Because of the on-going pandemic, doing anything suddenly feels like an occasion. And, I'm thinking that will happen even more so when it's safe to get out there again. The whole ritual of dressing up in never-worn cocktail dresses and buffing a layer of foundation onto the face, the excitement of stepping out of the house and baptizing our new heels by pounding some pavement. it’s intoxicating. It’s exhilarating. Even for the smallest and most insignificant of chores, like picking up eggs or grabbing pizza, I want to do the absolute most whenever I go out. It’s all become so ceremonial and reverent, and best of all, it’s freeing. And after this past year, I think the pandemic has encouraged us to confront our relationships with beauty for the better. Our relationship with our beauty routines has gone from obligatory and restrictive, to a way for us to freely express our imaginations and emotions.
When lockdown settled over the entirety of the United States last spring, gone were the daily pressures of beauty maintenance. We didn’t have to do a five-minute face before we wrangled ourselves into an office-appropriate outfit with cute, but pinch-y shoes. We didn’t have to fret over how our hair was going to hold up to our humid summer commute to work. We didn’t have to painstakingly fuss with lashes or eyeliner. We didn’t have to perfunctorily rush through our nightly skincare routine after a long day at the office. We didn’t have to force ourselves to go through a daily beauty routine that was partially compelled by the demands of our careers or society. Beauty stopped being a chore we all had to do.
So what did we do with all our time at home? We stopped wearing makeup to Zoom meetings, instead going barefaced and re-allocating our scheduled 20-minute morning commutes to 20-minute face masks that we did before (or even during) meetings. We wore whatever we felt like, whenever we felt like. Who was around to politely tell us it wasn’t really office-appropriate to wear ratty old college sweatpants, or a flamboyant red ballgown? We indulged ourselves in nightly hair masks, bought comfortably unrestrictive and playful nap dresses that held us like a cocoon, and we planned out cute brunch outfits for when we could finally get together with loved ones again. Our beauty routines re-centered from what we were expected to look like when we were outside the house to what gave us personal pleasure.
Makeup was no different. Some of us took a break from it, finding relief from not having to wear foundation or concealer every day. Some of us never stopped wearing it, finding comfort in the routine of applying a morning face. And some of us began using these products for the first time, marveling at how much a thin layer of foundation or filled-in brows could do for our morale. But makeup stopped being about necessity: it was purely personal if someone chose to attend their daily Zoom meeting with a glamorously full beat, or just a few dabs of concealer and bronzer, or without a lick of makeup on. No one could tell us we looked too done up in our own homes, or that we weren’t done up enough.
Best of all, being at home gave us the freedom of privacy. It gave us the freedom to experiment with combinations, colors, and techniques we had never tried in the past, for fear of judgement or admonishment. And even if we had Zoom meetings, we could sometimes remain off camera. There was an incredible thrill to know that your manager had no idea that you had decided to attend your Zoom one-on-one with them in glittery violet lipstick, dramatic falsies, and a contour that was slightly too orange for your coloring.
Makeup could become another artistic outlet, where our faces and bodies were used as canvases. We could indulge in our wildest imaginations and most whimsical fantasies, as though we were just children all over again.
Personally, as an Asian woman who had always felt uncomfortable with makeup, it was as though I had been given the perfect conditions to experiment with makeup. Cosmetics felt so alienating for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most harmful was the way most makeup tutorials or tips were really only helpful for those with features that conformed to Eurocentric beauty standards. I did a lot of wild-looking makeup over the course of the pandemic, without having to fear judgement from others. And while I loved having the freedom to play as I so pleased, I experienced a bolt of lightning like no other when I saw what other makeup artists were doing while in quarantine to help them express themselves. Streaks of lavender wiggles across the bridge of their noses, tiny gems glued all over their cheeks, eyeliner drawn in the shapes of flames, the undulating bodies of women dancing down temples drawn in electric blue eyeliner… things that might have been considered Halloween-ish. Ridiculous. Over the top. Impractical. Fantastical.
How many times had my makeup been criticized for not looking "correct" enough? Or been told that my lips were too red, my makeup looked too aging and high-maintenance, my skin wasn’t clear enough to wear blush, my eyeliner was too heavy? (The answer: too much.) It’s so easy to insist that wearing makeup is for your own pleasure, when you don’t have loved ones giving you their unsolicited opinions or an office culture that insists on a certain style and level of grooming. It’s so easy for makeup to become constrictive and so rules-based in our everyday life, but through the pandemic, with no one to judge us all while we were doing as we pleased in our own homes, we were all free from the expectations of a "summer glow" or "fluffed brows." Makeup could become another artistic outlet, where our faces and bodies were used as canvases. We could indulge in our wildest imaginations and most whimsical fantasies, as though we were just children all over again.
I don’t want to lose that whimsy, when (if?) a small semblance of normality slowly begins to return to us all. I don’t want us to feel boxed in with how we should be doing makeup. I love this fantastical and impractical self-expression that we’ve manifested in our makeup looks. I love being able to do the most and taking a maximalist approach. I love having an abundance of glittery eyeshadows, blinding highlighters, and bold lipsticks. And according to statistics, I’m not the only one. According to CNBC, consumers in their teens and early 20s are spending more money on apparel and accessories, and young consumers are the most excited about spending time outside of their households. And while I’m not sure how long it’ll last before we all start to feel self-conscious about our spending habits or when I’ll be in the mood to be a little more minimalist with my makeup. But until then, I’m going to savor every set of strip lashes, every rainbow-draped cheek, and every stroke of bright graphic liner that I can.