Before all of this, I would not have described myself as a vain person, necessarily — just a woman with a number of society- and capitalism-imposed hangups. And while it’s important to note that caring about your appearance and engaging in beauty routines aren’t inherently vain activities, it’s become hard for me not to face the fact that there was a little more vanity involved with my personal day-to-day looks than I would have thought.
I don’t have an overly complicated beauty routine, but the few times I have gone out without makeup, I’ve still put on mascara in an attempt to look pulled-together. My hair naturally dries pretty straight, but I still always make sure to blow dry the front part, to iron out my cowlicks. I feel naked if I leave my house without putting on a fragrance. I ended an experiment with natural deodorant because I was paranoid I smelled bad. And when I would post to social media, even for off-the-cuff stuff, I would make sure I angled the camera just-so to best flatter my face.
Well, I’m just about three weeks into social isolation, and I can tell you this: Nearly all of that has gone straight out the window.
Did you know things like “putting on makeup” and “blow-drying your hair” are actually completely optional? I know, it’s been mind-blowing to me too. I haven’t even worn a bra that doesn’t have “sport” in the name since we started working from home almost a month ago.
As it turns out, my desires to fit into societal norms can be easily overridden by my sheer laziness. I don’t want to go through any kind of beauty routine just to look good on a grainy web chat, only to have to go through the whole process of taking it off again at night. I’ve been skipping everything but the most essential steps most days — showering, moisturizing, putting on deodorant (please don’t @ me about personal hygiene, I’ve got that covered!) — to avoid burning through my stash of beauty products while cooped up at home. Dry shampoo? I don’t know her right now.
I have sat wet-haired through a FaceTime happy hour with a friend, did an Instagram takeover sweaty and bare-faced in gym clothes and sent video chats on Marco Polo with greasy hair pulled back in a barrette, my face shining from moisturizer. I’ve posted to my own Instagram stories post-workout, out of breath and at an angle which emphasizes the chin in ways I once avoided.
Part of this certainly is because most of these activities have been with friends or my partner of over five years, who I know love and care about me beyond whether I took care to hide my under-eye circles that day. Another part of it is that there’s a lot more going on in the world than my ruddy complexion. I’ve been trying to keep things real and honest on my own social media, and nothing could be more truthful than my sweaty, greasy ponytail with baby hairs popping out all over the place after a socially-distanced, sanity-saving quarantine run.
But it’s brought up a lot of questions for me about the performative nature of all the stuff I had been doing before. I’m still maintaining a skin-care routine, maybe more out of boredom than anything else, but also because it’s a way to feel like I’m taking care of myself. I’ve been taking hour-long baths, and every few days I’ll put on perfume because it seems like a treat. And yet, at no point have I looked at the rather large stash of makeup now gathering dust and thought, “You know what, it would be fun to put this on.”
If I can be my least put-together self around the people I love, who am I worried about impressing when I leave the house every day? I know the root of this is buried under layers of sexism and misogyny, of expectations of how women should look dictated by the (straight, white, cis) men who control society, of how expectations of tidiness and care in personal appearance are related to my size.
What has surprised me about all of this is not how quickly those disappeared for me, but that they had a hold on me to begin with. I always operated under the assumption that I dressed and looked generally high-feminine because that’s what I wanted — and for what it’s worth, I do still think that’s largely true. (Blair Waldorf is still my queen, don’t fret.) Clearly, though, the effort was dictated in large part by some deeply-ingrained ties to societal expectations, ties which dissolved shortly after isolating myself from said society. I didn’t spend ages trying to find the “right” camera angle because it did something for my health.
I am sure that once we are back to business as usual, I’ll enjoy dressing up in the clothes languishing at the back of my closet and playing with makeup again. I definitely found joy in caring for my outward appearance that way, and I have no doubt that I will again. But there is something liberating about knowing that it’s optional. On those days where I can’t be bothered, where the effort of pretending I’m put together is exhausting, I’ll remember that it’s okay — that it’s real — to take a break from the artifice of my outward appearance and that it won’t change anything about who I am as a person.
After all, in the words of the great RuPaul, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
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