Maskfishing: Of Making Friends and Forging Relationships

By Andrea Ng (22S06B)

A little less than two years ago, only famous celebrities wore masks, which served to hide their faces from the public when they wished for anonymity. Now, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, mask-wearing has become the norm, and only those who don’t become online sensations. 

This mandate by governments in most countries has given rise to a new phenomenon—mask fishing, a neologism coined as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which refers to the phenomenon where a person appears to be more attractive because they are wearing a facemask. 

Nowadays, it is common to make friends and get to know people with our masks on, but I’m pretty sure most of us would have experienced getting a shock when we finally unmask for the first time after making an acquaintance, because they did not look like what we expected them to.  

Judging a book by its cover…

Based on a survey of the school population, I found that most of us do care about appearances, which play an especially important role in our first impressions of others. 

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think that people care a lot about physical appearances?. Number of responses: 72 responses.
Forms response chart. Question title: On a scale of 1-10, how much of an impact do appearances have on the first impressions you have of others?. Number of responses: 72 responses.
A large majority strongly agrees that appearances are very important.

We are inevitably judged by our appearances all the time, but we also judge others too. After all, there is no other basis of comparison when no interaction has occurred and no judgement can be made on personality or voice. 

As a result, mask-wearing seems to have placed an obstacle in our way of making friends; we are now unable to make out people’s full faces and appearances, which usually constitutes our first impression of others.

Or Not?

However, many respondents also did highlight that mask-wearing brought some benefits when it came to getting to know people. We can form first impressions of others based on personality, after interacting with them. 

When interviewed, a classmate expressed that she had become more comfortable with wearing masks over time, as she didn’t have to constantly worry about how she looked. According to her, people also judged you less based on how you look, and more based on your personality.

So, no judgement by appearances. It’s all about the beauty within.

To wear or not to wear?

The survey also found that views regarding the wearing of masks seem to be varied. 

Some respondents expressed that wearing masks helped them to curb their insecurity when meeting people, as the anonymity provided them with the assurance that people would not be able to see the parts of their faces they were uncomfortable showing. A great advantage, if you ask me: you don’t have to meet people for the first time if you’re having a bad skin day.

On the other hand, besides being a physical barrier, masks have also become a psychological barrier. Many felt they couldn’t say they knew their friends well if they couldn’t remember how they looked, simply because it felt “strange” or “weird”  not knowing the appearance of the person they were talking to. 

One respondent even recounted a funny experience of getting a shock while looking through photos taken with her class as she thought they somehow had lunch with a stranger, who really just turned out to be a classmate she did not recognize.

But with masks comes yet another problem. The phenomenon of maskfishing becomes especially pronounced in the situation when one does not turn out as attractive as we imagined them to be. A respondent pointed out that even with masks, there will come a point in time when our faces are eventually revealed. This would then turn into an “Expectations versus Reality” moment, which is especially hurtful to some when their friends point out that they do not look like what they expected them to. 

Forms response chart. Question title: Were there instances where your friends’ faces didn’t look like what you imagined them to be?. Number of responses: 72 responses.

It’s like a big punch to your self-esteem when someone casually lets slip a comment on how you technically mask-fished them.

Another problem cited was the inability to gauge a person’s feelings based on visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. Nizar Sukayna Fathima (22S03J) commented that “facial expressions make a big difference when you’re having a conversation with somebody.”  

Someone might seem mad at you with their brows upturned, but they are really just smiling at you under their masks. 

So, why should we care?

Making friends is akin to going on a blind date—you’ll never know what type of person you’ll end up being friends with until you’ve interacted with them, and mask-wearing has just added on to that “blind” factor. 

Knowing the effects mask-wearing can have on our social relationships, this is a call-to-action for all of us to be more understanding and sensitive friends.

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