Face Masks: Their History and the Values They Communicate.
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.
Ike, JD; Bayerle, H; Logan, RA; Parker, RM
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