The hottest accessory of Summer 2020 has been Le Mask. Literally so. Anyone who has stepped out of the house in August’s manic London heatwave can attest. Not a fashion trend anyone asked for but masks are here to stay, plastered across our very faces.
Masks are the most visibly affirming symbol of the new world order we live in. They have joined forces with keys and wallets to form the holy trinity of must-grab items before stepping out of the house. On the tube the other day, as I trundled along the Central line, dancing into the train movements so that I don’t fall flat on my face (I was trying to avoid touching the hand rail), I looked at the masked faces around me and felt a surge of emotions. Riding the tube, once normal, now felt like a treat (I am a commuter lover) but it was more the jarring blend of new (face masks) and old (a sea of diverse people on the London underground) co-existing in harmony that got to me. A bunch of blue masks had turned the ordinary commute into an extraordinary display of human spirit.
To Mask Or Not To?
Masks have been making headlines since the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic. For a long time, the public-health messaging around their usefulness was contradictory and confusing.
Six months on, the growing evidence that masks make a difference in combating the coronavirus can no longer be ignored. The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s current guidance on masks is that they provide ‘a barrier for potentially infectious droplets.’ Together with hand sanitising and social distancing where feasible, masking up is one of our most vital tools to fight COVID-19.
If you need more convincing, take a look at countries like Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China. Their well documented success in preventing or reining in outbreaks, arising no doubt from their previous experience with respiratory pandemics, is linked to good mask wearing practices. Countries like US and Brazil that have ridiculed or shunned masks are some of the worst hit in the world. Britain too was reluctant to advise the general public to wear face coverings in the beginning, even as other countries in Europe did so. It took the government well into June to mandate them in the tube and July to mandate them in public spaces. People who refuse to wear face covers in public spaces where social distancing is not possible can incur a fine of £100 – up to £3,200 if you are a repeat offender.
What about children? WHO has issued guidance advising children who are 12 years and older to adhere to the same rules as adults. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC, UK) advises that children under the age of 11 do not need to wear a mask, however it is up to the parents to decide. Public Health England (PHE) advises that children under 3 should not be wearing masks at all, as they could pose a health and safety risk.
The benefit of wearing a face mask is the most hotly debated topic right now. Pro maskers believe in their power to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, their staunch stance expressed on social media via #masks4all and #WearAFuckingMask hashtags. In the very least, pro maskers accept that there can be no harm in wearing a face cover if it could potentially save lives. Anti-maskers argue there is no concrete proof of their efficacy. Some consider masks to be an infringement on their freedom while others believe wild conspiracy theories (apparently COVID-19 is a hoax). Some say they are not anti-mask, rather anti-mandate. This mask-induced divide is giving rise to what would have once read as very odd newspaper headlines: ‘Man knocked out in argument over face masks at Clapham Junction station.’
New Normal: The Beginning
The first time I saw someone wearing a mask was as early as January. I was sitting inside an airport lounge, waiting to fly back to London from my holiday in Dhaka. Coronavirus still hadn’t made it to my vocabulary and my hands were covered in at least an extra inch of unstripped skin. I flew from Dhaka Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport to Dubai to London without ONCE washing or sanitising my hands except for toilet trips, nappy changes and meal times. In retrospect, we were damn lucky to avoid Covid in our travels. Or so we think!
The first time I stepped out wearing a mask was quite an experience. An experience that evoked many questions. How am I supposed to drink my coffee? I mean, it’s hard to enjoy a latte when you can’t access your mouth! How is my liquid lipstick transferring onto the mask? Why does my own breath feel so uncomfortable? How am I supposed to see through these fogged up glasses? As mask wearing normalised over time, we moved from practical to sartorial concerns: can I pair my floral print mask with my polka dotted dress and blame the Pattern on Pattern trend?
Public Health But Make it Fashun!
Wearing a mask can feel quite uncomfortable, especially in hot environments. But personalising it can make masking up feel like a more enjoyable and controllable experience. Having a cute mask to look forward to definitely makes it easier to remember wearing them. You really don’t have to look hard to find one that suits your style. From Next to Boots, M&S to Etsy, every high street retailer is coming up with their own designs. ASOS is selling sets of floral face coverings with matching pouch and scrunchie. Adidas and Reebok have designed masks built for exercise. Scarf-masks also seem to be a popular choice, esp by celebs, but the official medical advice is that they aren’t as effective. Fancy making your own mask? Grab your t-shirts, scarves or bandanas and give DIY masks a go.
Eyes Don’t Lie
The mask trend has given us an opportunity to rekindle our love for eye makeup. Communicating with our eyes or ‘Smizing’ is the new way to socialise. I was drawn towards a lady at the tube station the other day like a moth to a flame, her purple-blue eyeshadow striking me like a magic wand. Mask friendly makeup tutorials have been gaining popularity (mascara is in, contouring is out). I am loving this shift in beauty and fashion trends to accommodate the post pandemic world with a bit of sartorial savoir faire. Note: wearing your masks like chin warmers, although convenient, is not deemed to be safe. Take them off if you are eating or drinking.
Masks may be encouraging new beauty trends, but they are also creating new beauty issues. While our summer dilemmas once involved finding the perfect tube/shade of BB/CC cream, right now its all about ‘Maskne’. Maskne is the term given to an outbreak of acne on the face, generally focused around the mouth and nose area, as a result of wearing a face mask for an extended period of time. You can avoid getting maskne by keeping your skin hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and apply moisturiser at least 30 minutes before you wear your mask.
Not All Masks Are Made Equal
The most effective, surgical-grade face masks like the N95 respirators should remain reserved for health-care workers and front line staff. The rest of us can make do with simpler masks. Style is nice, but a good fit is crucial. Make sure that your mask is covering your mouth and nose and fits snugly around the side of your face. Not all masks are made equal, some are definitely better than others so its worth doing a bit of research before making a purchase.
Disposable surgical masks are great to use on the go but can create a significant landfill impact. Choosing reusable masks rather than buying disposable ones is a sustainable choice we should make whenever possible.
Let’s Face It
Masks have become the most powerful symbol of expression in the backdrop of a global crisis. You are making a statement when you are wearing them. You are making a statement when you are not. Whether its a pretty floral mask or a BLM protest mask, we are all telling a powerful story each time we wear one. More importantly, we are all doing our bit in fighting the pandemic and keeping each other safe.
Coronavirus has opened up a lot of dilemmas but to mask or not to mask should not be one of them. Unless it poses a health risk, we MUST ACTIVELY wear masks as much as we possibly can. Or risk being a specific kind of Covidiot – a Maskhole! 😉