A man wearing a face mask looking directly to camera

COVID-19: Wearing face coverings and masks if you have a visible difference

If you have a visible difference, face coverings may bring mixed feelings for you. We share advice to help you adjust to the idea of wearing a covering.

Changing Faces recommends that you follow the latest Government guidance on staying safe outside your home, including wearing a face covering as required.

However, if you have a visible difference or disfigurement, we know this may be complex and bring mixed feelings or additional challenges for you physically and/or emotionally.

What are the issues for people with visible differences?

Some people with a visible difference may find wearing a face covering or mask challenging, however others may find it comforting – and some may feel conflicted, experiencing both these feelings at times.

Coverings may be beneficial for some

The ability to wear a face covering or mask may feel equalising and mean you feel less fear or worry in “facing” the world. If staring, comments or questions are something you experience regularly in public, then this may be reduced by wearing a face covering.

Coverings may present challenges for others

However, the need to “hide away” or feeling that this is being imposed upon you may feel negative, especially if you have worked hard on coming to terms with your appearance – and are rightly proud of yourself for this. Wearing a face covering or mask may feel like a loss of your self-identity.

For some, wearing a face covering or mask may revive anxieties about people behaving as though you are contagious or something to shy away from – or take you back to previous times of shielding – feeding into old feelings and worries you have already dealt with or learned to cope with.

Coverings may delay adjustment to “normality”

On the other hand, you may feel safer behind a face covering or mask. However, you may worry about a return of social anxiety when restrictions are lifted and you’re not “required” to wear a mask, and this might compromise your comfortableness around returning to “reality”. You may have got used to wearing a mask or face covering in public or this may be a daily requirement of your work or study. This may cause anxieties about having to “reveal” your visible difference as face covering requirements are lifted.

Concerns about stigmatisation

If your condition, mark or scar prevents you from covering your face in the advised way or at all, you may feel anxious that people will notice or comment on this. You may feel worried that people will judge you or feel pressure to explain your reasons for not wearing a face covering or mask.

Exemptions on health grounds

You may also be worried about the physical impact that wearing a mask or face covering has on your condition.

Some people are exempt from wearing a face covering. To find out more, read the Government guidance. This BBC article is also useful in giving more detail and context about the exemptions.

Some people to choose to wear a badge or lanyard explaining that they are exempt from wearing a mask to avoid judgement or stigmatisation. You may choose to do so or, on the other hand, you may decide that this brings you even more unwanted attention. Feel free to experiment with this approach to explore whether or not it helps.

Masks have made a big difference but I worry about when the masks come off and if people are going to start commenting again. I don’t know if I’ll be prepared to deal with that because I’ve got used to people saying nothing. I’m hoping people remember that some people look different and remember to be kind.

Atholl, a Changing Faces campaigner, is a waiter and has been wearing his mask at work

What can I do?

Here are some tips that you might want to think about as you consider the impact of wearing a mask or face covering:

  • Speak to someone. If you are feeling worried, anxious or upset, it may be worth explaining this to a friend, family member or colleague you are close to and explaining your feelings. You could also ask them to support you. For example, they could accompany you when you go to shops or on public transport for the first few times, to help you deal with any challenges.
  • Prepare yourself. It may help to write down the things that make you feel anxious or upset – and then consider how you have dealt with these things before and remind yourself that you can do this. Think about your inner resources and your positive qualities, and the tips or techniques that have helped you before. You might like to talk all this through with a friend or family member.
  • Plan in advance. If you are travelling somewhere, plan your route beforehand and consider what challenges may arise for you. You may find it helpful to look at our guide on improving your conversation skills. Planning ahead may give you a sense of control and increase your confidence. Find some relaxing things to do the night before to help manage any worry and anxiety.

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