The shutdown feels like a good opportunity to examine an age-old feminist question: when women put makeup on, can they ever truly be doing it for themselves?
We will probably never have an answer. The pressure imposed on women to look good is such a part of our existence that we might never get rid of it – even “dressing up for oneself” can be traced back to self-hatred fueled by a beauty-obsessed culture.
But the shutdown means that we interact less with the outside world and the societal pressures that come with it. We asked women about their own relationship to their appearance right now. Are some wearing a full face of makeup every day? Wearing a bra? And who still dresses up, anyway? Here are their answers.
Dina Gachman, Texas
Before everything shut down in Austin, I would put on mascara and lipstick (Clinique Chunky Cherry) every day, even though I work from home as a writer. My southern belle mom always taught us to “put on a little lipstick” no matter what – advice I hated as a teen. Somewhere along the way, I figured she was right. I still put on mascara and lipstick in quarantine, even though I know it’s ridiculous. It makes me feel human. It brings some normalcy to a very abnormal and scary time and It lifts my mood, even if I’m just walking to the mailbox.
Sarah Skiles, Los Angeles
I grew a unibrow, named it Angelina: Conquerer of Space and Time. I wanted to see what it would look like since I’ve done upkeep since I was 14. I was disappointed by the results, which in no way made me resemble Frida Kahlo. Sparse. Too many years of plucking.
Sarah Wilson, Leeds
I feel much happier with my natural appearance after a month in lockdown. I’ve worn makeup pretty much every day since I was about 14, even though in recent years I’ve cut down to just a bit of foundation and mascara. I believed I had an uneven and blotchy skin tone, but having now not worn a scrap of makeup for a month (probably the longest I’ve gone without it in nine years) I actually like the way my skin looks. I feel like I’m going to have the confidence to just stop wearing makeup once this is all over.
Niamh Ronan, London
I’ve spent even more time scrutinising and hating my appearance in lockdown. I’m still doing my makeup almost every day and trying to make myself look presentable because I can’t be [bothered] to get upset by my reflection. I am still tinting my eyebrows, doing a full skincare routine, tonight I think I will fake tan. It is kind of depressing. I really wanted this to be the time where I’d get slightly comfortable in my own skin, but actually I can’t. Especially not now – it’s too much work to unravel years of self-hatred during a crisis.
Ariadne Braso, Philadelphia
Since shutdown, I’m not wearing whole parts of my wardrobe, getting haircuts or getting my hair colored. The only makeup I really wear is eyeliner and i still put that on when I’m going outside.
As a trans person – I haven’t gotten the whole laser hair removal on my face yet, so I still shave my face and I have found myself not shaving, not consciously, but if i don’t go out I don’t do it. Trans-femme people can get really stressed out about body hair, but I’m fortunate to have very thin facial hair and body hair so I don’t notice it too much.
Now when I look in the mirror I feel more stripped down. It’s not about confidence, it’s much more about the way I see myself. I see myself as very colorful and vibrant and so that’s why I dress up the way I do. Right now it feels like some of the functions through which I normally express myself are disabled. In the past i have thought of myself as pretty vain but now I realize it’s not about being vain, it’s about not getting to express myself, and feeling like parts of myself are stifled.
Danielle Emina, London
I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go back to wearing a bra after this?
Frances Forbes-Carbines, London
I am 30 and rather overweight. Favorite dresses no longer zip up the back, and as all the shops are closed I’m having to order dresses online, without of course trying them on first. I’m eating somewhat wantonly: takeaways, large portions of meat and veg too. My face is unusually spotty. A couple of massive subcutaneous beasts lurk on my cheeks of all places, never rising to the surface. I put expensive green highlighter on them to make them less apparent, but now it looks like I have marker pen on my face. I doll myself up daily, thinking I want to look nice to walk my little dog. My leg hair grows and I shave it occasionally so I can wear my dresses.
All in all I am discontented with my appearance in lockdown. I find all body types beautiful but I feel heavy and like my excess weight is tiring me out. I post maudlinly on social media about my excess weight and receive no likes. The lack of face-to-face contact with friends makes me blue, as well as lack of opportunities to go on dates and have occasions to dress up for.
Allison Alexy, Michigan
I think all I’ve learned is that lighting matters more than anything else? Oh wait, and also that my hair is so flat it looks drawn on with a pencil. Two lessons! Someone said that what we realize now is that the best part of going out to dinner with your friends is that you don’t have to look at your own face for that whole time. And it’s true – I have been recording my lectures and it is humbling, man. To watch myself on a video is the worst.
Elisabeth Gampel, Munich
Since the lockdown, I love to wear no makeup. It is the first time I feel beautiful without it. I also wear sneakers (I normally do not like them because it reminds me of my childhood in a poor, working-class family), and I do not miss business clothes. And I do not want to wear a bra again.
Sara Sloves, New York
I don’t have the same morning routine anymore and I am mostly wearing sports clothes. When I do take a shower, if I know I’m going to go running, I’ll put on sunscreen and a little bit of makeup – mascara and a little bit of eyeshadow. It makes me feel more awake and I feel like it’s nice for other people to see something nice. I am having a little fun with it – wearing mismatching or stripy tights or something a little festive when I run, because life is a bummer right now. We can’t control it, so trying to control what you can control helps a little bit.
Afia Chaudhury, London
You’d think quarantine would see to me not taking care of my appearance and elucidate that this dressing up is for others. But it’s proved that I do it for moi. I love looking/feeling buff. And as a Muslim when you pray you’re supposed to look your best, so may as well stunt to the heavens.