“It’s a common consensus among my co-workers that we prefer not having customers see our faces,” said Becca Marshalla, 25, who works at a bookstore outside Chicago. “Oftentimes when a customer is being rude or saying off-color political things, I’m not allowed to grimace or ‘make a face’ because that will set them off. With a mask, I don’t have to smile at them or worry about keeping a neutral face.”
“I have had customers get very upset when I don’t smile at them,” she added. “I deal with anti-maskers constantly at work. They have threatened to hurt me, tried to get me fired, thrown things at me and yelled ‘fuck you’ in my face. If wearing a mask in the park separates me from them, I’m cool with that.”
Aimee, a 44-year-old screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, said that wearing a mask in public even after she’s been vaccinated gives her a kind of “emotional freedom”. “I don’t want to feel the pressure of smiling at people to make sure everyone knows I’m ‘friendly’ and ‘likable’,” she said. “It’s almost like taking away the male gaze. There’s freedom in taking that power back.”
Bob Hall, a 75-year-old retired researcher in New Jersey with a self-described “naturally grim countenance [that] tends to be off-putting to others”, concurred. “In the United States there is an obligation to appear happy, and I get told to smile and ‘be happy’ a lot, which is very annoying,” he said. “The mask frees me from this.”
For Elizabeth, a 46-year-old tutor living near Atlanta, Georgia, the mask has accomplished for her social anxiety what years of therapy and medication have not: allowing her to feel comfortable while out in the world.
“I’m short and fat and if I don’t moisturize compulsively, my face is constantly flaking,” she said. “It’s easy to feel like I’m surrounded by mocking, disapproving eyes … Nothing has shielded me from the feeling of vulnerability like a mask has.”