Recently, I was asked to do an Instagram takeover on a food blogger's account. We decided I would make my mom’s oven-baked chicken cutlets for her almost-23K followers. I was excited to share this dish with the world (it’s my favorite thing to eat, besides pizza), but I was less than thrilled about my camera-ready look. Putting in a little effort might not sound like a big deal, but after a year of putting in exactly zero effort, it was, let’s say, an adjustment.
As a former fashion editor and stylist, I’ve done enough TV segments to know what looks good on camera. So, my plan was to keep it simple and clean. I tucked a slim-fit, black crewneck tee into a pair of high-waisted jeans. Classic. Using the same mindset for my hair, I parted it down the middle and slicked it back into a low chignon. Effortless. But then came the hard part: makeup. I hadn't touched my makeup bag since March 8, 2020—the last time I left the house for a social gathering before San Francisco went into full-blown lockdown.
After opening a few drawers in my bathroom, I finally found it and slowly pulled the zipper. I’m not sure what I was expecting to find, but cobwebs seemed appropriate. I wondered if my products would show obvious signs of decay, like mold or dust or whatever happens to makeup when it sits dormant for this long. But no, it all looked just as I had left it. I pulled the products out and stared at the spread of pots and brushes for a second, not knowing how to proceed. Out of sight, out of mind is right.
I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I was devoted to makeup pre-pandemic. I'm not patting myself on the back for turning over an entirely new (beauty) leaf. My routine was always simple: something to even out my skin, a neutral, taupe-y eyeshadow, a bit of mascara, and a bold lip. The bold lip was my signature look, and it alternated between Nars' Schiap (a bright pink) and the orange-y red 13 Le Orange by YSL. Once I became a mom though, the bold lip faded, both literally and figuratively, as it proved to be too messy for my daughter’s newborn fingers—and, let’s be honest, at that point I was too damn tired to care about lipstick. As my daughter went from infant to toddler, and my husband and I enjoyed weekly date nights, the bold lip made an appearance again. But in March 2020, the bold lip—along with everything and everyone else—stopped coming out to play.
Suddenly I was trapped in a two-bedroom apartment with an over-active toddler to contain and entertain. My husband helped as much as he could, but thanks to constant video calls he spent most days locked in our bedroom. Neither him nor my makeup bag saw the light of day. Hell, neither did my jeans. We were in survival mode and between the arts and crafts, cooking, cleaning, and the exhaustion of keeping a toddler busy indoors, I could barely manage to change out of my pajamas. What I wore every day got pushed to the bottom of my priority list. Fashion ceased to exist for me anymore, and I guess that’s when skincare stepped in.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil after all, and since my face never squeaked I never gave it much love.
In those early days of the pandemic, my evening showers became my sanctuary; the little bit of time I had to breathe and be by myself. And those 10 minutes I spent in the bathroom post-shower, staring at myself in the mirror, not wanting my alone time to end, was when I began to get to know my skin. I noticed crow’s feet, a set of parenthesis that framed my mouth, and deep wrinkles on my forehead. As the weeks went on, I decided to finally treat my skin the way it always treated me. Growing up I was lucky. I never broke out, but in a way my wonderfully-behaved skin set me back. The squeaky wheel gets the oil after all, and since my face never squeaked I never gave it much love.
When lockdown forced us all to stay home, I had a sudden desire to tend to my makeup-less face. I added eye serum, a rosewater facial mist, and a heavy-duty night cream to the rotation (I had already added face serum two years before). After six months, I went a step further and incorporated a vitamin C serum to my morning lineup, along with trying out a gentle cleanser for dry skin. I now vigorously pat products into my face instead of rubbing—a famous facialist used this technique on Instagram claiming it increases cell regeneration. It couldn’t hurt, I figured.
At first using all these products felt foreign, even wasteful—I pride myself on living a low-waste lifestyle—but eventually the routine won me over. All that time I used to spend picking out an outfit and applying my makeup was now being spent taking care of my face. It’s a switch that was long overdue, if you ask me. It’s hard to say whether my new routine has made a difference in the way my face looks—the most stressful year of our collective lives might not have been the best controlled environment for testing anti-aging practices—but it has absolutely made a difference in the way I feel.
It’s amazing what we can get used to if we let our eyes, and skin, adjust.
So with my makeup spread out around the bathroom sink, and my chicken cutlet takeover looming near, I decided to ease my way back in slowly. First I dabbed some bronzer on my cheekbones and blended it around my face. Then I pulled the mascara wand out of the tube and applied it to my top lashes. I swiped on some lip balm and I was done. The transformation was subtle yet undeniable, but I had to stop there. My eyelashes felt like they weighed 50 pounds, and when I scratched an itch on my cheek it felt like my nail was scoring a piece of clay. After a year of not wearing anything on my face, minimal makeup now felt how TV makeup used to—like spackle. It’s amazing what we can get used to if we let our eyes, and skin, adjust.
In the end, I'm sure I'll go back to wearing makeup, albeit slowly and more carefully, and I hope to keep up with my skincare routine post-pandemic. But, what I have learned is to feel comfortable shifting priorities and that beauty, whether it's makeup, skincare, and/or haircare, is inextricably linked with wellness—and always will be.