The Symbol of the Virus: Masks


An example of 3 Asian girls wearing face masks. Compared to America, it is obvious how much of a fashion statement masks are in this picture.

Eunice Ahn, Photojournalist

When most people think about masks, they would probably think about doctors or the mask trend that has been circulating throughout Asia for years. However, after the emergence of the Coronavirus, masks now go hand in hand with this virus. What originally was something normal in Asia is now deemed as a sign that someone has the virus. From now on, will a mask be deemed as a symbol of the virus?


The history of wearing face masks can be traced back to the early 20th century when there was an influenza outbreak in Japan. In the 1950’s, there was also air pollution in Japan due to the rising levels of carbon dioxide. Eventually the mask trend spread around Asia, and people started to wear them for protection against pollution or dust as people commuted or were just in public ( There are also connections to taoist origins where according to a precept, breathing is an integral to good health. There is also a Chinese word called qi, which means atmosphere or odor, and they believe that if the bodily qi is depleted, then pain and disease are more likely to develop. That is why they wear masks to ensure good breathing and superior  health (


Due to the increase of people wearing masks, it slowly started to become a trend in Asia for people to start to wear masks as a fashion statement rather than as a protection or safeguard. In Japan, studies show that people wear masks and their headsets to show their disinterest to communicate. This is especially true for young women who try to avoid sexual harassment by showing disinterest and putting up walls ( There are also girls who wear it because they think that it makes them look mysterious as only their eyes are shown, and some believe that it makes their face look smaller ( With the rise of the mask trend, there was also a rise in different designs as some shops in Harajuku, Japan offer different kinds of designs. For example there are facemasks that are inspired by Kpop( 


When the virus hit America, it was hard for many Americans to start having to wear masks, especially due to announcements released by WHO to not wear face masks as health care workers were in need of face masks ( Now with the eventual change where everyone is required to wear a mask outside, it is very common to see people covering their faces. However, compared to Asia, the mask is more of a tool rather than a fashion statement. Yes, the mask is a tool in Asia to protect people against the virus, but it still is stuck as a fashion statement. Kimberly Jeves (9) says, “I feel like some places in Asia will continue wearing a mask as a fashion statement, but here in America, it will disturb other people and cause them to think that the person is sick. It may become a symbol of the virus.”


Although face masks are not deemed as cool here compared to East Asia, whether or not it will continue as a trend or as a symbol of this deadly virus is completely up to how people will perceive a mask in the future.