Behind the Mask

Annie Zwisler

What is the Emotion Behind the Mask?

Words by Annie Zwisler; Photo Story by Peiyu Liu

More than a year has passed since participating in many day-to-day activities like going out to eat, meeting up with friends and going to work or school became privileges of the past. These mundane parts of life were completely turned upside down, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world. As people tried to navigate through the panic and the worry, a singular piece of cloth became the most sought-after piece of fashion: the mask. 

Soon, the faces we would meet and greet every day were safely hidden under a soft suit of armor, acting as a symbol of care and consideration for loved ones, neighbors and the essential workers that brave the virus in order for the world to retain the semblance of normalcy that remained. With medical masks being in such short supply, the creatives began churning out homemade masks for their communities. Some even turned mask-making into a business, benefiting those on the front lines and ensuring there were enough masks to go around. Different patterns, styles and designs of masks became the way people would introduce themselves to the world, simply because their faces could not. Behind every mask, there remains a person, an individual story, an emotion that lingers as the pandemic continues into another year. How the pandemic has affected everyone is different, but one thing is still the same: there will always be a story behind the mask.

Thousands of people lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Many industries were unable to conduct business online, while others shortened their staffs to keep the risk of getting COVID-19 low. Unemployment reached an all-time high as those working in restaurants, bars and retail stores were laid off. People applied to receive unemployment checks in order to keep their families afloat and their bills paid.

There was so much, yet so little, to do when shutdowns were put in place, and everyone was forced to stay home. Students of all ages were grateful to have time off of school and homework, even if it meant being unable to leave their homes. Many enjoyed simply having time to themselves and being able to reconnect with old hobbies or pick up new ones.

Connecting on social media became pivotal to keeping in touch with others during the pandemic. The internet became the main place where people could donate to charities, raise awareness about social issues or create content just to brighten someone’s day. Group Zoom hangouts or virtual game nights grew popular as a way to hang out with friends without breaking stay-at-home orders.

Education and learning both developed a whole new definition as the pandemic continued into this past fall. Many schools and colleges decided to continue using online learning through different classroom mediums as a way to teach and conduct school without risking a potential superspreader event. Students in classes that are in-person sit masked, six feet apart, ready to learn. 

Many used quarantine to spend a little more time with themselves. “Self-care” became a household term, where people would make sure to check in with their mental health a little more every day. Whether this is through reading, exercise, eating good food or just sleeping in, the practice of self-care has grown into an intricate part of finding out who we are.