WKND Diaries: Shopping with our masks on


Sushmita Bose

Published: Wed 26 May 2021, 5:37 PM

I went to Mall of the Emirates last weekend, right after a lot of Covid-19 restrictions eased in Dubai. It was a full house, and MOE seemed back in the throttle where it was in pre-pandemic times. A few of us met for lunch at 3pm, because we had assumed the luncheon “rush” would be over by then, and we’d get socially-distanced seating at our favourite Din Tai Fung comfortably.

No such luck. There was a waiting time of 45 minutes, so we shifted goalposts and, after considerable trawling, found an underwhelming café that had a table for three in one corner.

It was only after sitting down and getting unmasked that we “checked each other out”. “Oh, nice shade of lipstick,” exclaimed one to the other. “Wow, your skin looks great, what are you doing with it?” asked the other to another. “God, look at the crow’s feet around my eyes, do you think I should get Botox done?” was one more observation tossed around (in jest obviously).

It struck me to be a different set of dynamics. Here’s why. Three of us met in front of Ski Dubai, masked, recognising each other only because we are friends with a certain level of physical familiarity (even though we were meeting after months), beefed up by cues like hand movements/wavings and vocals. I had no idea what lay beneath the mask of my other two friends: a new nose job or a nose-ring, good/bad/ugly shade of lipstick, mottled skin (or not), upper lip hair (or not), and so on. Yes, the eyes were visible, but somehow without a proper facial landscape, they didn’t say much.

The cosmetic reality emerged much later, after the frantic 20-minute search for a venue — where, eventually, our faces were denuded and in circulation.

While at the mall, I noticed — for the nth time — how well-turned-out Dubai folks are: everyone was dressed to the nines even if they were shopping for detergents at Carrefour. But because one doesn’t get to see faces in that in-your-face manner anymore, there is a weird sense of disconnect.

There’s a certain poignancy, I thought. Imagine getting fitted in your Friday best, and accessorising to the tee, only to be camouflaged in obscurity, not being able to put our best faces forward.

It’s not a gushy “I saw Ms X in Alberta Ferretti” that you’ll elicit any more. It will be a disinterested “Oh, I think there was someone in Alberta Ferretti, it may have been this fashion influencer who I follow on Instagram or maybe it was my soccer-mom neighbour from three blocks away.”

Right before meeting the girls in front of Ski Dubai (last weekend), I was killing time at Virgin Megastore (I was early). I picked up a book, Love is for Losers, for someone who’s sworn off romance, and while I was waiting for my turn in the payment queue, I noticed this woman who I thought was one of my friends — let’s call her Sonali — I was supposed to meet. She appeared to be heftier than Sonali, but then who’s to know, I’d not seen her in ages, maybe she’s piled on the pounds, I thought, trying to catch her eye. As I did so, I noticed Sonali had applied an uncharacteristically OTT amount of kohl in her eyes. Maybe that’s because she thinks that since eyes are the only ‘visible’ part of her visage, she needed to overcompensate in the ocular department. Then, of course, the presumed Sonali looked right through me, which is when I realised it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mistaken identities aside, life in new normal times has become easier cosmetically. Earlier, if I had to go to the supermarket or the ice-cream parlour next door, I needed to ensure my face didn’t look like something the cat just dragged in; yes, I am scared of being judged. So, I would apply basic makeup. A little colour, a little touch-up to the brows. These days, I can get out of bed and head straight to the store without even washing my face. Plus, the fact that I’m masked and, therefore, unrecognisable gives me the bravado to freely roam the aisles in my frayed PJs and a worn-out T-shirt. If nobody can make out who I am, how do I care if I’m ‘inappropriately’ dressed?

For my part, I have stopped getting distracted by people, well-dressed or otherwise, anymore. If I can’t put a face to the ensemble, I’m not really interested to be an observer. I’d rather gaze at mannequins.


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