Women wear masks in many societies and cultures. Examples of masks worn by women include fascinators, veils, burkas and of course, makeup. In comparison there are very fewer examples of men wearing masks in Western society unless it is for reasons of safety or deception (as in the case of a welder or a bank robber). Why is this?
Many would agree that the act of hiding one's face is to remove one's identity. In fact, humans communicate complex emotions through facial expressions and without a view of the face, non-verbal communication is inhibited. Therefore masks are not only capable of concealing an identity but also restricting communication. Wearing a face covering mask with no identifying features reduces a person to a non-identity.
So why is it more acceptable for women to wear masks? This is something I have explored in my latest series of illustrations called I like pretty things. I would suggest the two main reasons for women wearing masks is to either conceal beauty (in the case of a veil) or to enhance beauty (geisha face painting, for example). Either way, it comes down to the assumption that a woman’s appearance is her defining quality and must be protected or maximised, depending on how you look at it. Further, some may incorrectly conclude that the treatment of beauty (enhancing verses concealing) is a testament to a woman’s sexual availability.
Fortunately masks for women have little relevance in today’s Western culture, apart from everyday makeup which seeks to enhance beauty rather than conceal it. Makeup and other beauty treatments continue to rise in popularity around the world. As do beauty products for men. Perhaps men too will be wearing makeup in the near future. It seems only logical that men would want to optimise their appearance. It would be unfair to exclude them from this time-honoured daily ritual. After all, doesn’t everyone need a bit of improvement every now and then?