2 Years of Masking

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you’re here.

Let’s talk about some of the weirdness that comes with wearing masks all the time. Some of the things were expected, but there have been things that have surprised me. First, let me start by explaining that I wear a mask for 12 hour shifts for the entire shift unless I am in a little room all by myself for lunch or a quick snack break. I am one of the people that wear a mask whenever I leave the house or am around people that I don’t live with. So, I’ve spent a lot of time wearing masks over the last 2 years.

The first thing that has surprised me about wearing masks is that I have gotten used to it. Not the N95s those are awful. But wearing a fabric or surgical mask is just like wearing a hat or socks now. I don’t think about it being there anymore. I put it on before I leave my house and I take it off when I get home. There are parts of the day that I actually forget that I am wearing it. I never expected that wearing a mask would become so completely routine that it would be like wearing every other kind of clothing. Sure, it makes sense, but I just didn’t ever expect that I would ever be wearing a mask enough to become accommodated to them. Now it really is just like every other article of clothing that I wear. As long as I have one that fits me properly and is comfortable, it becomes background sensory information. Give me one that doesn’t fit right and I can’t stop thinking about it, but that’s also true for socks or shirts.

I am not surprised to learn how many people use lip reading to augment their understanding of language and never realized it. As someone who struggles with understanding verbal communication, I have long been aware of my use of lip reading. But I’m not surprised to learn that the majority of people have been doing this their whole lives without ever realizing it. It’s kind of interesting how much lip reading has been helping people understand each other. I personally feel it is one of the most important parts of paralanguage and one that it fairly easy to use.

There has been a strange thing happening in my brain with masks and people’s faces. So, I’ve asked around work and I’ve discovered that it’s a universal thing, all of my coworkers have been experiencing the same thing. We are meeting each other while wearing masks so we don’t actually know what each other’s faces look like. Then we will attend an in-service or a meeting on zoom and we will see people’s faces for the first time after having known them for months. And the weird thing is that our brains are telling us that their faces are wrong. Yeah, it’s really weird. But apparently if you meet someone with their face covered with a mask your brain just imagines the rest of their face and fills it in for you. In your mind, that image becomes what you consider their face to be. When you see their face for the first time it doesn’t match what you imagined and your brain reports that their face is wrong. It is probably the strangest thing I have experienced. It also highlights how important our brains consider the face to be. So important that it will make up that information rather than leave that part of the file blank. We aren’t capable of creating a mental file of someone without creating a face for them. We do this when we meet people online or we read books. We imagine what those people look like. But we rarely have those images in our mind challenged. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about this strange phenomenon.

Even after all this time, it still surprises me how political masks have been. They have been used as a flag for so many different political agendas over the past 2 years. I find it mind boggling. I work in an environment where I am acutely aware of the CDC guidelines and recommendations whether there is a pandemic or not. The CDC gives us guidelines on how to prevent the spreading of infection. These guidelines come out on a regular basis and are updated or modified just as often as new research reveals better practices. It is strange to me that this one set of guidelines and recommendations can become so political when the majority of the CDC recommendations go largely ignored by the public despite the fact that those guidelines have significant impact. The role that the CDC has played with all its guidance and recommendations regarding food safety has probably had more impact in our lives than their guidance and recommendations regarding COVID. Yet, we don’t bat an eye regarding food recalls, food handling guidelines or any other food regulations that control and limit the way that food can be legally handled and served in this country. But there have been protests and people killed over the CDC recommendation to wear a mask. If you put “people killed because of masks” into a google search, it will bring up ten pages of news reports of some one being killed because there was a dispute over wearing a mask. It is shameful. I wish that we could learn how to settle our disagreements without becoming violent.

There have been some strange fashion choices around masks during all this. There have been funny masks with goofy faces printed on them. There have been ones that are made of beautiful and expensive fabrics. There have also been ones adorned with spikes. It has been interesting to see people wearing plaid masks with striped shirts. All the clothing fashion rules seem to simply not apply when it comes to masks, yet people are still very aware of the prints they are wearing. Often people use their mask to display a favorite team logo or to support a social cause. The fashion of masking has been pretty quirky. This aspect hasn’t surprised me, but some of the individual choices have. There were the mesh fabric face masks that I simply couldn’t see the point in wearing. I personally also find the face masks with realistic faces printed on them strange and unsettling. They let you try someone else’s face on. I wasn’t surprised that fans were using this as an opportunity to mask up as Batman, Spiderman or Darth Vader. Hey, I don’t blame them. Might as well enjoy it! Really, when it comes to masking, people have done it all from wearing under wear on their heads to water bottles. It’s been amazing to see.

Another thing about masks that isn’t surprising? It makes it harder for people to read other people’s emotions. I seriously consider this a super power to begin with as it is something that I can’t do. But wearing a mask makes it difficult for even people who are good at reading emotional cues. There is a bunch of research out there regarding what we use to interpret emotion and what increases reliability in emotional interpretations. There is research now specifically in context to wearing masks. You can read that research over here. However, the gist of things is that we use way more then facial expressions to read emotions, but they are an important factor. So, it’s not surprising that having our faces covered is making us worse at reading emotions. Add to that the fact that we can’t lip read and we are, in fact, simply not communicating with each other as well right now. So, go easy on each other out there, ok?

After 2 years of masking, what have you noticed about people? What’s the strangest mask you’ve seen someone wearing?

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