When walking through the streets of South Korea, visitors may notice a common object on several people’s faces: face masks. These surgical masks protect from illnesses while also maintaining people’s fashion sense.
During the flu season or an epidemic outbreak, South Koreans often equip themselves with masks. According to National Public Radio (NPR), many people in South Korea were seen wearing masks during the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) epidemic. In Seoul, there were various booths selling masks featuring a wide range of colors and pictures.
Yet people do not only wear them to avoid catching or transmitting disease. They can be worn anytime and even on a daily basis. The sight of the masks may be weird for visitors, but it is completely normal for South Koreans.
The shift from medical to fashionable has been visible very recently, and some Korean celebrities are wearing these masks all the time. Although some singers claim they wear them to protect their throats or heal from colds, they can be worn anywhere. Celebrities wear them at airports, in dance practice rooms, and out while shopping.
Gamin Kim, a sophomore at West Ranch High School, told JSR, “As a non-Kpop fan, their appearances may seem strange to me. But since it’s for their own style, I think it’s alright.”
Surgical masks also maintain a sense of privacy. Since these masks cover the face from the nose all the way down to the chin, they can hide makeup-free faces or frowns. Wearing a mask has become a useful method for not only celebrities but anyone who wants to maintain personal space.
“If you go online, you can find out almost everything from family relatives to blood type. I think people have a right to keep at least some of their identity and privacy,” said Ashley Chung, a Korean Pop fanatic and junior at West Ranch.