Hiding Behind A Mask
As the world wears a mask to protect against the novel coronavirus, Charleen Leonita investigates if wearing a mask alters our identities and how we are perceived by others.
Rather than just a necessity to protect against the coronavirus, have people begun wearing face coverings for more complex reasons? Photo courtesy of Ashley Wong.
Places Section Editor
Hype Issue #54
November 26, 2021
Long conversations with strangers have always been tiresome for Rebecca Hogan, 20, a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Instead, sheltering herself in a quiet little room and snuggling with a book has always been her ideal day. As Rebecca adapts to living in a pandemic-ridden era and struggles with home-based learning, she has since adopted the face mask as a pandemic necessity.
As wearing a mask becomes the new norm, it almost seems as if walking around without one was a fever dream. Apart from being an annoying but necessary sacrifice, wearing a mask covers up a large portion of facial features and hinders one’s ability to show their emotions clearly.
But does wearing a mask that conceals our faces also conceal our personalities?
Mr Adrian Tan (not his real name), 57, is a psychotherapist trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He runs his own mental health clinic specialising in existential and adjustment therapy, as well as geriatric and palliative care.
When asked if human behaviour is affected by wearing a mask, he said: “[Wearing a mask] brings out people’s bravery and boldness. Similarly when cosplayers wear a costume to hide who they really are, they assume the role of someone that they are not. They hide behind a costume, like how we hide behind a mask.”
Both cosplaying (left) and wearing a mask (right) share similarities to how a person may appear in a disguise, letting them alter the way they look. Photo taken from The Straits Times.
Rebecca explained that wearing a mask provides an illusion of a private space and is the best comfort she gets when she is in public.
She said: “As I am very excessive with my facial expressions, [the mask] covers my reactions, be it good or bad, from human sight. It gives me the liberty to react however I want.”
“In fact, this is the same notion of the 1800s,” Mr Tan said. “When people go to a masquerade ball and wear a mask, they feel more confident in their own skin as their identities along with [their] insecurities are concealed.”
It was common for guests to wear masks to masquerade balls in the 18th century. Photo taken from Grey Journal.
At the same time, a mask can be a hassle as it does not only provide anonymity to yourself, but to the rest of the world as well.
Leanne Fong, 20, a student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has found it especially difficult to judge a person’s intentions as it has become a lot harder to read their facial expressions, mood and behaviour of her peers.
“I am scared to make contrasting statements with others,” she said. “I would wonder if they are secretly scowling behind the mask.”
I am scared to make contrasting statements with others. I would wonder if they are secretly scowling behind the mask.
Masks have disrupted the way people communicate and cause a huge barrier when it comes to social interactions for Leanne, as there were times when she felt the need to overcompensate by complimenting people more often and making conversations with new people to seem more likeable.
Wearing a mask does not make a person more deceiving. Photo taken from iStock, edited by Charleen Lim.
For Mr Tan, hiding behind a mask goes much deeper than its physical factors. Instead, he points towards a psychological mask, which is invisible in comparison to a physical face mask.
He said: “Whether people wear a mask or not, if they have an objective to deceive, they will continue to deceive people. It doesn’t mean that [just] because they wear the mask, it’ll be easier to deceive someone.”
Whether people wear a mask or not, if they have an objective to deceive, they will continue to deceive people. It doesn’t mean that [just] because they wear the mask, it’ll be easier to deceive someone.
A person with an objective to hide will have the same agenda regardless, this is because a physical mask does not hold the power to hide the intentions of someone who wishes to hide behind a psychological mask that only they can break through.
Despite the social impacts of wearing a mask, Rebecca believes that wearing a mask cannot conceal one’s true identity.
When asked if a person could completely change with a mask on, Rebecca said: “A mask cannot conceal one’s identity, as identity is so much more than what we see physically. We will not let a mere mask stop us from being who we genuinely are.”