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What is makeup for during a pandemic?

Marielle Segarra Feb 10, 2021
Heard on:
For some women, makeup provides an escape. For others, it's a social nicety. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYX Professional Makeup

What is makeup for during a pandemic?

Marielle Segarra Feb 10, 2021
Heard on:
For some women, makeup provides an escape. For others, it's a social nicety. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYX Professional Makeup

If you’re a woman who wears makeup and you show up to work one day without it, you hear comments like, “Are you feeling OK?”

“I would get, ‘You look tired,’” said Brooke Jackson, a consultant in Austin, Texas.

Sometimes she would anticipate the comment and apologize in advance, saying something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not wearing makeup right now — forgive me,” she said.

Jackson used to spend at least $1,000 a year at Sephora. She knows that because she earned a special status called Rouge that entitled her to discounts and other perks.

Her regular makeup routine: tinted sunscreen, eyeliner, eyeshadow, brow pencil, lip gloss, and a product called blurring powder, which is supposed to make your pores look smaller.

“I have no idea if it does anything, but I always would get compliments when I’d use it,” she said.

Now she has no use for any of it.

“It’s just not part of my life anymore,” Jackson said.

Brooke Jackson on a trip to White Sands National Park in New Mexico last year

When the pandemic hit and Jackson started working from home, she stopped wearing makeup. Eventually, she got used to seeing herself without it.

“It sort of makes you rethink like, why have I been spending 20-plus minutes every single day changing my face?” she said.

It starts when we’re young. 

“I remember at the age of like, 11, getting really excited about a sleepover because we were gonna do makeovers, and I was jazzed,” said Caleigh Cross, who works in marketing in Vermont.

It was the early 2000s — and blue eyeshadow was popular, for some reason — so she’s not saying that the makeover was a huge success. But she got the message: makeup was fun! Also, it wasn’t really optional.

Her mom wore it every day. And Cross would read teen magazines that were always coming out with, you know, seven new makeup tips!

“The undertone was definitely: ‘But you are wearing it, aren’t you?’” she said.

She did wear it, as a teenager and an adult. 

And then when the lockdown started last year, she stopped for three days. On Monday, March 16, she wrote this in her journal:

It should be relaxing, being at home and wearing comfortable clothes and not getting up at 6:30 in the morning to do that commute. But it’s just not. I think tomorrow I’m going to put on proper clothes and makeup like I would for work, because I look really different right now. And it’s really messing with my desire to get anything done.

The next day, she put on foundation, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara. And she felt a lot better.

Cross said she doesn’t like that women are expected to wear makeup to look professional, especially since it can cost hundreds of dollars a year.

But makeup puts her in the mindset to work, and it has helped her create a boundary between work and home. 

“As much as I like my co-workers — they’re great people — when I started my job, I wasn’t expecting to invite them in for five days out of the week into my house,” she said.

Wearing makeup allows her to keep something — her bare face — for herself. 

Makeup can also be an escape. 

Before the pandemic, Maxie Hollingsworth, a public school teacher in Houston, didn’t wear much of it. She was always rushing to get somewhere.

“I remember waking up one day and I had a big bruise on the side of my leg, and I had no idea how it got there,” she said. “And then realizing that as I was putting lotion on, I hadn’t looked at my body in a long time.”

She said makeup is a way for her to slow down and pay attention to herself.

For Maxie Hollingsworth, makeup is about self-care and bonding with her daughter.

She started wearing more makeup because she didn’t like the way she looked on video calls. But then she got really into it and found a bunch of makeup tutorials online.

Makeup is also a way for Hollingsworth to bond with her 11-year-old daughter, who wants to learn, too. 

But she has two daughters. And her 8-year-old is not feeling it. 

“Even this morning when she saw me, she said, ‘I have a question. Why are you doing this?’ And I said, ‘It’s just playing around, having fun.’ She didn’t say anything. She just walked away. And I could tell she’s still thinking about it,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth said she is going to honor both of their perspectives and let them choose whether or not to wear makeup.

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