I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase ‘We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking’ from Jim Carrey’s movie The Mask, and more recently I’m starting to believe the boring character of Dr Arthur Neuman was actually onto something. How often have you caught yourself saying or doing something that doesn’t feel natural in order to present yourself diﬀerently? Probably more often than you realise, but the question I’m really asking is why. Why do we wear these personas? Therefore, today I will be discussing the masks we wear, and no I don’t mean the RHS branded COVID masks.
It is of human nature to desire to be liked. Although some people care less what others think, we all wish at some level to be accepted. Humans are social creatures that require a community to thrive and therefore want to be supported by the approval of others to boost self-confidence. This need for attention could also be due to our upbringing. Ever since you were little, at school or at home, you have been receiving acknowledgement for conforming to society’s idea of what is good. For example, you receive grades from teachers and are rewarded for ‘good’ behaviour by parents. The result of this is that we’ve learnt to get what we want by catering to other people’s expectations. This brings me back to the idea that we all wear masks, as we feel that putting on a diﬀerent persona will allow us to be liked, as this persona aligns with what school or society believes is the standard. This is especially poignant at school since there is still the end of the world fear that you might embarrass yourself by being diﬀerent- don’t worry it is okay not to like chocolate, I’m sure someone else will eat it for you.
This idea is similar to Howard Giles’ Accommodation Theory. Giles believed people make adjustments in their speech according to who they are talking to; this is also known as convergence. Giles believed we adjusted our speech in order to sense a feeling of shared identity, which links back to my theory that we wear a ‘mask’ at school in order to fit in.
Masks are also devised to provide protection and so we could wear hypothetical masks at school to disguise our diﬃculties. Every day we are facing challenges, from stress caused by work overload to simply not liking what is on the menu that day, and often we don’t want to discuss or show these diﬃculties in order to appear more fun or perhaps likeable. This unconscious mask wearing in school could also be an escape from reality, which is interesting as the metaphorical mask functions completely diﬀerent from the physical one; we wear our Covid masks to protect others against the spread of the virus but our metaphorical mask is used to protect ourselves from embarrassment or thinking about our issues.
The result of this is that we do all wear masks, but possibly for diﬀerent reasons. The important thing to take away is making sure you have a safe space to unmask in order to relax and truly express yourself.
So my (not so expert) advice, go do something you really enjoy and think about whether you change how you act in diﬀerent environments.