When the Masks Come Off, Will My Old Habits and Insecurities Return?

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I’m a little excited for the mask mandates to be lifted. I enjoy imagining a world in which my children begin to interact with their peers again without having to shield their faces. Where I can easily convey a smile with my eyes AND my teeth. Being able to eat out and not questioning if and when is the appropriate time to take off one’s mask. (It’s after your drinks have arrived, right?)

But, I’m also feeling hesitant about losing the masks. Not only for the health of our vulnerable populations and the lingering risks of COVID infection but also how this new post-mask life might welcome back traditions and habits I thought I left in the past. Like, remember when I had to interact with colleagues in person? I hope kissing on the cheek won’t return. Or, those days when I had to get dressed semi-professionally? Wait, do I have to start wearing makeup again?

Mom and son wearing masks and smiling at cameraI’m left to wonder when masks come off, will my old habits and insecurities return?

Allow me to take you back to my pre-pandemic self. I was a young mom of a 1-year-old, who enjoyed working both inside and outside the home, who got dressed in a clean, professional outfit every day, and was sure to never leave the house without makeup. Working out mostly felt like a punishment, and I felt some shame around my postpartum body not bouncing back the way I thought it would.

I experienced anxiety about visiting certain, new places. I didn’t enjoy going to restaurants where the menu wasn’t available online, and I hated driving far distances with complicated directions or highways. I didn’t enjoy sacrificing time away from my family for work events and I felt like I had to invent excuses for why I couldn’t attend your MOMS ONLY get-together.

When the world began to close its doors two years ago, I felt a mixture of relief and anxiety.

On one hand, I shared feelings of anger, sadness, and grief that many others were feeling. I had moments of despair when we were unable to get together with close family members or when we learned that someone close to us had fallen ill. I mourned the “normal” life my toddler might have had, visiting new places and playing with his cousins.

On the other hand, I adjusted to staying home quickly. I was so grateful that my husband and I could work from home, that we were safe and well provided for, and that my son and daughter were too young to require an explanation of world events. Obligations to travel or attend parties fell by the wayside, as did our need for two cars.

Over the last two years, I learned new ways of living.

For instance, I swapped out my gym membership for an at-home bike that I enjoy much more. My weekly church visit turned into an online experience instead. My job also shifted 100% online, and I learned how to connect with others virtually. Online food ordering boomed and with it my love for door drop-offs. I invested in my fair share of black leggings, that grew and stretched to welcome a pandemic baby, but could simultaneously be worn for any and all Zoom meetings.

Working out on an indoor bicycle with peloton on in background
My time spent behind a screen and on social media also increased dramatically. And while social media is a double-edged sword, I want to focus on the many positive outcomes I discovered. During this time, my feeds started to reflect the wealth of people who had positive messages to share with the world. Many celebrated their postpartum bodies, displaying their stretch marks and growing bellies proudly. Others debuted their bare faces, without explanation or celebration of a breakthrough product that just hit the market. And then there were those who I connected with most. The ones who used their words and art of storytelling to elicit empathy from strangers halfway across the world. I heard from health care professionals, front-line workers, and many others who sacrificed far more than I could ever imagine.

Inspired by these men and women, I leaned into a new version of myself that didn’t require outside validation, in large part because I rarely went outside.

I learned that my weight is the least interesting thing about me, choosing to highlight my ideas instead. I stopped wearing makeup most days, not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t need it to feel beautiful. I stopped buying as many things, most obviously because I didn’t need them, but also because I learned to be thankful for what I had. I began to see myself as my husband and children see me, someone who is worthy of love no matter what. And I began writing more, hoping to connect with my fellow moms.

I also had a far easier time blocking out what didn’t serve me. If I saw something on my feed that elicited shame or hate, I simply hid it or exited the page. If I didn’t want to attend something, I could RSVP no without the fear of running into the host the next day. If I didn’t want to wear makeup, rest assured, my mask would probably cover most of my face already.

The news of returning to a mask-less world brings me some mixed feelings.

I’m mostly excited, sure, but I know that adjustments will need to be made… like wearing pants, occasionally. More importantly, I’ll need to continue to remember what’s important to me as the pressures from the outside world return.

Here are the pandemic lessons I most want to retain:

1. You can continue to wear leggings for however long you wish. Just throw out the ones with holes, already. (This also goes for masks.)

2. Body neutrality and body image work is a practice. I will continue to build my arsenal of positive influencers, books, and community members who support this.

3. Just because everyone else is “returning to normal” doesn’t mean I have to. I vow to keep what works for me.

4. Challenging myself is a worthwhile goal. This allows my children to see someone who isn’t afraid of struggling, failing, or trying again.

5. Investing in family time. This will pay in dividends as my children grow.

6. There are certain things, like traveling or hugging your parents, that you can only experience in person.

7. Get excited for your children to experience some of what you were able to experience as a child.

8. Community is a value that’s really important to me.

9. Hardships and conflicts are inevitable.

10. If you want empathy, show empathy.

I imagine that we’ll all have to take this new chapter, day by day, hour by hour. While some are ready to shed their masks, I know there are others who want to keep theirs on or maintain their distance. Undoubtedly, some old habits and insecurities will return for some, but I hope we can all show how much we’ve grown and learned. These past years have taught me a lot, but I hope they’ve reminded us all of the need for patience, love, empathy, and community in the face of adversity.

 

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