Skip to content

Unmasking the (Many) Reasons Behind the Face Mask

Wearing a mask when illness is rife demonstrates a common sense of cooperation, sacrificing your own comfort for the good of others.

As one of the most visible symbols of the Covid-19 outbreak, face masks have many connotations.

You’ll have seen footage of people wearing them overseas, and in New Zealand there’s increasingly more people wearing them, particularly those with links to East Asian cultures.

While people in New Zealand may see wearing a face mask as a sign you are unwell, this isn’t the case for many other cultures around the globe.

They have a long history in Asia, going back as far as the global flu pandemic of the early 1900s when people were encouraged to wear masks.

More recently, Asia was significantly impacted by the SARS and bird-flu pandemic making people more aware of the importance of protecting yourself from the spread of air borne diseases.

But there are number of other reasons why people choose to wear masks, including:

  • Protection from pollution – busy trains, smog and fumes are common in large cities, masks can help to reduce breathing in some of the pollution.
  • Collectivism – the ‘group’ is an important part of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai culture, and great value is placed on the collective. Wearing a mask when the common cold or the flu is rife demonstrates a common sense of cooperation, sacrificing your own comfort for the good of others.
  • Fashion accessory – fashion designers have leapt on the mask-wearing trend and created colourful, embellished masks, commonly worn by young people.
  • Practicality – face masks come in handy for a number of other reasons, when worn with headphones they are a sign that someone wishes to be left alone and some women use them as a time-saver in the morning and skip putting on their make-up underneath.
  • Anonymity – masks have been popularised by celebrities wearing them in an effort to stay anonymous when in public.

We are all in this together, if you see someone wearing a mask, don’t assume the person is sick. See instead their effort to take action and to do what they can, based on their knowledge and culture.

Cissy Chen, ChristchurchNZ Asian Markets Manager

I realise the science is inconclusive on the effectiveness of wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of airborne diseases, but they do go some way to limiting the spread of coughs and sneezes.

Perhaps, more importantly, they give the wearer a sense of security and the ability to take action in a time when many are feeling helpless.

Alongside Meng Foon Race Relations Commissioner, I’d urge people to be aware of the differing reasons people may wear masks.

He wrote, ‘’It is wrong to assume someone wearing a mask is sick or has the coronavirus.’’

Media enquiries regarding COVID-19