A few months ago a friend got me hooked on a Japanese reality show called Terrace House (specifically the season “Opening New Doors” if anyone wants to follow suit). It got me interested in learning about Japanese culture and I found myself working certain habits of theirs into my own lifestyle and being really inspired overall. Just like clockwork, ever since this interest and curiosity of mine got sparked, I started noticing it everywhere I looked. For instance, I just finished the new Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! and this season of Queer Eye really spoke to me in numerous ways, but one unexpected way was the mask-wearing confidence in Japan!
Each time I would watch someone wearing a mask on TV, I would catch myself thinking things like, “wow, no one seems to care that they’re wearing it” or “nobody seems self conscious”. Only recently have I started to challenge those thoughts of mine and discover what makes me feel embarrassed about wearing a mask in public places.
With my peanut allergy having worsened in my adult age and cross-contamination being such a scary risk for me now, the option to wear a protective face mask in certain public settings to help protect myself has been one that causes me a lot of anxiety and deep down makes me feel ashamed. Even though sometimes I really want to wear one, I will opt not to because I’m afraid of what others may think and afraid of being different. Thankfully, this narrative has begun to change as I started exploring why I feel this way. After watching Japanese television, mask-wearing has become much more normalized to me, making me feel less alone or singled out for wearing one. Jonathan Van Ness and others in Queer Eye Japan – specifically episodes “Crazy in Love” and “The Ideal Woman” – discuss societal norms and the bombardment of pressures to be the same and conform to not be “different”. I love how they addressed this, and I think it applies in numerous situations. I would imagine this season empowered viewers around the world to feel more comfortable as themselves, accepting who they are, and prompting some personal growth towards loving themselves as they are.
I’m not saying my anxiety over wearing a mask in public settings is completely gone, but I can work to not let it hold the same power over me it once did and changing my internal narrative. It’s easy to say to myself, “I shouldn’t care about what other people think” but it is easier said than done. Wearing a face mask allows me to be more comfortable, and in turn, this allows me to be happier and be myself– peanut allergy and all. I really loved this clip “Why Do You Wear Masks?” at the end of a Queer Eye Japan episode. I hope it shows people like me who may want to wear one due to allergies, or for whatever reason, that there are numerous reasons people wear them, and there’s no reason to be embarrassed. In my daily life I already have a lot of anxiety and stress over having my peanut allergy and if I have a way to lessen that, I want to.
With this new understanding, I now can admit that I really love wearing my face mask when I need to, and I like carrying it with me. It makes me happy because of the comfort and safety it brings, and is a great tool to keep in my back pocket (literally) to relieve anxiety in unsure situations.
Some reasons I love wearing a protective face mask:
- It helps me not touch my possibly contaminated hands/clothing items to my face
- It helps me not breathe in peanut dust particles
- It allows me to continue on about my day in situations where peanuts are likely to be out-and-about with less anxiety and stress of having a reaction
- It helps keep my skin protected and more moisturized
- BONUS: I’ve found I get sick less after wearing it in densely populated places or super confined spaces, such as in the NYC subway or on an airplane
One complaint I have is that I haven’t found a face mask that I can wear super comfortably for hours on end without a headache, but in the short-term, the two I use are great! Allergy forums online recommended Vogmask’s reusable face mask, but the tugging on my ears does bother me, so I may try to fashion a different band to go around my head instead. My favorite tried and true are the 3M 9210 N95 Respirator disposable masks. I found the 3M type after doing a good amount of research on airborne particles a few years ago, and this specific type 9210 N95 are often used on construction sites or when people are working with toxic airborne chemicals/particles, and they seem to be highly reviewed. I really like how snug of a fit I can get with them when I put the band higher up on my head, and I feel they do a good job. Sometimes I’ll grab a free mask at the doctor’s office as well, and I wear those surgical face masks around instead, but the fit isn’t as snug. Overall, face masks are easy to keep with you packed away. I really need to get in the habit of carrying one with me at all times, just like my epi-pens, since they take up such little space but provide so much relief. Honestly just having one with me makes me be able to be more comfortable, because if suddenly peanut products were out and about, I have a plan and am not left in a panic with no where to turn.
I wanted to share this anxiety of mine so others may gain the confidence to live their truth and not care about what other people think. If people see me comfortable out and about in my mask, they may first wonder why I’m wearing it, but they may also think, “wow she doesn’t seem to care that she needs a mask, whatever’s going on she seems happy”. If you have an airborne allergy (food, environmental, animal, etc.) or are cautious about cross contamination, I highly recommend wearing face masks when in public settings, or whenever it makes sense to you! I’m going to continue wearing them on public transit, during air travel, at the movie theater, and keep them in my bag or pocket for whenever I may need them. Now I turn to you– Do you have any recommendations of protective or surgical face mask brands? If you wear one, do you ever feel self-conscious?