How I Rediscovered Beauty in the Pandemic

Putting on your face isn’t as important as it used to be

Photo: NickyLloyd/Getty Images

I grew up with a mother who believed in “putting on her face” before even venturing downstairs to greet company. She long proselytized the power of wearing makeup as a spiritual pick-me-up. Beauty was an exercise I was expected to perform from my earliest stages. Makeup and clothing were types of armor my mom taught me to put on before facing the world. My first, most visible act of interrogating beauty and bucking the norms I was raised to uphold was to cut my hair short in college and then go natural. Now the pandemic has me reconsidering many of the ways and reasons that I beautified myself.

As the creator of Afrobella.com, so much of my life has been devoted to writing about celebrating beauty on my own terms. Was I living that truth? Were they my own terms if these acts didn’t always bring me joy or if they were performed for praise and the public gaze? In a time where all responsible public gatherings are canceled and most of life’s expectations are thrown out the window, I had time to interrogate my personal needs in new ways. I realized how, every day, I performed the standards of beauty that were passed on to me, whether I wanted to or not. I started to notice the aspects of beautifying myself that felt like unnecessary obligations instead of essential grooming or personal care, and I started to ask myself: Why am I doing all of this anymore? For who?

At the beginning of quarantine, I felt a social media-influenced pressure to keep up the practice and perform for likes on #manicuremonday or #makeupmonday. In March and April, I would find myself still reflexively applying lipstick as I had been taught to do my whole life. Wearing my old face, covered in foundation, concealer, highlighter, bronzer, setting powder, lipstick — the works — felt normal, but was a now unnecessary act. Also, let’s sit with that phrase for a bit, “wearing my old face.” It hit me that that’s what I was doing, when, one day in June my husband and I were masking up for a Costco run. He was ready to go and there I was, hurrying up to do what I always would do. Putting on my armor: my foundation and lipstick. Eyeliner and mascara because that’s what people would see. In the midst of the process, I asked myself why I was taking the time to do this. The reasons were less for the public, and more so for my own psyche. To use some overused beauty slang, it was a way to feel fierce. It helped.

Since then I’ve tried to be intentional about doing beauty routines for myself and nobody else and appreciating the psychological effects instead of feeling cowed by societal pressure. As a writer, there’s something about noticing your colorful nails as you type out words you believe in. It feels like giving my writing a symbolic jolt. Honestly, it’s a fun way to procrastinate — a deliberate personal indulgence before putting in the work. I don’t do weekly or even fortnightly mani/pedis, but when I do, I do all out and make it an enjoyable, pampering experience. Break out the foot spa and pour the wine, because why not? We have nothing but time.

I used to feel a need to be on top of the latest colors and collections in the beauty space. Now, instead of buying new things, I’m trying to rediscover the things I have. I literally schedule an appointment for me-time and treat myself. It is a way to purposefully try to lift my own spirits in these heavy times.

I’ve tried to be intentional about doing beauty routines for myself and nobody else and appreciating the psychological effects instead of feeling cowed by societal pressure.

Beauty for me has been reclaimed and reframed into more personal self-care rituals. If that makes my Instagram grid less standardized, then so be it. That’s where I am right now. Life is raggedy. I’m often raggedy too, and that’s okay right now. I still love scrolling the timeline and seeing elaborate makeup looks and hot new product launches, but nowadays when I do wear makeup, after a time I can almost feel it on my skin. Mascara or eyeliner feels irritating to my eyes and makes them tear up, so I wear it less often. My main beauty focus isn’t makeup anymore. Now it is all about my skin. And lately, skin care feels so much like self-care.

When I was on the scene (and there was a scene to be on), I used to be lazy about my skin care. After events, too often I’d find myself falling asleep with makeup on, or lazily removing it with a makeup wipe or micellar water instead of double cleansing. I kept makeup wipes by the bed for this exact reason. My skin care regimen was primarily focused on evening hours, to wash off the effects of hours spent out in the world. Now, I’m not going anywhere. Why not begin the morning with a serum that makes me look like a glazed doughnut if I’m just spending all day in my living room?

Being better to my skin and building a skin care practice has become part of my personal anti-anxiety regimen. I follow the top voices of #skincaretwitter and their tips have helped me to figure out what works for me, with products that won’t break the bank account. Now on a weekly basis I’m oil cleansing my face or body and I find it to be a peaceful, meditative practice. When I see breakouts on the horizon, I love to dry them out with a clay mask that I mix myself. I’ve been collecting them for years but now I think I’m beginning to figure out the best application of all the tiny bottles and jars that have been cluttering my bathroom counter. Figuring out when and how to use my battalion of serums, acids, toners, and essences has been giving me relaxation and gratification in a time when that’s in short supply. Finally, I have enough time.

These days, when I video chat my mom, she’s usually at home in a cute dress with a bold lipstick on and her nails done. In recent years she has had her share of health issues and she’s been less likely to go out for some time now, so being at home during these times is more of the same for her. Beauty has changed over time for her as well. Now, the ability to “put on her face” has become a barometer for her capabilities. Recently, I asked her why she still makes the effort, even if she’s not venturing downstairs to greet company at all anymore.

“I do it for me. I do it to feel like me,” she explained. I totally understand. It is what works for her. I’m still figuring out my own way, with the lessons she taught me.

Beauty, hair and culture writer. One of WWD's 50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Market. Often called the Godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging!

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