Why some South Korean children refuse to ditch masks

Young people have teased their friends that the faces behind the masks may not be as pretty as one might expect.


(Getty Images Bank)

July 25, 2023

SEOUL – Despite masks no longer being required for about six months, some young Koreans have refused to give them up, not only to stay healthy and protect themselves from potential viruses, but for personal reasons as well.

Min Kyeong-chae, a 13-year-old student, told The Korea Herald that she feels reluctant to take her mask off because of her insecurities.

“My face breaks out very easily, which is something that I feel the most insecure about,” said Min. “I think I look prettier with my mask on because it hides all my insecurities. I don’t want my friends to think that I’m a magikkun.”

“Magikkun” — a portmanteau from the English word “mask” and the Korean word “sagikkun,” which means fraud — is a new word that emerged during the pandemic. Young people have teased their friends that the faces behind the masks may not be as pretty as one might expect.

According to professor Kwak Keum-joo of Seoul National University’s department of psychology, people have a tendency to imagine that something looks better than it actually does when it is covered. “Since children can cover up their insecurities, they feel more comfortable with themselves when wearing their masks. But this is also the reason why many students say they feel naked when they’re not wearing their masks,” the professor said.

For children who started going to school with masks due to the pandemic, it is harder and more awkward for them to go without now.

“In my class, which holds around 23 students, around nine students show up regularly wearing their masks,” said Yoo, a second-grade elementary school teacher who wished to only be identified by her surname.

“My second-grade daughter’s teacher told me that my daughter cried in front of her class because she had trouble taking her mask off before her presentation,” read a post written on an online community for moms. “My daughter lacks confidence and is very shy. She told me that she’s scared to take her mask off because she’s scared her classmates would judge her.”

Professor Lim Myung-ho of Dankook University’s department of psychology and psychotherapy says children are more prone to being confused about their identity, and lack self-confidence because of it.

“This is why it’s important for parents to communicate more with their children having trouble taking off their masks,” said Lim. “Give them time to be able to take their masks off on their own and help them gain more self-confidence about their looks. Seeking professional help is also an option if none of these methods work.”

scroll to top