The year is 2020. As one may inevitably know, the COVID-19 Pandemic has taken the world by storm and has affected everyone alike. From lockdowns, to curfews, to quarantines, to travel bans, to isolation, to contact-tracing; many collective measures have been taken, some earlier than others, to further prevent the disease at the time of this article. Individual measures include social distancing, hand-washing, limiting the number of people in one place, and — memorably — wearing facial coverings. Facial coverings have evolved from the thin, nurse-scrubs-blue, stereotypical mask and manifested many forms, some safer than others (Fischer et al. 2020), such as cotton masks and bandanas, to name a few. Like any other textile, creative new forms and designs are now seen when one enters a supermarket. In fact, it’s almost as if the original blue masks are seen as boring, outside of a medical setting. Personally, a simple black cotton mask is my go-to. Similarly, in the influential world of celebrities and glamor, face masks have made their mark and are present in everything pop. From social media, to live performances, to athletic tournaments, face masks are not only an essential but an easy form of creating statements in the ever-evolving pandemic state of the world.
On August 8, 2020, Bella Hadid tagged her Instagram post with #WEARAMASK. She is seen standing in front of uncovered police officers in an all-black outfit with a complimentary black mask. Many celebrities have used their social media platforms to influence and remind their viewers and fans to wear some form of facial covering as the world continues to face the pandemic. In a time of mass protests demanding for peace and abolition of an oppressive police force, it takes everyone to play their part to minimize the effects of the pandemic, even if some aren’t exactly getting the memo. Among those posting is Beanie Feldstein, known for portraying Julie in Lady Bird, wearing a blue plaid mask and complimentary eyeshadow in a selfie on Instagram. In her caption she denotes “WEAR. A. MASK. It’s not political, it’s lifesaving. […] It’s being a thoughtful member of society. […] Protect yourself, protect others. #wearadamnmask” Not only did she remind her audience of how the political counter-argument against mask has no valid support, but also reminded them that wearing a mask is simply an act of decency in a time of chaotic adversity. Some may argue that the hashtag is a bit vulgar but the pandemic is unforgiving and relentless, so an explicit point is warranted. Feldstein isn’t alone either; Tracee Ellis Ross joined on the tag, challenging others, and even tagged #justiceforbreonnataylor in remembrance of her life taken unfairly, and now with no one being brought to justice. As influential celebrities can be, it still seems that both messages of wearing a mask and justice for Breonna Taylor have to be reminded every day.
In a more active setting, celebrities continue to use masks to make statements and send a message to their viewers. On August 30, 2020, the MTV Awards premiered live at 8:00PM with Keke Palmer as host, and performances, including The Weeknd, Black-Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, and BTS, with stages physically spread throughout New York. As she stood on a building with the iconic Zoom rectangles of the audience surrounding her on building faces, Keke Palmer in her graceful white dress addressed the state of the world and inspired a little hope in the audience. However, though she was not wearing a mask, she was alone. An indisputable 6-feet from anyone. Yet, there is no memorable show without memorable performances. Among them is the 10 minute performance of Lady Gaga, featuring Ariana Grande, done completely in masks. In their coordinated purple outfits Lady Gaga is seen with a bulky mask with a LED screen displaying the frequency waves of her voice, and Ariana Grande to the left with a simple black mask. Her performance included a variety of dancers who moved actively while wearing masks. Not only do the masks add detail and compliment their outfits but they also convey a powerful message: masks are not encumbering. The performance and others, such as Doja Cat and her dancers, invalidates the common excuse for not wearing a mask due to physical hindrance. They are live visualizations of the fact that masks do not prevent anyone from doing anything (really, there’s literally a YouTube video of a guy running a mile in ten surgical ones). Furthermore, when Lady Gaga accepted her TriCon Award she was fitted in a spacious, shimmering dress with silver antlers elegantly hanging from her head, over her face covered in a bedazzled mask. She was alone, but her mask was still on and even stated “I might sound like a broken record, but wear a mask. It is a sign of respect.” One of the most distinguished artists of our time saying that is bound to touch someone somewhere and make them realize their simple duty.
Not fully convinced of the non-intrusive nature of masks? Look no further than sport tournaments themselves. Naomi Osaka has made it to televised, and in fact international, news not only because of her first win at the Tennis U.S. Open match but because of the masks she was wearing. Her collection consisted of seven black masks, each with a different name of a victim of police oppression. These include, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, and Tamir Rice, to name a few. “I have seven, and it’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names”, she told abcNews. Naomi Osaka not only proves masks do not hinder function at all, but also demonstrates the impactful and influential power of a simple piece of cloth. As the United States continues to see protests against police oppression, Osaka’s simple masks empower the Black Lives Matter movement and brings the discussion into the athletic table. This was Osaka’s intention as she posted on social media, “ I don’t expect anything drastic to happen […] but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.” And a powerful step it was. Though there is much still left to do to dismantle current systematic racism, it is reassuring that the simple act of wearing a mask with a name sparked an important conversation and inspired those who view her as a role model.
The mask is currently an essential and functional accessory, and though everyone should be wearing one, it does not mean the individualized nature of fashion is lost. From the simple blue mask to a lit-up audio visualizer, the mask is not only useful but customizable and can be used to convey individual expression in many different ways, as shown by celebrities converting it into a trend and a fashion must. The posts, performances, statements, all revolve around a simple cloth over the face to prevent droplets from reaching others. In a time of questionable leadership practices the mask also symbolizes the stance against oppression and selfishness. Face masks are not luggage but rather a symbol of respect and decency. Though the smiles of strangers may be currently invisible, they are still there, 6-feet away, under their unique coverings and in the slight squint of their eyes.
ELLE, Team. “Celebrities Wearing Face Masks During The Coronavirus Pandemic.” ELLE, ELLE, 25 Sept. 2020, www.elle.com/uk/life-and-culture/g33230414/celebrities-face-masks-coronavirus/.
Fischer, Emma P., et al. “Low-Cost Measurement of Face Mask Efficacy for Filtering Expelled Droplets during Speech.” Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 36, 2020, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd3083.
Hoyos, Joshua, and Sabina Ghebremedhin. “How Naomi Osaka Is Using Masks to Make Statement on One of World’s Biggest Tennis Stages.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 12 Sept. 2020, abcnews.go.com/Sports/naomi-osaka-masks-make-statement-worlds-biggest-tennis/story?id=72896685.
MTV Video Music Awards 2020, 2020, www.mtv.com/vma.