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The Eyes Really Do Have It: Body Language In the Era of Face Masks

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

The worldwide pandemic has created a new essential piece of clothing: Face masks.

Of course, covering part or all of your face or body isn’t new. But it does pose a challenge for those of us who are obscuring our features — how can we express ourselves fully if we’re used to employing both our voices and our body language?

For me, the answer arose from an experience I had a few years ago in Malaysia. I had lunch with a group of women who wore burkas, the full-body covering favored by some Muslim women. I was unable to see their faces and yet I didn’t miss the full impact of what they were saying.

This was a new experience for me. I’m a longtime student of body language and have taught many workshops around the world about how to hone and refine it. These women were covered, and yet they conveyed so much meaning — how did they do it? I was puzzled.

And then I realized: They were capable of communicating entire worlds of emotions with their eyes. When they smiled, their eyes crinkled and twinkled. When they were surprised, they widened. When they were listening intently, they focused wholly on me. When they were sad, their eyes turned down at the corners.

This pandemic has prompted all of us to explore methods of communication. You’ve probably switched from in-person meetings to Zoom get togethers, FaceTime calls instead of telephone chats, Slack instead of walking to a co-worker’s cubicle.

Masking up to protect the health of ourselves and others is no different, really. We’ll need to be more expressive behind our face masks so people can understand us. We’ll need to smile even when people can’t read the happiness on our faces. We’ll need to communicate our hopes and fears, the love behind the hugs not given, the compassion we feel for our fellow humans — all through the eyes.

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