by Shahad Salman
The human practice of adornment and accessorizing clearly showcases itself in the range of different masks people choose to wear. On a daily basis, I encounter a plethora of unique art and expressions in the masks of strangers. Picking out a mask to match with my outfit has become a new routine of mine, a weird and unexpected routine, but a routine nonetheless. Do I want my mask with flowers to match the sunny day and my sunny outfit? Maybe I’ll opt for my basic black mask for a more mellow day? Or maybe the mask that exhibits my favorite local artists? A mask not only ensures that the general population can be kept safe in this pandemic; it communicates to passersby a certain aesthetic, ideal, or another personal attribute.
Thinking of the function of physical masks in our everyday lives leads me to think of the metaphorical masks we choose to adorn ourselves with – especially the emotional masks put on for tense situations or confrontations. There seems to be an opposition to these emotional masks, a notion that a confrontation should be between two individuals baring every part of themselves to each other. But I challenge this idea.
Just as our physical masks exist in different contexts and are chosen based on our outfits, our interests, our niches, our access, our jobs, and a multitude of other factors, I think that one should approach confrontation and other emotionally taxing events with the proper mask. I personally dread confrontation, but I have attempted to investigate my fear of it in order to incorporate it into my life so that I am not stagnant in my relationships. I have found that the prerequisite of completely exposing myself in confrontation deters me from ever entering the situation. Equipping myself with the proper resources and emotional mask before I face someone has proved instrumental to my interactions. In confrontational scenarios, the emotional mask acts not as a tool of concealment but rather an adornment, communicating my goals for this confrontation and what I intend to resolve. It offers a sense of control that is usually lost in highly emotional situations, and it allows me to navigate confrontation in a collected state.
For example, choosing a mask of patience in a situation where the other side is quick to challenge you on your points. Or choosing a mask that intentionally only focuses on one problem or goal instead of tackling every point of stress. There is a certain creative and emotional power awarded when one chooses to dictate the tone of their conversations and confrontations with these masks. A mask of patience can be soft and layered with cotton, silk and luxurious materials that promote serenity. But it can also be an armored mask, that’s dark and structured and sturdy enough that it grounds you. With infinite imaginary supplies, there are infinite designs.
I crafted my first emotional mask during quarantine. As a high school senior last year, I was tasked with not only choosing the trajectory of my life for the next four years but convincing my parents of my decisions. I unexpectedly faced intense pushback from my mom in what I wanted to do, which in that scenario was to go out of state for college. I felt as if I was drowning in uncertainty and doubt about my future and capacity to self-sustain if I did have to be so far from my family, but I realized that I would need to present a Herculean confidence to persuade my mom about my decision. Thus, my mask on the exterior exhibited bright colors of firm conviction and abstract designs that hinted at the possibility of an exciting future if I took advantage of this opportunity to move away from home. But on the interior, my mask served a self-care purpose. I had to find ways to support and believe in myself, so I provided myself with a mask material of nice cushioning and cooling features. The interior reflected the serenity of cloud doodles and the color light blue. The interlacing of these different materials proved instrumental to convincing both myself and my parents to trust my future plans and current decisions.
I advocate that we reflect on how something in our daily lives, like wearing masks, can be extrapolated to more abstract ideas about emotion and allow us to navigate these complex yet inevitable situations. I challenge myself and others to reexamine the things that we pass over. We should recognize the endless interconnectedness of our environments and lives.