Protective Face Masks
Whew, this blog entry applies even more now with COVID! Back in early 2019, pre-COVID, 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 Japan everywhere I looked. For instance, I watched Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! and this particular season of Queer Eye really spoke to me in numerous ways, but one unexpected way was the mask-wearing confidence in other countries like Japan!
Each time I would watch someone wearing a mask on TV, I would catch myself sitting up taller and 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. The desire to not be different, is at the core of it, and now that I’ve recognized it, I can actively challenge that internal thought and work to be happy with exactly who I am and meet my own needs… I want to embrace being different, if I am. Newsflash: everyone’s different in their own ways! Plus, how boring would it be if we were all the same, right?
Anxiety and Shame
With my peanut allergy having worsened in my adult age and cross-contamination being such a scary risk for me, the option to wear a protective face mask in certain public settings has been one that causes me a lot of anxiety, and deep down makes me feel ashamed. Even though sometimes I will really want to wear one, I will opt not to because I’m afraid of what others may think. Thankfully, this narrative has begun to change as I started exploring why I feel this way. After watching Japanese television, and now with mask-wearing due to COVID, 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 work to change my internal narrative, because wearing a mask brings me safety and makes me happy! There are a lot of events, invites, and opportunities I’ve missed over the years due to my peanut allergy that I could have gone to with a mask on and likely been safe at. I will say, not all masks are equal, if you can get a KN95 or N95, those filter out particles airborne the best, and I prefer to wear these in close spaces like during airplane travel or at the airport.
It’s easy to think, “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 a mask 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 tied to my peanut allergy, so 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 so I have it if I need it. 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. I wore one recently on the NYC subway when I was riding at a busy time when everyone was getting off work, and with each subway car being jam-packed, it eased my anxiety tremendously!
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 in dry environments, like on airplanes
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
Finding The Right Face Mask
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 and/or acne, but in the short-term, the two I use are fine! 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, because the protective mask portion is great. However, 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. Now due to COVID, it’s harder than ever to find masks, I’ve found this brand Aidway (made in the USA) that could be a good backup option if the 3M are unavailable! Of course, a cloth mask is great too if you’re just trying to prevent yourself from touching your face, and it’s nice it’s washable and reusable.
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 to prevent airborne particles from coming in. 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. 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.
Face Masks For the Win!
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, “whatever’s going on, she seems confident”. 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?