Updated: Jul 12
Manila— In the summer of 2014, I walked around with an eye patch after an eye surgery to correct retinal detachment. Apart from the covering on my eye as protection from anything infective or unclean, I became phobic of things that could possibly make me ill, probably from the coughing person next to me in a public transport, or the alarming effects of urban pollution.
So in addition to the eye patch, I wore a medical facemask to cover my nose and mouth, making only one eye visible. I knew I looked strange because people took a second glance. But I removed it when I was at work or indoors. I continued wearing the facemask even after the time I did away with the eye patch.
My world has never been the same. While my reasons were medical, I gained unusual but comforting outcomes from wearing the facemask. It became my shield against the world, a protection from intrusion into the things that I don’t want people to know about me. The facemask provided a cozy cover for my flaws and fears. It was my defense against harm and destruction, my armor against judgment and scrutiny.
When the coronavirus pandemic happened and the government enforced the strict health requirement to mask up, I was already secure with half my face covered all these past seven years. It was fun when people produced many other types and designs, such as fabric facemasks that make personal, political or cultural statements. I have facemasks given to me by a fashion designer whom I interviewed for an article.
But no matter the motif, the facemask is seen as always transforming from a physical cover to a metaphor for hiding people’s real selves and real emotions from the outside world. I don’t question other people’s reasons for wearing masks because I’m one of them. But this is not to say that half of myself, my outer self, that I show to people is a lie because beneath the mask is my truth. And with that truth, I can still be around people and be present in the moment.
The representation of my truth is in my eyes, the so-called windows to our soul, and they’re not hidden. But I’m not bothered by what people can read through my eyes. I think most people do, that’s why they wear tinted or dark glasses. Also, this is why people enjoy masquerade parties because, for a moment, they can disappear, but that’s another story.
An author said that if you wear a mask for so long, you forget who you are beneath it, that you lose yourself in the process. Not in my case. I’ve learned to know more about how to live and to keep the peace by showing only what I want people to see. What they don’t know and see won’t break me.
As some countries are doing away with the facemask, it’s still part of the protocol in the Philippines. But policies notwithstanding, my use of the facemask will stay even after people start unmasking. I’ll still wear it on good and bad days, or whether or not there’s a virus lurking somewhere, and in those times when I face my battles that are worth the trouble. It’s always safe to take cover.
Diana Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to email@example.com