Confession: The first time I stepped outside wearing a face mask, I almost took it off again.
I try not to care what other people think, but walking through my neighborhood, mask covering more than half my face, it felt like surely everyone I walked past was staring at me.
I could have taken the mask off, if I really wanted to. Outdoors, it was easy to keep my distance from my fellow quarantine walkers, and the main thing my mask was protecting me from was probably seasonal allergies. But this was a trial run. If I couldn’t wear a mask now, out in the open, walking by myself, how would I wear it all the other, more critical, places I needed to wear it?
I kept my mask on. In the U.S. we were just beginning to understand how important mask wearing was in protecting our communities from Covid-19. I knew this was something I had to get used to.
I did get used to it, and now, a couple months later, it’s a habit. A couple months has also given me time to think about where my initial resistance came from.
Before Covid-19, I’d only very occasionally seen anyone wearing a mask in public before. When I did see someone wearing a mask, my first thought was, “I wonder what’s going on with them?” I would have denied it if you asked, but I realize now that masks were, to me, a sign of frailty, of physical weakness.
I didn’t understand, yet, what those in a great many other countries where masks were more common knew instinctively: that you don’t wear a mask to protect yourself, but to protect those around you.
Indeed, I also realize now that I thought of mask wearing as something that people did in other places, but not here, as if we didn’t all share the same biology, the same vulnerability to disease.
I wonder whether some of those refusing to wear masks have had similar thoughts, consciously or unconsciously, but have failed to recognize and push past them, and so have grown defensive instead.
In the end, knowing masks were necessary made me push past my own resistance, but it didn’t make me feel comfortable doing so.
It was seeing others wearing masks that did that.
On that first walk, mask wearers were few and far between, but I wasn’t the only one. Whenever I saw another walker wearing a mask, I waved, and they waved back, and as I walked on, I felt more at ease with my own mask, and less self-conscious. I wasn’t alone, and neither were they.
As masks have become more widespread, that feeling has grown stronger, and wearing a mask doesn’t feel all that awkward now.
There’s a need to for more messaging, more education, on why masks are needed, as well as more political will, in my community at least, to enforce mask mandates.
But I wonder whether, in the end, the most effective way to get others to wear masks is simply to continue wearing our own.
Originally published at https://www.simner.com on July 1, 2020.