Since the mask mandates have been in place I’ve put together quite a collection of face coverings.
It helps of course that I have a friend who’s a brilliant seamstress, a mother with too much time on her hands and friends who are constantly gifting me scarves and kerchiefs. For many, masks have become a sartorial choice (maybe the only variable in a uniform of leggings and tees for some). Even during these pandemic days, our outfits can be a form of self-expression.
Which is ironic, because these face coverings cancel out much our ability to be expressive.
As face coverings became de rigeur I noticed that Pinkerton, ever the reader of body language and facial expressions became confused when I would call to him at the park. Was I annoyed? Excited? Serious? Playful? He would trot up to me cautiously, looking into my eyes, trying to read a face that was mostly covered from view. I imagine that other dogs are probably confused as well.
Then I started thinking about infants and young children, who learn about human behavior and interaction largely through tone of voice and expression. What effect do masks have on their mental/psychological development? Or do they grow up assuming that everyone outside their home walks around with their face covered?
I’m very sensitive to facial expressions, body postures, unconscious movement. I like to read people non-verbally, as picking up on their physical energy gives me an indication of how to best approach them. Take away the possibility of seeing a facial expression, and it throws me off balance. It’s literally harder to get a read on people.
My friend Lilly and I, on our weekly walks, jokingly play a game called “hilarious or furious” in which we try to guess the other’s expression just by looking at their eyes. We know each other well enough that we guess correctly, but what if we weren’t so close?
I wonder how mask life will continue to impact us. Sometime I feel that the physical barrier constructs a psychological barrier, a visceral reminder of our separation for others. We each are apart, behind our own little curtains. And for me it exacerbates the sense of unsettledness that feeds into my anxiety.
It’s hard to feel anxious. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic when you can’t get a read on anyone walking down the street.
So in many ways I’ve become more verbal, and also aware of the rest of my body language. I’ve also made a conscious effort to smile behind my mask, hoping that the crinkle in my eyes will translate. I’ve been waving a lot more. It’s just that I can’t wait to actually see people again.