When the pandemic is behind us, I will miss masks

Two years into the pandemic, with the lifting of mask mandates on the horizon, one thing has become clear to me: I will miss wearing a mask in public when COVID-19 is over. Face masks are beautiful. I do not want to say goodbye to mine or anyone else’s. The pre-masking days feel so distant […]
Photo: Aadil Naik
"I perceive mask wearers to be well-put-together, good-looking, law-abiding citizens. They are easier to approach, less intimidating and more on my level," writes the author.

Two years into the pandemic, with the lifting of mask mandates on the horizon, one thing has become clear to me: I will miss wearing a mask in public when COVID-19 is over.

Face masks are beautiful. I do not want to say goodbye to mine or anyone else’s.

The pre-masking days feel so distant and strange now. It is engrained in my mind every time I leave my apartment: wallet, keys, phone, mask. I have not been allowed to enter any public place in Ottawa without a mask since July 2020, so unlearning this rule will be strange.

It is just a piece of fabric. I do not feel like my freedom has been taken away. Plus, it makes everyone, including myself, look way more attractive than they actually are.

The desire to continue wearing my masks has nothing to do with health and everything to do with how I look. I love the excuse to hide the part of my face I would prefer not to share, zits and all. And I have saved so much money on make-up since the only area I need to tend to in my current morning ritual is the eyes.

There is something so inherently theatrical about putting on a mask when entering the public stage and taking it off only in private or outdoor settings. My unmasked and un-distanced self, literally and figuratively, is not for everyone. It is reserved for small groups of people whom I deeply trust.

I am not alone in how I feel. A recent study at Cardiff University discovered a surprising new reason to mask up, suggesting face masks “make wearers look more attractive.”

The study found faces are considered most attractive when covered by blue medical face masks.

“We also found faces are considered significantly more attractive when covered by cloth masks than when not covered,” the research stated. “Some of this effect may be a result of being able to hide undesirable features in the lower part of the face – but this effect was present for both less attractive and more attractive people.”

Pandemic rules have changed how people wearing masks are perceived by others.

“The results run counter to the pre-pandemic research where it was thought masks made people think about disease and the person should be avoided,” said Dr. Michael Lewis, an expert in the psychology of faces from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology.

I perceive mask wearers to be well-put-together, good-looking, law-abiding citizens. They are easier to approach, less intimidating and more on my level. I am way more comfortable around strangers when I am beneath the mask. And when I catch a glimpse of myself in a public washroom, as vain as it sounds, I like how I look.

Iana Shemetova, an Algonquin College student in the police foundations program, also agrees.

“Masks give a person some mysterious flair,” she said.

Shematova thinks masks make people look more attractive because they automatically draw attention to their eyes and emphasize features of the upper half of the face.

“Many masks have a central vertical seam that could visually elongate even the roundest of faces, while the side edges create an illusion of a sharp jawline, just like a trimmed beard,” said Shematova.

Mandates aside, I like wearing a sharp jawline on my face and drawing attention to my eyes, which are my most expressive feature. I like focusing more on other people’s eyes. I like the neutrality and commonality masks create amongst large groups of diverse people.

I have acquired quite a collection of non-disposable masks hand-sewn by artists I am proud to support. In addition to the blue hospital masks and KN-95s, I have masks with cats on them, sparkly masks, Christmas masks, summer-themed masks, winter-themed masks, masks with moon and stars, masks with figure skates, masks with the logos of companies I have worked for, the list goes on.

They have become a large part of my identity and self-expression – an accessory and fashion component of every outfit. When a young child comes into the drama class I teach on Sunday afternoons wearing a mask with Elsa from Frozen on it, I have something to compliment them on right away.

Although masks are furiously debated and many people cannot wait to lose theirs, I am not ready to say goodbye just yet. If Doug Ford does as he says and lifts the mandate this March, I will still be rocking my collection for quite a while.

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