Bass Face: Behind the Mask

by Emon Johnson

When the pandemic started and everyone started wearing masks, myself included, I remember thinking, “Huh, people really can’t see my lips. I feel like I’m hiding something.”

I didn’t feel bad, necessarily, about me thinking that I was hiding something from people; rather, I was interested in why I felt so sneaky. I felt like I was able to judge people easier, without the natural counterbalancing thought in my head of, “Oh, what if they suspect I’m talking mess.” That thought was quiet, and replaced with, “They can’t tell. Only thing I care about is how close they are to me and if they’re wearing a mask.” 

Now, I don’t find myself to be a mean, overly judgmental person at all. In fact I actively try to see the good in most people. Doing so helps me keep my sanity. But, when COVID-19 came, I remember the eerie feeling inside grocery stores and while walking down the street. Everyone minding their business, keeping to themselves. Not getting too close. Not even talking much, with the exception of pointing out how crazy it was that sooo many people ransacked the stores for water and toilet paper. Other than that, things seemed..distant, for a moment. 

It was like, “I have to look out for me and mine right now, and then I’ll come back to the world.” All the while, we were wearing masks. And all the while, I remember my upper lip twitching, repressing words when people got too near or coughed ANYWHERE within a twenty feet radius. I started turning harder than Doug looking for squirrels at the sound of any cough. 

And, I felt appropriate for looking at people that way. Initially at least. Like, why wouldn’t you wear a mask? Also why are you… coughing? In the store!? Go die alone! But not really. 

Two months ago, if a friend wanted to hang out, there was a whole wishy-washy, high five or a hug, standoff thing going on in my head. I, as I’m sure many others can sympathize, wanted to make sure they were safe to be near. And, I didn’t feel bad when they had obvious retractions of wanting to hang with me. It made sense. 

What also began to make sense was the comfort I felt at distancing myself, using my mask, with people whom I’d already grown to trust; or at least, made it past the initial “Ima wear this for right now for safety reasons, but I’m sure you’re safe, right?” phase. Or the, “If I take mine off, maybe you’ll take yours off.” Or, “I don’t want to be rude so I’ll take this off when I’m around this person. Even if I don’t know for sure if either one of us is safe.” What interested me was when I became uncomfortable in different situations for whatever reason, I found myself reaching for my mask. 

It’s like I wanted to have my face hidden for a moment. So I could breathe. Get a breath of fresh air, behind an air restricting mask, and just sit back and think, annnd possibly judge or disengage. My mask began serving as a shield hiding my true expressions. And possibly a reinforcer for automatic reactions that triggered such expressions. 

The same way you may see people, primarily women, do the hand to the throat or upper chest motion accompanied with an, “Oh no,” at the sound or sight of something very disheartening. In that same way, I found myself reaching for my mask in situations where I wanted to end a conversation.

I’m wondering if anyone else experienced these mask shenanigans. Not that this is a necessarily profound discovery, but it still is interesting to think about how people utilize different things in their environment to make themselves comfortable.

At raves and concerts, covering your face is often done so you can go all out with your Bass Face. What is Bass Face, you ask? 

This. 

It’s when you just “BOOM!” and “BAM!” and “Awwwww yeah, yeah, uh, whooooo!” all of that. Just going for it, making God-knows-what faces. But not caring about it. 

And, for the same reasons people go hard with their bass faces, I began embracing the comfort of making certain faces in secret: 1) you should be doing the same thing: wearing a mask/protecting yourself; or, going hard and having fun regardless of the face you’re making, and 2) hell, you can’t see me anyway so what do I care. 

An article on Psychology Today, published by Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., actually talks about this topic. She explains that without the ability to see the entirety of someone’s face, we humans, as primarily non-verbal communicators, are missing a piece to the puzzle when conversing with masks on. Not only that, but Whitbourne believes that we’re able to enjoy our darker, perhaps, less socially appropriate reactions to people, with wearing masks. Or in other words, judge more comfortably. 

Personally, it was cool to see that someone else thought about this too. I learned I became more confident when I knew people couldn’t see my lips. When they couldn’t fully sense any possible hesitations in my speech, lest I actually utter words. I’ll leave a link to the article so you can check it out.

But what about you? Have you noticed anything since wearing a mask? 

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