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I Did Not Mean to Make That Face Out Loud

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

Have you ever caught yourself making a face at something? Maybe someone said something out of pocket or did something stupid, and you can’t help but react. I am definitely guilty of this, and I’m afraid it’s happened very frequently. 

I’m a visually expressive person, whether that be through facial expressions or gestures, but this also means I make constant micro-expressions at everything. If I’m out in public and someone is being annoying or weird, I often catch myself making subtle facial expressions. I don’t want to sound rude, but sometimes it’s hard to resist when the situation itself is eyebrow-raising. 

However, as I’ve noticed myself making these expressions, it’s gotten me thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed and the circumstances of wearing my mask. I wear a mask predominantly in large spaces like stores and lecture halls but have slacked off in places like sparsely seated classrooms. Previously my mask hid my expressions, and now all my faces are catching up to me. 

Along with making faces myself, it’s been interesting to see how other people have been affected by the looser restrictions on mask-wearing. I’ve noticed my classmates having similar experiences, where they make an expression and quickly realize how they’ve just reacted. Thinking back to when we were all required to wear masks in every space on campus, it’s definitely been a strong shift. To that end, it’s almost been difficult to recognize how people are reacting. My professors have frequently commented on how it’s refreshing to see everyone’s face instead of just their eyes (or Zoom icon, if we’re being honest), and it’s really unique to see how everyone is handling the return to “regular” classroom circumstances.

The largest shift has been being able to handle nonverbal communication. Sometimes it’s easier to cast a knowing look at a friend or make a face during an embarrassing moment, but with a mask obstructing half our faces, it’s hard to understand how to interact with others. Humans are social creatures, and facial expressions often represent far more connection than we realize. A study from McGill University describes that recognizing any facial expression became more difficult when looking at a masked person, with the level of recognition varying by emotion. Emotions such as anger and disgust were the hardest to recognize, while happiness and neutral expressions were among the least difficult. An article from Frontiers in Public Health describes the other social impacts of mask-wearing, such as muffling people’s voices. Since much of our day-to-day interactions rely on language, the mask not only hinders our emotional interaction but our ability to hear others.

While I am not promoting the abandonment of mask-wearing or attempting to minimize the impact of the pandemic, the social impact of COVID-19 is not talked about enough. The pandemic has brought immense change to the world, and I feel it’s only fair to understand that physical health is not the only thing we need to think about. Isolation, social distancing and masks have all had a critical and effective role in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but it’s just as important for the world to understand that the pandemic is more than just a public health issue. As we progress, remember that it’s been a long journey to get here and making that face at your classmate really isn’t all that bad.  After all, we’re just trying to communicate in this altogether different environment, so even the most conscientious of us are going to slip up. I know I’m definitely making faces even now, so you’re not alone.

Class of 2023! We keep it real around here. Librarian and matcha enjoyer. (she/they)