Modern Australian

From scary pumpkins to bridal bling, how masks are becoming a normal part of our lives in Australia

  • Written by Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Centre, UNSW

On Halloween this Saturday, it won’t be just trick-or-treating children who are wearing spooky costumes. Adults handing out sweet treats may also be sporting Halloween-themed face masks, which are now readily available online.

Come the festive season, you will also be able to wear a Christmas-themed face mask as you unwrap gifts with family and friends. You may even find some handmade cloth masks as part of your present haul.

Read more: Friday essay: vizards, face gloves and window hoods – a history of masks in western fashion

As social researchers completing a book on face masks during COVID, we are keeping a close eye on the social trends and popular culture related to these simple objects.

We have observed increasing evidence masks are becoming normalised and part of everyday life, noting they are currently compulsory in Victoria. They are now commonly seen in public places around Australia and a thriving industry has sprung up to cater for every possible face mask need.

Before coronavirus, masks were a rarity

Pre-COVID, face masks are commonly worn in parts of Asia for a variety of reasons — including protection from pollution and the sun, personal privacy, and warding off seasonal flu and the common cold.

But in countries such as Australia, masks were rarely seen. A year ago, few Australians would not have given much thought to the humble surgical face mask, or ever considered buying, much less wearing one. Face masks were only for healthcare professionals.

Woman wearing a mask, walking her dog at Brighton Beach. Masks have become a sign of how much COVID has changed Australian society. James Ross/AAP

But with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face mask has taken on a new significance. Even though we were initially advised against wearing them to reduce the spread of coronavirus, state health authorities in NSW and Queensland now recommend face masks should be used in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

The Victorian government has also mandated the use of face coverings for its citizens since the second lockdown in August. Earlier this month, fitted face masks (not bandanas or scarves) were made compulsory every time people leave their homes.

As Victoria opened up earlier this week, Premier Daniel Andrews noted, “masks need to be with us across the whole state for some time to come”.

Read more: Which mask works best? We filmed people coughing and sneezing to find out

In Australia, we haven’t seen the intense political debates and activism around face masks that have emerged in the United States. Compared with the US, Australians tend not to see preventive health as a political issue. In fact, there is evidence of a growing acceptance face masks are becoming part of our everyday lives.

Steady increase in Australians wearing masks

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the proportion of Australians wearing face masks has steadily increased over the past few months.

Back in April, only about 17% of Australians reported wearing a face mask as part of their precautions against COVID-19.

By September, this number had increased dramatically. In total, 66% of Australians reported wearing a face mask “in the past week”.

Not surprisingly, the figures were much higher for people in Victoria, with 97% of reporting they wore a face mask. Even in New South Wales, where there have been sporadic but well-controlled outbreaks of COVID-19, most people (78%) were masking up.

It is notable that in all other states and territories, 23% reported wearing a mask in the past week at the time of the survey. This shows significant normalisation of mask-wearing, even when it’s not recommended by health authorities.

Woman wears a mask during a Lions AFL game at the Gabba in Brisbane. An increasing number of people around Australia are wearing masks. Darren England/AAP

Other surveys have also shown significant levels of support for mask wearing.

An ABC survey conducted in September found two-thirds of Australians agreed mask use should be mandatory in all public places. Meanwhile, an August Australian National University study revealed some interesting findings when it comes to different social groups.

It found 39% of surveyed Australians said they mostly or always wore masks indoors in public places, while 37% did so outdoors in public places. Younger Australians (aged 18 to 24 years) and older Australians (aged 75 years and over) were more likely to be mask wearers, as were those who spoke a language other than English at home, had a university education, and lived in a capital city.

A mask for every occasion

In the course of writing our book, we have noticed some fascinating developments in how face masks are portrayed in popular culture. In addition to being available in a range of prints and fabrics (including Australiana themes), there are face masks for every occasion and milestone.

Masks are promoted as a new form of bridal wear, with luxury face masks embellished with beads, diamantes and lace. Wedding guests may also find customised face masks as gifts to wear as part of the celebrations.

Bride wearing a white bridal face mask. Customised face masks and now being marketed to brides. www.shutterstock.com

There is also a wide range of customised masks on offer for footy matches, birthdays, baptisms, bar and bat mitzvahs, first communions and even funerals (“in loving memory…”).

These new ways of presenting and decorating masks demonstrates they are becoming not only part of everyday life, but also central elements of special occasions during COVID times.

