Smile!

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With mask mandates lifting, smiles make a comeback

STORY CATRINE MCGREGOR
PHOTOGRAPHY KIMBERLEE MILLER

At the beginning of 2020, a strange phenomenon occurred. Masks came on and smiles went away, creating bizarre societal shifts.

Sometimes, smiles went away because of the sadness brought on by the isolation of confinement and the uncertainly of how our lives were changing – and for how long? Sometimes, smiles were still hiding under our N-95s, our Batman masks, etc. Either way, when we put on those cloth shields, it was the beginning of a shift that would never fully let us return to the way life was before.

Those of us who had traveled to Asia were often bewildered by the mask wearing of so many of its people. To us, it seemed confining and uncomfortable while the locals were protecting themselves from environmental issues – mainly air pollution and ultraviolet rays.
Birkas were also foreign to most of us; the covering of women’s faces made us speculate about what was under the veil and the control issues associated with it.

In early 2020, it was our turn to learn to express ourselves without the help of a smile or a pout. We took on the mask mandates set forth by the CDC, sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly, but laws mandated that
we do so either way.

The masks had a different effect on various people – most effects were negative, but there were a few positives. People with a great fear of getting Covid felt more protected, and more comfortable going out in public. Extremely timid people found themselves able to hide behind a mask, which gave them more of a motivation to appear in public. And people with great notoriety were thrilled to be able to shop, travel, and simply live without constantly being stopped for photos or autographs.

People will become complete humans again, able to communicate fully.

The group that may have been the most affected were children, and most especially infants. From birth we learn social clues by watching people’s faces and hearing their voices. When either stimulus is removed, our social growth is hindered. Though eyes project emotions effectively, seeing the eyes without the mouth does  not paint a complete picture of what someone is feeling. The inability to see a caretaker’s face can affect an infant’s neurodevelopment and ability to bond properly. These effects are compounded by social distancing. Two of a newborn’s primary needs are facial interaction and being held. If an infant needs to spend time in NICU, they will experience a lack of both of these primal needs.

The hearing-impaired community relies heavily on the entire face to when communicating through ASL and lip-reading. The signing that is used in a conversation is enhanced
by facial expressions.

We have now come to the end of the mask mandates in most arenas. People will become complete humans again, able to communicate fully. Children are resplendent. They will learn quickly how to read the most subtle cues on their caretakers’ faces and how to respond accordingly. The bond will become a bit closer and the child will have a more stable emotional base.

As you venture out into the world mask-free, remember what a joy it is to simply be alive and to be able to share a smile. Charlie Chaplin, in his song Smile, encourages us to:

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
Smile

A simple smile can impact someone’s life more than you can ever imagine. Someone who is having feelings of loneliness or helplessness will find solace in a stranger taking the time to look them in the eye and smile. That random gesture can affect their entire day for the better.

Tony Robbins, renowned life-guru, says: “Your body language doesn’t just communicate with the world – it tells your brain what to feel. Smile, even if you don’t feel excited. Take a deep breath, throw your shoulders back and hold your head high. You’ll automatically feel more proud and confident.”

Take off your mask – it’s great to see your smiling face again!