A more manageable pandemic, thanks to vaccines, notably manifests itself through a series of what feels like rewards. Confinement became semi-confinement. Small bubbles gave way to not-so-small ones and blueprints of a return to the office are being mapped out.
But if the pandemic were to select a symbol that defines it, one that would stand out in photos of the past 15 months, it would be the mask. And because it’s so emblematic of what we had to give up and adjust to, not having to wear it may feel, for some, like a victory. It’s a feeling many around the world are starting to have. Like Brits, for example. Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to end the legal mandates for masks next week. Or like Calgarians, as their city councillors have recently voted to repeal many of Calgary’s mask regulations.
As Montreal moved from being a red zone to a yellow one and finally, recently, graduating to green, is the end of the mandatory mask in our near future? Regardless of what public health authorities decide, I can’t see myself going to the grocery store or pharmacy maskless anytime soon. I might make the COVID staple a lasting habit, as it has been for many Tokyoites for almost 100 years. Because of a succession of influenza pandemics since 1918, masks are now worn regularly in Tokyo public spaces. And I get the appeal. Besides the masks’ protective and sanitary attributes, I love the special kind of connection that wearing them imposes. “The eyes, chico. They never lie.” Al Pacino’s character in 1983’s Scarface was onto something when he said this iconic line.
Because of the mask, our encounters have become more intimate in some ways as we can’t look away when communicating in person. We have to pay attention to the eyes to decode if the mask hides a smile or a grimace. Our eyes become a sort of passport. They are both our ID and our way in.
It’s thus unsurprising that a few months after the pandemic hit hard in March 2020 and confinement along with mask-wearing became the norm,eye makeup sales went up 204 per cent. That significant increase was to the detriment of the lipstick industry.
Almost 20 years ago, the Sept. 11 attacks briefly accentuated the moderate recession of the time. Around that period, an executive at Estée Lauder coined the term “lipstick index” as an economic indicator. The new barometer measured affordable luxuries — such as fancy lipsticks — that women would purchase in lieu of expensive ones. As we masked up, mascara, eyeshadow and eyeliner sales skyrocketed a year ago and those of lip colours and lip care products registered steep declines.
The pandemic forced us to master non-verbal communication. In marketing, the skill is in part done via a product’s packaging. Even before we know what the product is, we’re attracted — or not — by what it looks like. And regardless of our attraction to the product, we pay attention to it. I feel like that’s what has partly happened to us during the pandemic. We have been paying more attention when we have been in contact with each other. And because we do so wearing the most unflamboyant of accessories — despite valiant efforts by some brands to spice up mask offerings — we had to circle back to what says the most about us: our eyes.
When mask-wearing becomes a thing of the past for Montrealers, the honesty of eye contact is what I’ll miss the most. This unique type of human connection — a break from the dominant digital ones — is why I’m in no rush for mask restrictions to be lifted in public spaces.
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