There is a group of individuals that has a complex relationship with wearing a mask. The facial difference community is covering what makes them stand out. I grew up understanding what it was like to want to hide my smile. I would style my hair to cover my smile, bring my hands to my face or even crank my neck to one side to help with the asymmetry. I’ve had strangers point, stare or even attempt to mimic my smile. When I was younger a mask is exactly what I was craving; something that I could put over top of my smile to hide it and be like everyone else – I used to do this with my hand instead. When I put on my mask now, I can’t help but think of how I used to feel about my facial difference. How I would have loved nothing more than this pandemic to happen while I was 7 or 13 – this reminds me of past trauma. Now, my smile makes me who I am, I have worked hard to be confident with it and pride myself on this difference.
Wearing a mask helps me to blend in but my facial difference is what makes me who I am. This pandemic has forced me to reflect on the large part of my identity that is shaped by my difference and the body positivity I’ve spent years cultivating. Wearing a covering can be comforting for some and challenging for others depending on what stage you are in accepting your facial difference.
Many individuals with facial differences can now be in public with a mask and feel relief knowing that they will not likely be harassed. For the first time in my life I know what it is like to be like everyone else, I am equal. This ‘wish’ that many individuals in the facial difference community have to look like everyone else was granted when the outbreak called on everyone to wear a mask. Now at the age of 21, I am experiencing what it is like to not have a facial difference. When I wear my mask, the cashiers can’t see my smile, I don’t feel people stare and eye contact no longer drifts slowly to the lower half of my face. People make contact with my eyes first before the rest of my face and this is refreshing. Stares, comments, and questions are no longer a part of my day when I wear a face covering. I am anonymous, I run errands without double-takes. Masks have changed how I am treated in public. The ability to wear a mask is equalising and can make the facial difference community feel less fear or worry when ‘facing’ the world.
Having an option to cover what I have worked so hard to be proud of is a luxury I once yearned for. This whole ‘the grass is always greener’ could not be more applicable because now I can no longer smile and share my difference with pride. I don’t like covering my smile. I can already feel my relationship with my smile shifting as I continue to cover it, it was a nice break at first but what happens when it comes time to take them all off. Wearing a mask is complicated with a facial difference and the community is feeling this.
A part of me feels like I’m lying to myself and others as an aspect of my identity is hidden. This need to ‘hide-away’ is being imposed on me as we continue to wear masks. I have worked very hard to come to terms with my appearance and quite frankly I am proud of myself for this. Wearing a face mask results in a loss of my self-identity. Face masks are needed for public health and to decrease the spread of COVID, but when this covering is no longer needed, I hope that the facial difference community finds power in smiling proud once more.
Once we are no longer required to wear masks, I will refuse to cover my face again because there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I had a taste of being ‘normal’ and I would like my difference back now. Coronavirus has had a profound effect on the lives of people with visible differences. Wearing a mask with a facial difference can be both challenging and comforting, either way it is covering what makes us unique.