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OPINION: The smile behind the mask

Monday 25 July 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in Opinion

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OPINION: The smile behind the mask
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

It has been over a week of conferences and seminars here in Eugene, Oregon, United States during the World Athletics Championships.

Over 200 countries have attended and the congregation of such a large number of delegates into an enclosed space has necessitated the need for mandatory mask wearing unless eating or drinking.

For many, the wearing of masks is uncomfortable, annoying and suffocating, for me I have come to enjoy the many advantages of wearing them that I continue to wear my colourful Cook Islands mask even as I walk and sit outside.

The mask although it’s meant as a barrier of protection for the prevention of spreading harmful airborne bugs is also a wonderful private barrier that gives the wearer so much more freedom of relaxed expression than without one. They say the window to the soul is through the eyes and so expression of intent is not necessarily lost and as an animal at the top of the food chain we are one of the few that show our teeth as a sign or happiness in a smile whereas many other animals bare their teeth in an aggressive show of fight to warn off predators or attackers. 

In this way we do lose the ability to see one’s smile although with a mask it is clear when a person is genuinely smiling at you as it will reach their eyes. People can curve their mouths up into a grin, grimace or smile as a forced habit whilst the rest of their face is showing a very different picture. Therefore the mask once more gives a true picture of a smile with a twinkle in the eye and a crinkle at the edges of the eyes.

Learning through seminars at conferences often means darkened rooms and artificial lighting and it is sometimes hard not to feel drowsy after a couple of hours. If for some reason you have been placed at the front of the room in view of the speaker, this can be very taxing as you try to limit the body’s natural desire to yawn. 

Without a mask one would try to breathe out the yawn, or try gallantly to suppress the urge to drop the jaw and gape widely in a slow release of lung air exposing your teeth, glands and uvula … you know the flesh that hangs in the back of your throat and helps you swallow and speak – that uvula. It’s never a pretty picture even when you’re alone in the bathroom, and so in public it has certainly been frowned on for centuries. Ladies will delicately lift their hankie to their mouth and only part way allow the mouth to open – never gape. Men will pull their mouth to the side in an asymmetrical grimace to hide a yawn, without success. Dogs and cats have never and still don’t have any restraint in giving you a huge big panoramic view of their orifice when they yawn and breathe dog breath and fish smells all over you.

With a mask however, it is the freedom of being able to yawn, largely and loosely teeth and all behind the mask that makes it so welcome. Apart from the raise of the eyebrows and the tip back of the head during one of those massive deep releasing gapes, many are none the wiser of what is going on in behind the mask. And if you’ve been eating pickles, and fish the backlash stays entirely with you.

Oh, so many other wonderful oral hygiene actions are admissible in public without fear and embarrassment when wearing a mask. No one can see the spinach still stuck in your teeth when you smile, or how your lipstick has smudged or leaked in thin streaks from your lips. 

Having your tongue take inventory of your mouth and molars to sweep up any loose and forgotten meals in the crevices between inner lip and gums is now possible in a relaxed and measured way because no one can see the protruding lump under the skin making its rounds like an alien type of sandworm swimming the nether regions of one’s mouth.

Adding a pair of sunglasses when traveling on a plane, bus or train means one can sleep and not be alarmed if upon waking after nodding off – head lolled to one side and drooling. In the past there was nothing stopping this travesty, but wearing a mask there is no ugly side show for others to watch and if slackness of the mouth, jaw and tongue results in a echoing exposed cavern collecting pooling deep sleep drool, then it is nicely contained within the swath of the mask.

Yes, the mask is the great invention for public safety and visual damage from the yawn horror shows of the past.