Anti-pollution masks

Since fashion has transformed the meaning of a sweater or a pair of trousers, giving an added value to them, we might forget the fact that clothes are, after all, a self-defense artifact: from the oldest times, we covered our bodies to counteract the hostile effects of the environment.

Nowadays, anti-pollution masks are constantly present in many urban contexts. Some Asian cities have had to deal with the problem of a lack of sufficient stock of anti-pollution masks for the whole population. This demand goes beyond the economic laws of supply and demand; it expresses the desire of a guaranteed human health. The development of new artifacts against the noxious effects of anthropogenic changes responds to a basic survival tactic: we want to breath in an uninhabitable scenario.

In China, the extended use of that protection represents a facial evidence of the Anthropocene. Symbolically, anti-pollution masks could illustrate this shift: humans used to protect themselves against weather’s harshness; now, we are trying to protect our lungs from the implications of our own societies’ development. A species that suddenly starts to realize that themselves are their worst enemy.

The case in a city like Beijing proves that this concern is not hyperbolic. Information about the Air Quality Index (AQI) is constantly checked in smartphone’s apps and shared to the whole population by mass media. The levels of contamination affect the students’ schedule, since classes are canceled when the AQI reaches unsafe numbers: ”For primary kids the limit is 200, while the eldest students are allowed to brave the elements up to 250. Anything above 300 and school trips are called off. The World Health Organisation, meanwhile, recommends a safe exposure level of 25”.

In case we don’t stop the increasing impact of pollution in metropolitan areas, those protections are going to be an accepted part of our outfit.

Perhaps, before long, the self-representation of Western citizens will include, among jeans, t-shirts and skirts, those masks.

Image: “Mandatory Anti-Pollution Measures,” by raizorr818. CC-licensed.


Montevideo (Uruguay). Bachelor in Philosophy and Comparative Literature. Creative Writing MA. Part of the Independent Studies Program (PEI) of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA). Research focus: Identity politics; subcultures; questions of gender and race.