Why did K-pop group Momoland wear face masks when arriving in Dubai?

From earthquakes and the SARS virus to celebrity culture, the surgical facemask plays an important role in East Asian societies

epa07241685 South Korean girl group 'MOMOLAND' pose as they arrive for the KPMA (Korea Popular Music Awards) at the Korea International Exhibition and Convention Center (KINTEX) in Ilsan, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, 20 December 2018.  EPA/KIM HEE-CHUL
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The latest bout of K-Pop fever is sweeping the UAE with genre rising stars Momoland performing at Dubai Tennis Stadium on Friday night.

The mammoth all-girl group, boasting up to nine members, arrived at Dubai International Airport yesterday to an enthusiastic reception. Fans lined the arrivals lounge and followed the group to the terminal where the girls were whisked away in waiting cars.

However, those expecting to get snaps of their favourite member would have been disappointed; all nine Momoland-ers touched down in Dubai donning surgical face masks.

With Dubai’s weather clear, and assuming the business class cabins of their Emirates airline flight was dust free, the masks adorned by Momoland may be strange and rather abrasive.

But the use of surgical facemasks in South Korea and east Asia has evolved from being merely a hygienic practice.

The surgical mask was initially used as a health measure

Dating back to early 20th century Japan, the face mask (as well as veils and scarves) were adopted as a form of protection from the global massive pandemic of influenza that went on to claim the lives of up 40 million people pre-the First World War.

The masks were again used in Japan to protect residents from the massive pollution caused in the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama.

The practice spread across Asia in 2003 as a protection from the SARS virus, with virtually every resident of Hong Kong – thought to be the epicentre of the outbreak - wearing a face mask.

As a result, the face mask was accepted as a way of life; residents across east Asia continued to wear them to protect themselves from germs, allergies or general city pollution.

Tourists wear masks as a precaution against MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) at a shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, June 5, 2015. Sales of surgical masks surge amid fears of a deadly, poorly understood virus. Despite media warnings about the virus "spreading" in South Korea, most of the cases are linked to a single hospital, as is a Korean man diagnosed in China. There's no evidence yet in South Korea "of sustained transmission in the community," the WHO reports. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Then it became a handy social barrier

The facemask also proved extremely handy on the social front as well.  With respectful interactions a corner stone of the Taoist philosophy followed in East Asian countries including China, South Korea and Japan, the mask provides a handy away to avoid unwanted attention without causing offence.

Just like the usage of our phones or headphones, the facemask has also become a social barrier and subtle-message to the world that you are not feeling it right now. And that also extends to fashion - the mask has allowed women to be mobile and go where they please without the societal expectations of wearing make-up. Image conscious men also adopted the mask to hide what they deem unfavourable facial features.

A K-Pop celebrity’s best friend

It is no wonder then that this humble accessory has become the best friend of Korean celebrities and K-Pop singers. Members of Momoland can hide the blemishes on faces that could have suffered under the physical strain of continuous live shows and travels, while simultaneously subduing the attention of fans, the press and paparazzi by denying them the emotional and physical connection they crave.

It is a classy way to say “thank you, but I am not interested”.

Momoland perform at Dubai Tennis Stadium on January 4. 6pm. Tickets begin from Dh200 from 800tickets.com


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