I’ve been feeling a little naked lately. I walked into the grocery store the other day without my mask.
This was over two weeks ago when they first announced that people who had been fully vaccinated here in the state of Virginia could enter the store just like we did in the good ol’ days — way back in the roaring 20-teens. Fully expecting to see many others like me, I boldly and masklessly entered through the automatic doors, only to find that almost everyone else was still face-covered.
Wait. Hadn’t they heard the news? Didn’t they read the sign? We didn’t have to wear the thing anymore if we had gotten those shots. It couldn’t be that all of these people were still not fully vaccinated, could it? The vaccination numbers in our area were high — close to 60% — and yet it seemed that I was in the minority 2% of the store population who had taken such an audacious step.
Let’s face it. I felt completely exposed and not to COVID. After all, it had been over a year since I was allowed to bare my nose and lips in public. It was almost as if I had walked into the store in my bathing suit — garbed in a manner totally appropriate for one place but oddly inappropriate for another.
Was I imagining things, or were people looking at me with surprised disapproval? Maybe my unmasking communicated that I was not out for the common good or that I was flaunting my independence. After all, masks have come to symbolize many things over the past year. To some, they make a statement. To me, they have always been a means of both protecting myself from becoming infected or protecting others from being infected by me. From the beginning, it seemed like plain and simple common sense (even when the CDC said otherwise). Removing my mask at this point now seemed like common sense, too. That and the fact that it is annoying to wear when one is trying to read small nutritional facts with one’s reading glasses.
So, was I imagining things? My guess is, partly. I’m sure many people were just not quite comfortable yet and were still concerned about being exposed to the disease itself. But cultural norms carry a lot more weight than we realize, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few people who questioned whether I really cared about society or, even worse, whether I was only pretending to have been vaccinated.
I know I shouldn’t care so much about what people think, but those elementary school social pressures sometimes rear their ugly heads when one least expects them. By the way, did you ever have a dream that you showed up to school in your underwear? I didn’t. But I did show up in my pajamas, and in fourth grade, that is equally horrifying. Seriously, though, it amazes me that in such a short time, we have all adjusted to wearing, even needing, this little piece of face-wear that looked strangely nerdy just last year.
Even after two whole weeks of boldfaced exposure, I am still adjusting. I made my way to the same store yesterday, but this day was going to be different. It was the day that all mask requirements had been lifted by the governor, for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike (subject, of course, to each establishment’s rules, but how many establishments are going to turn away business?). Feeling certain that now I was truly about to enter a new free-the-face world, I looked around only to find that, lo and behold, there were even fewer fellow naked faces than before.
Brave soul that I am, when I went to the checkout and saw that every single person around me was properly attired, I donned my mask in like fashion. I like to think that it’s because I care about not making others feel uncomfortable, which is partially true. The whole truth, however, is more barefaced. I’ve just never been one for public exposure, especially the kind that is subject to judgment.
I am determined to fight this shame, though, and to both think of others and live by my personal convictions. It’s a process. So I think I will be carrying my friendly mask in my purse for a bit longer while we all figure this out together.
Just a few personalized reflections on the changing times — thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment with your own reflections.