as “fake” take the objects of their accusations to be in the third category. Forced smiles project an emotion that doesn’t exist, so they seemingly contribute to a manufactured persona, meaning the person is “fake.”
We’ll get into that topic in a bit, but first, the middle diagram. When someone criticizes someone else for “careful and filtered” speech, they are finding fault with the act of withholding. But as The Huffington Post’s Claire Fallon and Emma Gray have repeatedly pointed out in their podcast Here to Make Friends, sometimes it is kinder to filter your thoughts than to share everything on your mind:
While tough love is necessary at times, we all have moments when we think things about people that offer nothing constructive to the world. Examples include sexist comments like calling someone a “hooker,” “whore,” “psycho,” “bitch,” you get the point. In cases like these, filtered speech is called for.
Furthermore, while openness can be seen as a form of generosity, a cautious and reserved nature should not be seen as a fault. We are not entitled to anyone’s thoughts.
Next question: Does smiling a lot, even when you want to throw a brick at someone, make you a “fake” person?
During the Ashley-Caila fiasco, Asian Twitter users brought up the fact that they receive a disproportionate amount of flack for being “fake” and “robotic” because of their cultural values.
Asians are brought up to be more reserved, to smile, or to project positivity for the sake of avoiding unnecessary conflict. But Asian cultures aren’t alone in this: In Yoruban art and cultural diaspora, “itutu” describes the cool, collected face present in much of Yoruban sculpture. In the US, Midwestern and Southern values also emphasize positivity.
In these types of cultures, a smiling or stoic face isn’t intended as a contrived, “fake” persona; it’s the product of a cultural value that is a very real part of a person’s identity. In some cases, the facial reaction can even be automatic. Caila, who is half-Filipina, mentioned on After Paradise that smiling is a defense mechanism for her. Other people smile because the act of smiling makes them feel better.
The cultural clash comes when people see a person as the right-most figure in the first diagram (constructed persona), while that person sees herself as one of the first two figures in the following diagram (reserved + positivity):
Final question: Does crafting your language to put a positive spin on things make you a “fake” person?
If you hold an opinion, then that opinion is a “real” part of your conscious. Presenting that opinion in a positive, negative, generous, or unkind light doesn’t change the fact that you hold that opinion, and therefore doesn’t make your end statement less “real.”
You might use less of a filter around a girlfriend than you would with your grandmother, but you’re not necessarily being “fake” around your grandmother. One aspect of emotional intelligence might involve understanding how much filter and spin your audience prefers, and adjusting as needed. Similarly, one aspect of emotional maturity might involve understanding the needs of others and putting those before your own comfort.
Ultimately, what I’m driving at is that “fake” is an insult that is frequently thrown around but not always deserved.
Even when you think someone is projecting a totally inauthentic persona, you can’t know what their thoughts and motivations might be.
In the Johari Window below, we can get a sense for how misinterpretations happen: you have an assumption about someone that you think falls into Quadrant 1 (stuff both you and the person know) or Quadrant 4 (stuff you know about the person that he doesn’t know about himself), but you just be off in Quadrant 5 (stuff that isn’t true). Without reading minds, it’s hard to fairly claim that someone is being inauthentic, because there’s always another way to interpret a word or action.
And to tie it back to Bachelor in Paradise, here’s one last reminder:
Cyndi Chen is a NYC-based growth marketer and occasional writer. She currently works for CareDox, which provides free health technology for K12 public schools. Cyndi exclusively watches trashy TV.