Behind the Mask: An Informal Analysis


What do your face covering choices say about you?

The Covid-era mask mandates issued by so many states, counties, and/or cities, have unwittingly resulted in a fascinating study in sociology and psychology. The rules requiring them to be worn have created a unique opportunity for people to deliberately or unintentionally reveal a lot about themselves.

The mask you wear (or don’t) can provide a plethora of clues about your personality, political views, belief system, and in some cases your health status (physical and mental). Of course, like other indicators, the evidence may lead to inaccurate conclusions in some cases.

Still, it’s interesting to see the choices people make when faced with a dictatorial edict commanding them to cover their faces, and to speculate regarding what those choices may mean. If nothing else, it can alleviate some of the boredom brought on by all the government restrictions, travel bans, etc.

Psychology,psyche,mask,wire rack,face - free image from

To mask or not to mask

That is the question. Whether, when, and where you wear a face covering is should be a personal decision. Even most of us who are adamantly anti-mask have donned one during this time of tyranny, under duress, to be allowed to get in somewhere or do something or see someone that wouldn’t be permitted otherwise. And even those who are thoroughly bought in to the idea that masks are magical essential life-saving talismans that protect from an apocalyptic-level deadly disease presumably take theirs off sometimes — in the shower, at the very least.

Those who choose not to wear them (or only do so when absolutely necessary to satisfy the rulers who now control the minutia of our lives) have different reasons:

  • Some are physically unable to tolerate something covering their mouths and noses, are unable to breathe properly, or overly sensitive to the feeling of the cloth on their skin.
  • Some are psychologically unable to tolerate the coverings and suffer from anxiety attacks or PTSD when they have to put on a mask.
  • Some are constitutionally unable to tolerate the restriction on their personal liberty as citizens of an ostensibly free country.
  • Some see refusal to wear the mask as a political statement, an act of civil disobedience in protest of unjust laws and edicts, akin to those used in the civil rights movement to bring attention to unfair race-based rules and restrictions.

Some of us fall into more than one of those categories.

Not all mask-wearers are created equal, either. Those who faithfully put on their masks whenever they venture out in public (some of whom even wear them outdoors or alone in their cars) can fall into any of the following categories:

  • Some are rule-followers by nature. They do what they’re told, especially if they’re told by people in positions of authority. It would never occur to them to disobey. They may not like it; they may even realize it’s useless or harmful, but “rules and rules” and they feel they have no choice but to comply.
  • Some are true believers. Despite all the experts’ flip-flopping and all the contradictory evidence and the obvious illogic (such as the absurdity of requiring a mask on the one minute walk from the door of a restaurant to your table, where you can take it off while sitting 3 feet from the strangers at the table next to you for an hour and a half), they still somehow have convinced themselves that these arbitrary measures are somehow protecting them and those around them from a disease they believe is a death sentence even as the pumped-up and skewed statistics show the recovery rate is 99.5 percent.
  • Some are “Karens.” I don’t like the term, but there isn’t really one that captures the essence of this personality type (and it’s important to note that not all Karens are female). They’re not necessarily obsessive rule-followers. They break rules that they don’t like all the time, and frequently demand that rules be bent to their benefit. But they like this one, for whatever reason, and most of all, they like to micromanage everyone else’s life, to tell others what to do, and to tattle on those who don’t toe the line. These are the quintessential HOA members, never content to let their neighbors do what they want with their own property, and they’re likewise unwilling to let the rest of us do what we want in making decisions regarding our own health.
  • Some are overly cautious souls. They don’t gamble. They don’t play the stock market. They don’t take risks. Their motto is “better safe than sorry.” They’re smart enough to know that the masks might/probably don’t protect them but they wear them “just in case.” Many of them really are “doing it for others.” They’ve been brainwashed into believing that other people’s health is their responsibility, even that they’re “murderers” if they give unknowingly give the virus to someone else (or attempted murderers if that person doesn’t die).


Royalty-Free photo: Gray and gold masquerade mask | PickPik

Some have embraced the idea of mask as fashion statement (more about that later in this post). Women (and probably some men) are making or selecting masks to coordinate with the rest of their clothing. I’ll admit it — I did it back early in this when I wanted to go out to a nice restaurant that required a mask on entry and I wanted to look a little less like an idiot. When I saw Amazon had a gaitor in the same “chain link” fabric as one of my favorite skirts, I bought it. I see gaitors as the lesser of the evils of mandatory maskdom as you can pull the thing down and it looks like you have a scarf on your neck, rather than looking as if you just emerged from the operating theater.

