Implications of Singapore’s Eased Mask Mandate on Adolescents
For what reason do we wear masks? Is it to protect ourselves from the virus, or is it to protect ourselves from potential criticisms of our looks? For teenagers, the latter seems to be the predominant reason why they choose to wear masks outside, despite the option to take them off.
During their adolescent years, teenagers imagine that all of their peers are constantly looking at and judging them, a state that psychologists call an “imaginary audience”. This imaginary audience makes teenagers want to hide their flaws, even if nobody is actually watching them. Masks, although now optional, continue to cover their face; this time is it not in fear of the virus, but in fear of the judgment and criticism they may face if they reveal their facial flaws.
Living in Singapore, where we’ve always had strict mask mandates, I never had the option to take off my mask outdoors. However, this all changed two weeks ago and for the first time in two years, masks became optional outdoors. I’ve noticed that those most excited by the eased restrictions were adults; outdoors, all of them had their masks off. But many teenagers my age kept their masks on, illustrating how insecurities may cause them to hold onto their masks for comfort and protection. I too now had the choice to take my mask off outdoors, but I chose to keep it on also, and for the same reason I believe many kids my age chose not to forgo their masks.
The situation may be much more serious for some, including those with body dysmorphia, a mental health condition in which you are heavily disrupted by flaws in your appearance. And although I may not have body dysmorphia, I still feel insecurities about my face, so I wish to articulate one key point for those who are reading this: Although masks have been assimilated into everyone’s lives for the same reason, the pandemic, we should recognize that people may wear them for different reasons whether it be fears of the virus or body insecurities that we may not know of. So when you see someone wearing their mask in your classroom or outdoors, be mindful that they may be fighting more than just the virus underneath their mask.