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The Masks We Wear

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We wear masks for many reasons: for fun, for protection, or to make a statement. In turbulent public settings, obscuring one's face can protect an individual from retaliation while evoking fear and uncertainty in others. Donning the mask of a cultural, political, or religious figure can lend that person power and further his or her legacy. Those who wear masks to protect their faces from environmental hazards may also end up sending a message of caution to outside observers. In many cases, though, masks play a more lighthearted role, allowing the wearer to take part in a festival and become someone (or something) else for a time. I've gathered here a few recent images of people wearing masks, covering their faces for a wide variety of reasons. [36 photos]

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Vanessa Palsenbarg, Corporate Communications Specialist at Belgian company Materialise, shows a 3D model called Burn Mask, a customized mask for facial scar management at the company's headquarters in Leuven, on January 24, 2013. (Reuters/Yves Herman)
Vanessa Palsenbarg, Corporate Communications Specialist at Belgian company Materialise, shows a 3D model called Burn Mask, a customized mask for facial scar management at the company's headquarters in Leuven, on January 24, 2013. (Reuters/Yves Herman)
A man dressed in traditional Perchten mask performs during a Perchten festival in the western Austrian village of Heitwerwang, some 90 km (56 miles) west of Innsbruck, Austria, on November 23, 2012. Each year in November and January people dress-up in Perchten (also known in some regions as Krampus or Tuifl) costumes and parade through the streets to perform a 1,500 year-old pagan ritual to disperse the ghosts of winter. About 15 hours are needed for a woodcarver to sculpt each demon mask which is made from stone pine wood with goat horns attached. (Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler) #
Parishioners wear typical dresses of "El Gueguense", a folkloric satirical drama which combines music, dance and theater, as they take part in the festivities in honor to Saint Sebastian, in Diriamba, about 42 km south of Managua, Nicaragua, on January 19, 2013. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Bahraini boy takes part in a demonstration against the killing of a Shiite protester during clashes with Bahraini police, on February 22, 2013 in the village of Daih, West of the capital Manama. (Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images) #
Costumed devils, part of the Dominican Republic's Carnival. (Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism) #
A half-naked participant wears a gas mask as he takes part in the second "Guangzhu (naked) Run" on a winter morning at the Olympic Forest Park in Beijing, on February 24, 2013. About 100 people joined this event, which required them to run wearing only their underwear for 3.5 km (2.2 miles), as a way to promote environmentally-friendly lifestyles. (Reuters/China Daily) #
A masked armed man checks the identity of a driver at a roadblock at the entrance to the town of El Pericon, near Ayutla, Mexico, on January 18, 2013. Hundreds of men in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero have taken up arms to defend their villages against drug gangs, a vigilante movement born of frustration at extortion, killings and kidnappings that local police are unable, or unwilling, to stop. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills) #
A member of a U.S. Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team patrols a patch of farm land during a mission near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on January 30, 2013. (Reuters/Andrew Burton) #
A man wearing a mask runs into English Bay during the annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver, British Columbia, on January 1, 2013. (Reuters/Ben Nelms) #
Protestors wear orange prison jumpsuits and black hoods on their heads during protests against holding detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay during a demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on January 8, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) #
An ultra-orthodox Jewish boy wears a costume ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood, on February 22, 2013. (Reuters/Amir Cohen) #
Marcel Schmelzer of German soccer team Borussia Dortmund wears a protective mask during a training session at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga, southern Spain, on April 2, 2013. (Reuters/Jon Nazca) #
A penitent in a costume made of candy wrappers takes part in a procession for the Moriones Festival during Holy Week in Mogpog town on Marinduque island, central Philippines, on March 27, 2013. During the festival, masked and costumed penitents called "Moriones" dress in attire that is the local interpretation of what Roman soldiers wore during biblical times. (Reuters/Erik De Castro) #
A masked looter walks leaves a supermarket in the Argentine city of San Carlos de Bariloche, on December 20, 2012. About 150 masked people looted a supermarket after breaking its windows, gates and perimeter surrounding the area, according to local media. The looters stoned the police who retaliated with tear gas. (Reuters/Chiwi Giambirtone) #
Aly Ilyadias helps Will Patriquin with his costume, both of them dressed as characters from the video game BioShock, at the PAX East gaming convention in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 23, 2013. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi) #
An Afghan woman receives winter supplies at a UNHCR distribution center for needy refugees at the Women's Garden in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 2, 2013. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images) #