I’ve worn that mask exactly once. I think I’ve worn any mask at all a total of three times – before I found my wonderful “No fear” hat with a clear face shield built in. Shields aren’t accepted by the airlines — one of so many arbitrary idiotic rules to come out of our current “crisis” — but the stores around here are fine with them and I guess I won’t be flying for a while.

We all know the old caveat that appearances can be deceiving. No doubt not all the face coverings we see really represent what they appear to convey in every case. But like it or not, we judge people — especially strangers — based on appearance. When we make judgments based on facial features or skin color or height or weight or other characteristics that folks are born with, that’s inherently unfair and bound to result in erroneous assumptions. But judgements based on appearance choices, such as tattoos and piercings and including what people choose to wear, usually have at least a little more basis in fact.

Now, I’m not claiming to be able to read others’ minds and hearts, or to be the final arbiter of what a particular “mask style” means. I can only tell you the impression that you make on me when I see you wearing this or that face covering (or not wearing one at all).

Here are some of my observations and thoughts on this. Don’t take them personally. You might very well be the exception that proves the rule. And while your mask might figure into my initial reaction to you, it’s by no means the only factor nor is that first impression necessarily permanent.

Maskless marvels

I’ll say it up front: This is my tribe. You are my peeps. We are the few, the proud, who stand against the storm. When our eyes meet across the grocery store aisle or across the room in a venue where most are masked but it’s either not required or at least not enforced, we can see one another’s subtle smiles because our mouths are naked. Our noses are free to breathe in the aroma of the memory of the free world in which we used to live. And no matter who you are, I feel a flicker of kinship with you.

happy face 3d smile public domain image - FreeIMG

I’ve found that even in this troubled time of racial and political tension, masklessness brings us together. I’ve gotten that same smile from a diversity of people, ranging from black teenage girls to elderly white men. We may be rebelling for different reasons, but we’re alike in that we’re different from all those covered-up faces around us. For a moment, at least, we share a sense of comradery and revel in the power of numbers, even if that number is only two instead of just one.

In this crazy era when the Powers That Be have taken away most of our pleasures, it’s inordinately gratifying to see that slight lip curl and that tip of the head from someone else who dares defy the “new normal.”

Sometimes, though – incredible as it still feels to me – showing your face isn’t an option, at least if you want to be able to buy food or attend an important in-person event. Then what?

Agents of Shield

Clear face shields are the next best thing to going bare-faced. You can actually breathe in most of them — and you can see a person’s face through them. Thus those who wish to muzzle the populace for political and power reasons deem them “insufficient” to protect against the virus. They don’t do nearly as good a job of dehumanizing us and making us fear each other.

The airlines, in particular, have created policies disallowing face shields without masks under them. This flies (pun intended) in the face of all logic. Thin cloth masks that hide your features are allowed, even though the fabric won’t stop particles the size of the virus. Hard plastic does block those particles — but isn’t allowed.

R20 Protective Face Shields with Clear Vision, Adjustable, Lightweight and  Anti-Fog For Eye Protection. Made in The USA (2 Pack) - -

The argument is that shields are bad because they’re open at the bottom (this, of course, is what makes them wearable for those of us who can’t breathe in a tight mask). Again, the premise makes no sense. Even if you sneezed, the shield would direct all of the droplets downward onto your clothes, not out into the air toward someone else. Unless you’re very tall and have people standing right under you — which shouldn’t be happening with reasonable social distancing — you aren’t putting anybody at risk.

Being able to see people’s faces makes an enormous difference. For me, it’s the difference between being able to accurately understand what people are saying or not. I rely more than I realized on seeing a person’s mouth move to decipher the speech; this is why I often have trouble understanding over a phone. A mask on the mouth not only takes away that visual aid, but also muffles most people’s voices. Ironically, trying to hear/understand a person with a mask makes me need to get closer to them — thus violating the social distancing guidelines (which do make sense in preventing transmission of the virus).

I’m thankful that most venues I visit have not followed the airlines’ asinine guidelines, and when I absolutely have to go to a place where face covering requirements are enforced (and I’m also thankful that enforcement seems to be getting less and less commonplace here), I can wear my hat shield. Sometimes I get funny looks from others — I guess we’re becoming conditioned to be as shocked to see a naked face in public as we would be to see a naked butt — but many, after the initial reaction, say “Oh, I like your hat!”

Hat shields and shields that come down from the forehead cover your eyes along with your nose and mouth. This can be considered more protective, but it also can make it difficult to see clearly, depending on the quality of the plastic. A solution, especially for those of us who believe know that masks are safety theater and don’t protect anyone from viruses anyway, and are especially unnecessary for those who have already had the virus and recovered, is the dental type shield that fits under your chin with the plastic sticking up in front of your mouth and nose. With it, you can still see fine and the plastic deflects any “deadly droplets” you might emit.

Seeing right through it

Closely related to the face shield is the transparent mask. When policies demand that your face covering must “fit snugly” — an obvious ploy to exclude most shields, an alternative may be a transparent mask. It’s made like any cloth mask but the material is clear. These are marketed for those who work with the deaf, who need to see lips to read them, but they’re also useful for anyone who wants others to see your face, in situations where shields aren’t allowed.

The clear masks have another benefit over the full face shields, in that your vision isn’t obscured or distorted when you wear them, as it can be when the plastic goes over your eyes as well as your nose and mouth.

Personalised Face Mask Soft Polyester Face Covering with Your image 0

Those venues (such as the airlines) that don’t allow shields as a substitute for a mask may also be hostile toward your see-through mask even though it fits their criteria of fitting under the chin. (This, by the way, is more proof positive that these rules aren’t really about public health but about cutting off communication between people and “muzzling” the population).

You’ll need to pay close attention to the material from which your transparent mask is made. Airline policies usually also specify no material with “holes” or disallow “mesh or lace fabrics.” Clear plastic would presumably be okay, but clear plastic that fits up tightly against your skin is going to cut off your oxygen supply and may be even worse for your skin than a cloth mask. I’ve seen ads for some polyester masks that claim to be both transparent and breathable, but I’ve not had an opportunity to examine one in person.

Certainly if a mask must be worn, a transparent one would be preferable from a psychological standpoint – especially when working with children. Kids need to be able to see faces and facial expressions when they interact.

Ready to operate

Surgical masks are popular with many people. Why not — after all, it’s what doctors wear in the OR so it must be effective, right? Well, yes, at preventing the dissemination of bacteria into the patient’s open wound, which is what they’re designed to do.

They’re also designed to be disposable – docs change them out during long surgeries. Unfortunately, many of the people wearing them as talismans to ward off the evil COVID spirits don’t dispose of them (and when they do, they don’t do it properly) and use them over and over — making them effective at transmitting the very disease they’re supposed to be preventing, along with bacterial infections.

Most likely, the majority of people wearing surgical masks do so because they’re relatively cheap and because they seem as if they would be effective since they’re worn in clinical settings by health care professionals (and never mind that many of those same medical personnel will tell you that masks don’t do much to protect against viruses).

But a crowd of people wearing surgical masks certainly serves the purpose of making it appear that illness is all around us, just waiting to pounce — thus keeping the fear factor high.

The intimidation factor

Speaking of the fear factor, have you noticed that many of those in power who are making these rules, when they appear in masks, wear solid black ones? Senators, governors, even the president: when they’re seen wearing a mask, it’s most often a solid black one.

File:Balaclava 3 hole black.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to wearables, black is the color of intimidation. In business, the black “power suit” is intended to induce fear, or at least submission. The black balaclava is worn by both terrorists and SWAT teams to instill fear and gain maximum control over their targets. The infamous black helicopters symbolize government surveillance and oppression. Black projects a sense of authority, control, and importance.

Of course, you’ll see plenty of regular people wearing black masks these days, too. Some might do it because they think it makes their faces look less fat; fashion experts have advised for years that black is the most slimming color. Others may think it looks professional (sorry, but the only mask that looks professional is that blue surgical mask, and only if your profession is surgeon and you’re in the operating room).

Black Neck Gaiter / Breathable Washable and Reusable / Simple image 0

I think most, though, either consciously or subconsciously know that covering your features in black makes you look scary, someone to be reckoned with. And perhaps wanting to look that way is a natural reaction to the feelings of enslavement and subjugation that go with living in a time and place where the government restricts our movements, dictates with whom we can associate (even, in some places, in our own homes), and fines us if we dare to show our smiling faces in public.

If wearing a black mask makes you feel a tiny bit more in control, in a world where we’re rapidly losing it, more power to you.

Mask as high fashion

As I noted above, it seems that many among us have not only accepted the mandate to wear masks, but have embraced it. Now a visit to any mall or other large gathering place (where large gatherings are allowed) will reveal more than a few women (and even some men) who have taken the time and trouble to color coordinate their masks with their outfits, or even make them of the same fabric. At fancy restaurants, you’ll see masks all aglitter with bling — rhinestones and gold threads and lace trim. This winter, we’ll probably see ladies in mink masks, along with their tuxedoed escorts in crisp facial cummerbunds. Hello Kitty Adult Face Mask Dust-Proof Adjustable Cover Masks  Black: Clothing

Teenage girls are turning the mask into a trendy accessory. I’ve seen cartoon character masks, animal face masks, masks with teeth, clown face masks, and many more. Kittens, unicorns, hearts and flowers, stars and planets and constellations: if it can decorate a lunch box or a tee shirt, it can adorn a face mask.

Adults, too, are using masks to advertise their hobbies, interests, favorite celebrities, and more.

A beige mask with cartoon white, red, and rosé wines

Again, I can’t really blame them too much for having fun with it. They’re trying to turn an unpleasant requirement into something that feels a little less heinous. It’s a coping mechanism, and if it helps them feel better, who am I to criticize?

Making a statement

While in some cases wearing a mask of any kind can be construed as a political statement, there are some masks that take that a step further – including masks that serve as a protest against mask mandates.

“This mask is as useless as our governor.”
“Worn under duress”
“Let’s just pretend masks work”
“Placebo” (or “Facebo”)
“I can’t breathe. Literally.”

These and many other statements printed on masks allow us to at least make it clear that we’re wearing a mask only because we’re being forced by government edict to do so.

Of course, this being an election year, you’ll also see “Trump 2020,” “Biden/Harris,” and “Vote Republican (or Democrat)” splashed across people’s faces. Some opt for more subtle solid red or blue masks to indicate their partisan persuasion. U.S. flags, thin blue lines, and “I can’t breathe” masks also proliferate – the latter intended as a reference to the controversial death of George Floyd, but ironically also describing the situation of the mask-wearer.

Multiple and solo masking

While lately I’ve noticed that more and more people seem to be yanking the face coverings off (or at least dropping them below their chins) the second they step through the door exiting the store or other “mask mandated” venue, I’m also still seeing more than a few who have on one mask over another, or a face shield on top of a mask, or who inexplicably are wearing masks as they drive, alone, in their cars with the windows up, or while taking a walk with no one else anywhere within 30 feet of them.

The ones who wear multiple masks in public places where there are a lot of people around I can perhaps explain as someone who is in a highly vulnerable group, with serious underlying medical conditions, or who lives with somebody in that category. The solo maskers, though, have me bewildered.

Okay, maybe if you’re driving from one place where they’re required to another and it’s only a couple-minute drive, maybe it’s too much trouble to take the mask off and put it back on again. Maybe they’re taking very seriously the instructions from the “experts” not to touch their masks or their faces except when absolutely necessary. Maybe they actually like wearing the mask? There are, after all, masochists in this world — I guess we could call these maskochists.

Although I don’t understand them, I don’t have to. In the end, no matter what impression they might make on me with their face covering choice, it doesn’t matter. What they wear on their faces is their own business. I just wish they (and more important, the government) would acknowledge that likewise what I choose to wear or not wear on my face is my own business, too.

Freedom Does Not Look Like This Face Mask |

About debshinder

Technology analyst and author, specializing in enterprise security. Author of or contributor to over 25 books, including "Scene of the Cybercrime." Fourteen-year Microsoft MVP, married to Microsoft FTE Tom Shinder, and proud mom of two wonderful grown-up human children and three amazing Japanese Chin pups. In my spare time, I love to travel - especially on cruise ships - and write about my grand adventures.
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