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This ugly mug

| Friday, April 9, 2021

Remember the first time you wore a mask?

As we “celebrate” the pandemic’s first anniversary, my Snapchat memories have made a painful point of reminding me of countless other milestones. “One year ago, today,” Notre Dame canceled in-person classes. “One year ago, today,” movie theaters shuttered. And “one year ago, today,” I wore a mask for the very first time.

The Snap memory in question is a selfie I took in the driver’s seat of my car. It’s super flattering; shot practically perpendicular to my face, it accentuates every titillating curve of my double chin as I tilt my head into my neck and stare down. Channeling my inner Ernest Hemingway, I chose to keep the caption simple: “WTF.” 

WTF, indeed! We were about a week or two into the pandemic at that point, and my sister and I were going to the grocery store for the first time since our family’s initial mad dash earlier that month (a trip that produced Snap memories of its own). 

When we went that first time, hardly anyone was wearing a mask. Back then, people didn’t realize that the virus was transmitted mostly through germs in the air, and I remember oh-so-carefully reaching for what little food remained in the aisles — as if brushing my hand against the wrong cereal box would result in my instant infection. It felt like the start of an apocalypse movie, and my captions on Snap said as much.

But the first time I wore a mask, I felt silly. It was one of those disposable face masks which, at that point, I had only ever seen on medical dramas on television. I didn’t know which side was supposed to go over my nose versus my chin, and I had yet to master the art of not fogging up my glasses (and let’s not kid ourselves, I’m still not batting 1,000). 

To be clear: This is not an anti-mask diatribe. Yes, they’re uncomfortable when it gets hot, and yes, my ears are so disproportionately small that they get sore if I wear one too long. But masks also work. I mean, forget COVID-19; have you gotten a COLD this year? 

Frankly, I’ve always been taken aback by the vitriol directed towards masks. Not that I’m surprised that (some) people feel as if wearing one is an infringement on their God-given right to infect random strangers with a deadly, viral pathogen — that was to be expected! Rather, my incredulity stems from the fact that, honestly … I kind of like wearing one.

Consider earlier this semester, when the temperature regularly ran below zero with windchill. Every morning, I would bundle up for a long, windy walk from my dorm in the northernmost corner of campus all the way to the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center for class. Hat, gloves and scarf were a must but so, too, was a mask. And I’ve never been warmer! I might just wear a mask next February, too. No chapped lips for me!

Not to mention, masks can serve as a bold fashion statement. Have you ever coordinated your mask with the rest of your outfit so perfectly that you feel like you walked off the cover of Vogue — like the world is your personal runway, like you’re Meryl f*cking Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada?” 

And what about the amazing anonymity that wearing a mask provides? Sometimes, I simply do not wish to be perceived. And when I wear my big, baggy coat with my baseball cap and mask, I become invisible. I feel like Batman!

And that’s not all. Here at The Observer, we “uncover the truth and report it accurately,” and the truth is … I am not a looker. At the very least, I do not consider myself to be, and wearing a mask has not only reduced my social anxiety for looking like Moe from “The Simpsons,” it’s also reduced the time I used to waste every morning to try and un-Moe myself. 

Okay, maybe my love of masks is an indication of deeper insecurities. But I am NOTHING if not self-aware, and if masks are the first step in learning to love this ugly mug, consider me a follower of public health guidance.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Aidan O'Malley

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