The way that this social distanced period has affected me is not unique. My story about being stuck in my apartment and working from my couch with questionable sweatpants on is not groundbreaking. Ushering my reluctant eight-year-old from one virtual classroom to another is not a situation that is unrecognizable in 2020. Like many others, quarantine has forced me to stay home and rethink my routine (or lack of one)—as a byproduct of sorts, my regular beauty upkeep has gradually fallen by the wayside. Sitting around in cutoff shorts and an ex boyfriend’s hoodie for the better part of nine months seemed appealing, until I actually sat around for nine months in cutoff shorts and an ex’s hoodie. Yes, allowing my wrists and finger tips to slowly forget the muscle memory of applying primer, foundation, and highlighter in a precise order every morning was freeing in a way. But by the third month of the quarantine, I’d completely stopped any part of my beauty routine, including doing my hair. Instead, I settled for haphazard wig braids and selecting the "camera off" function for Zoom meetings. Without a need to really leave my apartment to go to work or many social events, keeping up with my hair felt like an unnecessary hassle that I should enjoy being freed from finally.
After about three months, that freeing feeling started feeling...heavy. As it turns out, spending months indoors with a sketchy, barely viable haircare routine can be a real downer after a while. Despite it feeling crappy, I still was having trouble justifying doing my own hair. Maintaining my natural hair felt like an unbelievable chore that I continuously skipped and ignored. Throwing in a protective style felt like a waste, because no one was going to get to enjoy it other than me. Every time I started to pick up a comb to do a twist out or install my favorite butt-length knotless box braids, a little voice in my head asked me, Why are you wasting your time on your hair when you could be working or studying or cooking your eight-year-old his 10th meal for the day? To be honest, aside from it feeling like a total time suck, spending that much time on my hair in the midst of a pandemic felt arrogant and quite vain. There are people who are saying premature goodbyes to their loved ones and here I am, worried about what I look like. In a way, pushing my self-care to the corner to wither away felt like an act of solidarity in suffering. There are far greater things to worry about this year than how my hair looks—right?
One day, I texted my friend and told her how overwhelmed I was starting to feel, and that it seemed like I was losing myself. Working from home has a way of making every hour feel like business hours and being an unwilling second grade teacher’s assistant along with that doesn’t help either. Aside from telling myself how socially irresponsible it was to care about my appearance at a time like this, I also deemed the hours between awake and sleep the time to work, so squeezing in a beauty ritual just wasn’t in the cards. After listening to my repeated groans, my friend urged me to take some time during my week to do something for myself, even if it was something small. She told me this didn't have to look like a full-on spa day, or require me to spend a ton of money. Instead, some me-time would allow me to slow down, recharge, and reconnect with myself.
And that's why one day, with the world still in lockdown, I woke up and decided to braid my own hair. While that little voice still popped up telling me that it was a poor use of my time, I shooed it away and gathered up my supplies. Sitting on my living room floor, starting a Tyler Perry movie marathon and parting my hair into small sections, the moment didn’t feel selfish or unimportant. Instead, it was like being reunited with an old friend. I spent seven hours installing extra-long, knotless box braids that no one would likely see in real life, other than my child and the UberEats driver—but it felt special and nurturing all the same. I spent those seven hours on myself. I silenced the endless updates about what was going on in the world. I wasn’t glued to my computer working into the night. I wasn’t tending to endless food requests from my son. I was spending seven whole hours on myself. How indulgent! Thoughtfully installing braids in my hair—a simple act that I’d done many times before—suddenly felt more personal. In a time when everyone is sitting on the spectrum of suffering in one way or another, taking time to braid my hair felt like an incredible declaration of self-love that I truly needed.
While I loved the end results (and was able to turn my camera again on for my Zoom calls), the actual braids were more of an additional asset to the time spent on myself. The reality is that I won’t always have seven hours to install braids or twists, and I still am coming to my living-room-slash-office in cut-offs and hoodies. But I’ve realized that I don’t need to earn the right to take care of myself, or to do something that makes me feel good. I've learned that giving yourself a moment of self-love is never selfish, even in the midst of a pandemic—and that knowledge alone is enough for me.