Seen that viral GIF of Emma Watson peeling off her own face to reveal she's Sofia Vergara from Modern Family? Of course you have: your friend messaged it to you with the words "OMG WTF" and then it haunted your dreams all last night. That blubbery breast jiggle started so innocently, and now it's turned into a Lynchian nightmare ands infected your subconscious.
Turns out that the video is fake, but the actual story behind it is even weirder.
The GIF is a photoshopped manip of this 2011 video uploaded by Kerry Johnson, a Seattle-based afficionado of female masking, the internet subculture most recently highlighted by the Channel 4 documentary Secrets of the Living Dolls. Called "Susan masks and unmasks", the original is a fetching video that depicts a man putting on a silicon prosthetic all-in-one (torso and breasts included), chilling and reading some books (casual), and then unmasking.
Forward to the 4:14 mark:
Compare and contrast with the full-length video version of the Emma Watson GIF, created by YouTube user curveballbe. It's the same video.
Female masking is nothing new: you'll find videos on YouTube dating back several years. "I've got a fetish book from the 1940s and 50s of people doing female masking back then, so by no means did we invent anything,” Kerry Johnson told the Atlantic. “Our grandparents were doing this."
While some men cross-dress in female clothes, make-up and heels, female maskers go that extra mile by trying to replicate the biological appearance of women, straight down to uber-realistic, skin-tone breasts. Johnson even quit his job to create these silicone casts, which can cost up to hundreds of dollars. And while they might not be as convincing as the photo manipulated version in that Vine, they can sometimes achieve a kind of Jocelyn Wildenstein-esque realism.
This isn't the first time female masking has been used in the service of uncanny aesthetics: Steven Meisel used the silicone masks in a Vogue Italia shoot featuring Carolyn Murphy:
And not to be outdone, Jon Rafman employed the footage of female maskers in the super-NSFW "Still Life (Betamale)" video for Oneohtrix Point Never, which horrified Vimeo so much it was initially pulled off the site:
TL;DR – that Vine you've been sending around to freak out all your friends? You've actually been watching footage of a very obscure cross-dressing subculture all along. Lesson learned: if you think you've found something weird on the internet, the truth is always much, much weirder.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing