Masks optional: Confusion Ensues

Walking into first hour on a Monday morning, junior Johnny Normal entered what he thought was his Honors English 11 class, but when he sat in his seat, he didn’t seem to recognize any of his unmasked peers. He couldn’t even recognize his teacher, Mr. Fitzgerald. With mouth agape and eyebrows furrowed, Johnny looked around his classroom, trying to identify any of the people around him, but with their masks off, they all looked like strangers. Johnny was so unsure of himself he considered leaving the classroom, but before he could stand up, the bell rang and class started.
This confusion is not a singular occurrence. With the uptick in demaskings in schools (in concurrence with the CDC’s updated COVID-19 guidelines), more and more students and teachers are experiencing this new phenomenon researchers are calling maskperplexia. This includes symptoms such as Mouth-too-Small syndrome and Phantom Mask syndrome, as well as more serious long-term symptoms such as general confusion and hysteria.
Most people experiencing these types of symptoms have shared that they have started with an initial shock. “When I would look at people’s faces, they just looked wrong!” sophomore Addie Dimson stated. This feeling is just the start of Mouth-too-Small syndrome. At first, the confusion of what people look like without a mask on is unidentifiable. As time goes on, though, the discomfort becomes more clear. Researchers have discovered that people’s mouths are actually smaller than we think. While one might believe that everyone’s mouth comes to the edge of their mask, that is actually not the case. This misconception is the main cause of Mouth-too-Small syndrome.
Along with the general confusion that comes from Mouth-too-Small syndrome, it also may make those affected say almost offensive comments, such as, “Oh! So that’s what your face looks like” or, “You looked so different in my head!”. Senior Mandy Able’s best friend of two years, Noah Filterman, was suffering from maskperplexia with symptoms of Mouth-too-Small syndrome. Mandy told us that the two friends had never seen each other without masks for their whole friendship because of their extra caution about COVID, but the girls’ friendship may be in jeopardy because of Noah’s maskperplexia. “She told me she thought I looked prettier with my mask on! She didn’t even realize what she said was rude!”
Maskperplexia can not only cause interpersonal relationships to strain, it can have impacts on the individual as well. Phantom-Mask-Disease is one of the more widespread symptoms. You may have experienced it yourself, dear reader. Phantom-Mask-Disease (PMD) occurs when someone has the false feeling of wearing a mask, when they are in fact not wearing one at all. This can be felt when going to take a drink of water, when trying to eat, and generally when trying to touch one’s face.
With the total shift in social practice, social norms are also beginning to be questioned, just as they were in the beginning of the pandemic. The choice to wear a mask in public spaces has the question “Should I be wearing a mask right now?” on the front of many people’s minds.
Ben Wilder shared that he found it difficult to pay attention to a conversation he was having with a friend who was wearing a mask while he was not. “I didn’t know if I should put a mask on because my buddy was wearing one,” he said. “I was thinking about it so much it was hard to remember what we were talking about.”
We later found Sophie Doubtus, Ben’s friend, to ask about her perspective of this conversation. She said, “Oh yeah, I was questioning everything in my head! I didn’t know if I should take my mask off or not.” She also said, “I couldn’t stop looking at his mouth. It was just so small.”
If you think that you or anyone you know may be suffering from Maskperplexia and any of its related symptoms, do not panic. This time of transition will pass, so for the meantime medical professionals are saying to simply try to keep your mouth shut, literally and rhetorically. Just remember, people can see your mouth!