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Mask Off

We've been wearing masks long before COVID. Let's talk about why we portray ourselves as someone other than our true selves and how liberating it can be to remove the mask.

Mask on

As kids we learn to exhibit certain behaviors through explicit instruction from caregivers and by observing others around us. As a young girl, I was taught to sit a certain way. Little girls place their hands in their laps, keep their knees close together, and cross their legs at their ankles where our lace socks overlapped like a bouquet. It was only permissible to cross your legs like an adult woman, thigh over thigh with a dangling foot, when posing for a photo.

As a Black girl, I was taught to always secure my hair before bath time and bed, mostly with a silky scarf and homemade stocking cap to keep it in place. I was taught to never leave home without my manners, neat clothes, purse on my shoulder, and edges laid. Wherever I was going, I was not to ask for anything or get in adult conversations. And most important, my hair and my body was not to be touched by anyone for any reason.

Little Black girl dressed up with a tiara and purse

While growing up, I was very aware of the women around me. I watched how they dressed, walked, and talked. I noticed how my grandma carefully selected jewelry that would cover surgery scars. I picked up on the amount of Avon perfume to spray, the outfits that were appropriate for church, and the words used to express oneself. When asked how you’re doing, you always respond “I’m well” even if you’re not. I was keenly aware of struggles, fears, and ugly life events that were swept under the rug. So at an early age, I learned to alter my physical appearance with makeup, weaves, fake nails, and undergarments that create a different body shape. I also learned to mask my true thoughts and emotions in an effort to appear that I had it all together.

Wearing the mask

Waneka Jackson with face mask

We’ve been wearing masks long before COVID. We wear masks to hide what we naturally look like because we are uncomfortable with ourselves and likely anticipate that others will not accept us for who we are. It makes sense that this belief would fill our minds given how society idolizes certain physical characteristics and ridicules others. We’ve been taught to judge ourselves and others against a very specific set of standards. So it’s no wonder why we give over $100 billion to the beauty industry and still are highly likely to use filters to alter our images before sharing on social media.

We wear masks to hide what we think and feel because we either don’t know how to identify and express our emotions or because we believe it’s not appropriate to do so. Many of us walk around carrying thoughts and emotions from the trauma we’ve experienced in the past that hinder us from healthy relationships, career success, and happiness. It is very likely that we don’t even realize what we’re doing. Emotions are a natural response to stimuli and they are meant to be experienced and released. But when our emotions are processed through our mind’s bank of memories and beliefs, we’re left with feelings that we may not know what to do with, leading us to act as if they’re not there. We say that everything is fine and well, but our minds are like memory foam and we subconsciously begin to process everything through the filter of our past experiences and feelings.

It can be so stressful to pretend that everything is ok. You walk around flashing smiles and sharing pleasantries while fighting an internal battle. Stress can take a toll on both our minds and our bodies. From sleepless nights to that inner voice that never shuts up. But what if we didn’t wear the masks? What’s the worst that can happen? Or better yet, what’s the best that can happen?

When we embrace our authenticity, we teach others to do the same. When we conform with the hopes of being accepted, we teach others to uphold their habits and give them access to judge us based on what they believe to be right. When we deal with the reality of who we are

and our situations, we give ourselves the opportunity to choose how we respond instead of constantly reacting to life. Every action we take is in response to our thoughts and our emotions. So think about all of the lessons you’ve learned that have shaped your thoughts and behavior. How are they serving you? In what ways are they holding you hostage? You get to decide what you allow to influence you as you move forward.

Mask off

I’ve learned so many incredible lessons from women in my life that I will continue to carry with me, but the mask had to come off. It clouds my vision and doesn’t give me enough room to breathe. Furthermore, it doesn’t match my outfit. I’ve decided to nurture the person beneath the mask by getting to know myself, loving on myself, and embracing who I am. I now realize that it takes so much less energy to be myself to be someone I am not. If I decide to dress myself up in any way, it’ll be because I love the versatility of my style and not because I’m looking for anyone’s approval. Additionally, I give myself permission to feel and express my emotions. When I get stuck, I ask for support from my therapist and my coach. No more sweeping things under the rug. I trust myself to be able to handle any situation in alignment with my values and beliefs.

It was either me or the mask. I choose me today, tomorrow, and always. What about you? What or who will you choose?


About the Author

Waneka Jackson is a Life & Leadership Coach as well as the Founder of My Blooming Mind LLC. She’s on a mission to support Black Women and the organizations they lead to reduce stress, boost confidence, and enhance performance to be at their best. If you’re ready to be empowered to choose how you live and lead, request a complimentary Better Life Strategy Session. If you’re interested in strengthening the leadership in your organization, schedule a consultation.



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