Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
Controversial Opinion: Masks Don’t Work

Controversial Opinion: Masks Don’t Work

I am terrible with faces. I forget people five minutes after I meet them; BUT:

A few days ago, I walked into a comic shop. While in there, I saw a guy I hadn’t seen in about twenty years, and he was wearing a mask. He’d gained weight, his hair was grayer than the last time I’d seen him, and I still recognized him immediately. No hesitation.

I once saw a guy in a full Batman costume outside the same shop; again, instant recognition.

I remembered a time at 13 when my middle school had a Hallowe’en party; I threw together some costume based on nothing in particular, but I had not a patch of skin showing anywhere. Nonetheless, everybody recognized me immediately. No hesitation. The same thing happened later, when I went to a costume party as a Black Rider.

This is one of the worst costumes in comics.

And yet, I’ve been riding my bike and waved at people and gone up and spoken to them, and they haven’t recognized me. People I work with every day. My sister. Me.

So, if masks don’t disguise us, what does? Do we recognize each other by height, body language, hair color? Context? (On the bike I was bent over, holding the bars, and wearing a helmet, and in an unusual place.) With the guy in the comic shop, it was the eyes; also, he used to work there. How do we recognize each other, and how can we disguise it? Have you all run into the same phenomenon?

Edit: So, I’ve just recently met somebody for the first time when she was wearing a mask, then I saw her later without one, and didn’t recognize her. So maybe they do work, but only one way!


  1. Well, that was a bait and switch headline 🙂 Glad it was, though!

    That’s an interesting notion, that you could identify someone with everything except the face.

    I get a little weirded out when people recognize me, mask or not, but then I have to remember, oh, yeah, I’m 6 feet tall and have a beard down to my sternum, people are going to recognize me. It was weirder back in grade school, though, when teachers that I’d never had a class with knew who I was. HOW?!

    “On the bike I was bent over, holding the bars, and wearing a helmet, and in an unusual place.”

    Are you sure that was an unusual place? (Tee hee hee, just kidding!)

    1. Le Messor

      What else could I have meant? (Innocent whistling) 🙂

      teachers that I’d never had a class with knew who I was. HOW?!

      You had a rep! For what, I don’t know. 🙂

      One-upmanship: somebody once recognized my handwriting as mine – when he’d never seen it before.

      1. He does. The flashback beginning of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade made a point of showing how River Phoenix’s Young Indy got the scar on his chin. In real life, Ford got it when a seatbelt zinged across his chin during a car accident.

  2. Back in college, I dressed up as the Wesley Dodds Sandman for Halloween of 1993 (Sandman Mystery Theatre was one of my favorite books at the time). So my costume consisted of a WWI era gas mask I bought at an army surplus store, a brown fedora, and a tan trenchcoat. My entire face was covered and even the round eyepieces on the gas mask were tinted yellow.

    And fascinatingly, some of my classmates recognized me INSTANTLY, even to the point of saying, “Hi, John” when they walked by me in the dark, while others, even close friends, had NO IDEA who I was before I opened my mouth. What gave me away? My body language, the bit of my hair that showed behind the mask, the trenchcoat that was an occasional part of my wardrobe? No idea. But it was an interesting lesson that comic book conventions don’t necessarily work in real life.

    1. Le Messor

      some of my classmates recognized me INSTANTLY, … while others, even close friends, had NO IDEA who I was?

      It’s so weird how that works.
      I’m starting to wonder if somebody’s done a psychological study on it. They must’ve, surely?

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