Face Masks: Their History and the Values They Communicate.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Masks, now recommended and worn by a growing proportion of the world's population, have reflected various perceived meaning across time. This paper provides a brief history of the socio-cultural perceptions attached to wearing a mask by surveying how masks were perceived in ancient Greece and Rome, the origins of medical masks, and the ascribed socio-cultural meaning of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of a mask has historically diverse perceived meanings; currently, wearing a mask communicates a bipolar socio-cultural meaning and a nuanced, divisive symbology. To some, masks communicate a belief in medical science and a desire to protect one's neighbor from contagion. To others, a mask communicates oppression, government overreach, and a skepticism toward established scientific principles. It is the mask's ability to signal a deception, or extrapolated more broadly, a value system, that is highly relevant to current public health guidelines encouraging mask use to decrease the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health officials and providers should utilize evidence-based health communication strategies when findings warrant a reversed recommendation of a symbol (such as masks) with a legacy of socio-cultural underpinnings that are deep-seated, complex, and emotional.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Ike, JD; Bayerle, H; Logan, RA; Parker, RM

Published Date

  • December 1, 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 25 / 12

Start / End Page

  • 990 - 995

PubMed ID

  • 33433299

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1087-0415

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/10810730.2020.1867257


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States