Wearing a mask is more than showing the wearer is taking a responsible, caring approach to protecting others’ health. Masks are now also part of a culture of decoration and fashion. So they are not just a preventive health device but a mode of self-expression.

Are face masks here to stay?

Of course COVID and its path through our society is unpredictable. But it is highly likely COVID outbreaks will continue to occur well into 2021 and possibly beyond, and mask wearing will continue to be promoted as one of the key measures to contain the spread in these situations.

Read more: Millions of face masks are being thrown away during COVID-19. Here's how to choose the best one for the planet

In some countries pre-COVID, face masks had already become part of everyday life. Our research suggests the widening meanings, purposes and diversity of face masks could support a normalisation of masking in Australia, even once the critical phase of the pandemic has passed.

This will not necessarily mean that people will automatically wear them every day. But they are likely to have a selection of different styles waiting, ready to be used for higher-risk public activities or even special occasions.

Authors: Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Centre, UNSW

Read more https://theconversation.com/from-scary-pumpkins-to-bridal-bling-how-masks-are-becoming-a-normal-part-of-our-lives-in-australia-148718

NEWS

New research suggests immunity to COVID is better than we first thought

Early in the pandemic, many researchers feared people who contracted COVID could be reinfected very quickly. This was because several earlystudies showed antibodies seemed to wane after the first few...

who is Antony Blinken, Biden's pick for secretary of state?

US Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken promises both awkwardness and opportunity for Australia’s Morrison government.Blinken could hardly represent a more striking contrast with his soon-to-be predecessor Mike Pompeo in his...

Think taxing electric vehicle use is a backward step? Here's why it's an important policy advance

The South Australian and Victorian governments have announced, and New South Wales is considering, road user charges on electric vehicles. This policy has drawn scorn from environmental advocates and...

what’s the best way to conduct Australia’s Great Koala Count?

ShutterstockFederal environment minister Sussan Ley this week announced A$2 million for a national audit of Australia’s koalas, as part of an A$18 million package to protect the vulnerable species.The funding...

Data from 45 countries show containing COVID vs saving the economy is a false dichotomy

ShutterstockThere is no doubt the COVID-19 crisis has incurred widespread economic costs. There is understandable concern that stronger measures against the virus, from social distancing to full lockdowns, worsen...

Mining companies are required to return quarried sites to their 'natural character'. But is that enough?

New Zealand has more than 1,100 registered quarries. Some of these mined sites are small, rural operations, but a significant number are large and complex, and within a city’s urban...

the fraught history of women and swearing in Australia

Kath and Kim (aka Jane Turner and Gina Riley): the suburban hornbags used swearing in clever ways in their 2002-2007 TV series.Riley Turner ProductionsWomen have had a fraught historical relationship...

From here on our recovery will need more than fiscal policy, it'll need redistribution

From the 1980s right through to the global financial crisis, the standard response in Australia and elsewhere to too weak or too strong an economy has been monetary policy —...

Forensic linguists can make or break a court case. So who are they and what do they do?

shutterstockIf you’re an avid viewer of crime shows, you’ve probably come across cases in which an expert, often a psychologist, is called in to help solve a crime using their...

Officials' engagement with China especially important in tense times: Morrison

Scott Morrison has encouraged federal public servants to engage with their Chinese counterparts, saying these are important connections particularly given the tensions in the bilateral relationship.Answering a question during a...

two views on increasing the super contribution

The increase in the compulsory superannuation contribution, legislated to rise next July from 9.5% to 10%, is being fiercely debated following the release of the retirement income report.In this podcast...

Victoria is boosting disability support in schools by A$1.6 billion. Here are 4 ways to make the most of it

ShutterstockThe Victorian government has announced an investment of nearly A$1.6 billion for public schools to ensure students with disability are supported in the classroom. The money will double the number...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

Your New Home Needs A Great GardenHow To Identify Signs Of Stress In Your ChildInstalling Shade Sails On your Garden10 Tips for Clearing a Blocked DrainCarpet Cleaning: Where Is It Headed In The Future?Common Repairs to Shipping ContainersThe lifestyle Choices of the Australian Millennials5 Tips For Creating a Kid-Friendly BackyardWhat Happens When You Choose a Wrong Cosmetic Dentist Sydney?Garlic In Your Life: The Health Benefits and How To Grow Your Own GarlicPost-Coronavirus Camping - 5 Tips To Help You Have A Safe And Happy Camping TripEasy Ways to Stop Your Mechanic from Ripping You Off12 Helpful Tips to Increase Your Savings This SummerHow to Organize Your Kid’s Nursery On A Budget