A boy poses for a picture with people wearing costumes of famous sci-fi movies during the Canaan fair which is part of the Holy Week celebrations in Ayacucho, Peru, on March 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) #
Mexican luchador / professional wrestler Blue Demon Jr. arrives at the 25th Anniversary Of Univision's "Premio Lo Nuestro A La Musica Latina" on February 21, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for Univision) #
Workers wearing protective suits and masks exit a fallout shelter during a nuclear accident simulation as part of a safety regulations exercise at Nuclear Power Plant Dukovany in Dukovany, Czech Republic, on March 26, 2013. (Reuters/David W Cerny) #
A model presents a creation for Hempel Award 21st China International Young Fashion Designers Contest, at China Fashion Week in Beijing, on March 25, 2013. (Reuters/Jason Lee) #
A masked reveller poses in Saint Mark's Square during the Venetian Carnival in Venice, on February 3, 2013. (Reuters/ Manuel Silvestri) #
An Israeli soldier instructs children on how to wear a gas mask during an emergency drill simulating a rocket attack in the central town of Kiryat Malachi, on February 14, 2013. (David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images) #
Revolutionary activist Mohammed Magdy and his bride, wear masks against tear gas and jointly hold a used tear gas container, celebrating their wedding in Revolution Square, the center of weeks of anti-government clashes, in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, Egypt, on March 4, 2013. Protesters in Mansoura, and other Egyptian cities have been calling for civil disobedience campaigns, or work stoppages, to bring down President Mohammed Morsi who they accuse along with the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power and of reneging on promises of reform. (AP Photo) #
Carnival revelers dressed as "Peliqueiros" run through a street in Spain's northwestern village of Laza, on February 10, 2013. "Peliqueiros" or ancient tax collectors, pursued villagers through the streets ringing their cowbells and hitting villagers with their sticks. (Reuters/Miguel Vidal) #
Protesters wearing masks perform during anti-austerity and anti-graft protests in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on January 11, 2013. More than 5,000 Slovenians gathered in the center of Ljubljana on Friday to protest against a corruption scandal that threatens to bring down the government. Slovenia's anti-corruption commission said earlier this week that Prime Minister Janez Jansa had been unable to explain the source of some of his income in recent years. (Reuters/Srdjan Zivulovic) #
A reveler wearing a demon costume takes part in the traditional festival of "Correfoc" in Palma de Mallorca, on January 21, 2013. Participants dress as demons and devils and move through the streets scaring people with fire and fireworks. (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images) #
A woman tries on masks at a Spring Festival Temple Fair for celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year, on February 11, 2013 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) #
A soldier of the French foreign legion wearing a skeleton mask stands next to an armored vehicle in a street in Niono, Mali, on January 20, 2013. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images) #
An Indian schoolgirl wears a mask of Malala Yousufzai, a 15-year-old girl who was shot at close range in the head by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan, during a campaign to demand better budgetary allocation for health and education of Indian children in New Delhi, India, on February 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri) #
A man wearing a mask of Czech President Vaclav Klaus holds flowers during a march celebrating the end of his presidency, on March 7, 2013 at the Charles Bridge in Prague. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images) #
A penitent protects the flame of a candle during the Holy Week procession of the Cofradia Jesus Yacente on March 29, 2013 in Zamora, Spain. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images) #
An Egyptian boy wearing a Guy Fawkes Mask holds bread, a symbol of poverty, during an anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration in Cairo, Egypt, on March 22, 2013. Thousands of protesters from different areas of Cairo marched on Friday to express their rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi's rule. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil) #
A man wearing a beer mug mask waits for the start of his cherry blossoms viewing party at Ueno Park in Tokyo, on March 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) #
A Ugandan soldier sits on top of his armored vehicle on the first day of an advance to oust militant group Al Shabab from several towns in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, on February 12, 2013. (Reuters/AU-UN IST PHOTO/Tobin Jones) #
A Chinese woman covers her head with a scarf and face with a mask, as she makes walks near Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on March 9, 2013. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Bulgarian Kukeri dancer carries her mask as she performs a ritual in the town of Batanovtsi, on January 13, 2013. Kukeri is a pagan Bulgarian ritual of Thracian origins, performed between Christmas and Lent by costumed men in sheepskin garments, bells and masks, who walk around and dance to scare away the evil spirits, in hope to provide a good harvest, health, fertility, and happiness. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) #

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