How our makeup bags became tool kits for escapism when our outdoor playground was strictly off limits.
What I’m about to say may initially make me sound very boring, but we all know in our hearts that it’s true. The process of getting ready for something is more often than not better than the actual event itself. And especially so thanks to the lockdown period, which left us with everything to get ready with, yet nothing really to get ready for.
Put your hand up if at some point during lockdown, you marvelled at just how amazing a simple tube of mascara is? Me too. The beauty items we were so used to throwing in handbags or sleepily applying first thing in that tiny slice of time between bed and commute took on a different kind of role when the world went on pause. If you were using the time to go au natural, makeup was usually abandoned in bathroom cabinets for days on end, but then promised to transform us just in time for Zoom quizzes and at-home date nights. But for those who wanted to keep up the daily routine, most likely to maintain a sense of control in what was such an abnormal situation, these items became totems of normality. I joined the makeup-free team, after realising how much I’d gotten used to seeing my face made-up, how automatic it had become to cover up a spot and ‘erase’ dark circles. And this applied to my colleagues too; having never seen them without polished hair and perfectly applied makeup, I felt like I was getting to know them on another level on the odd occasion they would appear barefaced on video calls, messy buns, headscarves and all.
But then days at home turned into weeks, and we started to miss the fun of getting ready. By then, we’d nailed our skincare routines by having that extra time both morning and night to do it all properly (and maybe try mask mapping for the first time). I started to feel delighted when I saw a colleague wearing a punchy coral lipstick, simply because she “felt like brightening up the day,” or a friend proudly showing off a purple eyeliner that she’s previously been too scared to wear. It seemed everyone was rediscovering the joy of playing with makeup again, for themselves rather than an outside audience. All the extra time made previously hurried everyday tasks really enjoyable, like swiping that mascara brush across my lashes and seeing how it built them up and made my eyes look so feminine and fluttery.
The act of getting ready, both for something and for nothing at all, has become such an important ritual, almost like a meditation where we can get caught up in something other than what is going on in the world. I developed even more respect for items like brow gel and cream blusher once I realised I was slightly more productive and upbeat on the days I used them. The act of prepping yourself can work wonders on your confidence and get you into work-mode, in the exact same way that taking it off at night settles you into switching off. Experts and doctors have researched how wearing makeup affects things like maintaining work-life balance or performing well on academic tests (Harvard University), with positive results that suggest it helps us more than we might expect.
And it’s been the same story with everything else in our beauty routines. For so many of us, skin and body care became a way to dote upon something we may have neglected in our busiest moments. Baths became a worthy opponent for showers, and such an essential way to unwind (and lock ourselves away from the family). Where previously, the mere thought of spending precious time massaging our faces seemed like a luxury we couldn’t afford (or something we paid others to do), it suddenly made perfect sense to while away the evening doing exactly that. Sales of jade rollers and LED face masks rocketed, as did decadent body butters and balms. I found myself treating my face and skin with equal compassion and care, exfoliating, cleansing, massaging and moisturising and absolutely loving being swept up in the ritual of it all. Those I knew who used to hate using body lotion (“It takes too long to dry! It gets all over my clothes!”) started bombarding me for recommendations, then delighting in the feeling of freshly softened and scented skin amongst new bedsheets. The same went for hair; with more time to actually indulge in hair masks, the nation went crazy researching and buying them, with hair mask searches on Google tripling in April compared to mid-March (Google Trends, 2020). We split ways again when it came to styling, either leaving our freshly-masked locks be or keeping up a regular blow-drying routine, but whatever the ritual, the satisfying result was the same.
So, now we’re starting to regain a slice of normality, albeit still new, but it will be forever changed when it comes to beauty, among so many other things. Full lockdown has taught us to slow down, find the pleasure in things we took for granted and rediscover the power of looking good for ourselves. It’s something we may not have expected to emerge from this, but I for one am grateful it did. Whatever happens, remember your rituals and how they made you feel – the moments which sparked joy and contentment – and know you have something to retreat to when life gets too much.