Are masks permanently changing how we express ourselves?

LJ Haderlie

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Are masks permanently changing how we express ourselves?

Masks are on virtually everyone’s face, but what will it be like when they are gone?

For many kids in America, wearing a face mask at school all day is the new normal. Whether it’s in the classroom, hallways, or bathroom, masks are always worn over the mouth and nose.

Most workplaces have also adopted mask policies and social distancing measures. Stores, theatres, gas stations; everywhere we go, there are masks.

As a lot of us have seen, this has changed how we talk to each other. For one, we have to speak louder than before; masks muffle and absorb sounds, making pronunciation more critical than ever before.

I’ve found that wearing masks also changes how we use facial expressions to communicate. Since our noses and mouths are covered, eyes and eyebrows are the only thing that really keeps our faces from being expressionless.

When talking to someone else, sometimes I have to remind myself to move my eyebrows, so they know that I am engaged in what they are saying. I am making facial expressions during the conversation, but the micro expressions are a lot less visible with a mask on.

It feels almost cartoonish to over-exaggerate what faces I make, and I have a feeling that once masks are no longer required, seeing everyone’s facial expressions will take some adjusting to.

Masks are kind of nice for people who have social anxiety; for example, I can lip sync to my music without worrying about who is looking at me. And if you have an RBF, masks are definitely your friend. No one can judge you for looking upset.

I’ve caught myself making a lot really odd faces underneath my mask while walking around campus. I’ll just be moving my face muscles randomly out of boredom. Realizing that people would be able to see me doing all this if it weren’t for my mask makes me laugh. I must look insane!

This got me wondering about how different it will be to talk to people face to face, without masks, after the pandemic has died out (whenever that will be). Will we go back to how things were before, or will we be permanently adjusted to them?

Seeing the entire face of a stranger weirds me out. I’m so used to only being able to see from the eyes up that seeing noses and chins will feel strange. And since mask mandates are present in almost every county, it has started to feel illegal to me. Like no, full face viewing is not allowed.

Maybe it’s just something I think about, but I am very curious to see how facial masks change the everyday interactions between classmates, employees, customers, and strangers. Will we feel and act normal when the masks are gone? Or will our social circles be forever changed?