I’m not much of a makeup girl, never was, never really wanted to be. I enjoy sometimes spending some time putting lipstick and eye-shadow on, but if it’s possible to avoid spending 30 minutes in front of the mirror just to look better, I will surely avoid it.
I have always been practical about it. I believe that less is more, and while I think that using foundation to cover up spots and using mascara to make my eyes look bigger is a good way to give myself a confidence boost, I simply don’t have the patience to deal with it every day.
I sat through 2-hour sessions with my makeup artist friend, only to look ‘natural’. I tried 3D eyelashes to have the ‘woke up like this’ look and to save time. But in fairness, I believe that the best thing is to have a complexion from the sun and nothing can put the sparkle in my eyes better than being excited about something or being in love.
The situation these days made me stay indoors — 17 days and counting, and the lockdown is beginning only now in Hungary where I live. I have left the flat. I went on a walk on my own a few times and with my kids a few other times. I also went grocery shopping! I had a mask and a hoodie on, so more than half of my face was covered.
I don’t see anyone, but my kids and occasionally my coworkers through calls — what we mainly limit to voice calls as the video connection tends to get unstable.
Yet, for some reasons putting on makeup has become my daily routine. I use face cream and foundation and blush. I use eyeshadow and eyeliner and mascara. Occasionally I will also put some lipstick on — Russian Red from MAC is my favourite. As you can imagine, it’s very red.
None of this is reasonable. It doesn’t really make sense.
But for me, it is a way of coping.
Whenever something disrupts our lives — as it did now — we look for solid ground. We look to people we can trust, things we can rely on, habits that will assure us that life still goes on.
After a loss, a breakup or trauma the first things that come back into our lives are the routine motions that we go through. It’s a bit like muscle memory — the habits that you cultivated long enough ground you in a safe reality.
This is why a morning routine can sound daunting if you just start it and it’s imperceptible after having done it for a while. Our body knows the ways and our mind clings to the security.
Social distancing started out as self-imposed social isolation for me. At first, it was just allowed to work from home with my clients, then it soon became mandatory. I haven’t broken the recommended rules for 17 days, and it’s counting.
What first seemed to be exciting — to be home, to have time, not having to commute to meetings that could have been emails — started to drag me down after a week.
I was supposed to be travelling. I had a trip planned — to Barcelona to see some friends. I was going to take up running with a coach — as the weather warms up. I was supposed to do so many things… and none of it is happening.
Instead, I got stuck home with three kids, the abyss of the so-called digital education and plenty of time on our hands that we haven’t learnt to spend together. Too much time, too much closeness, too few options.
It was crippling me.
I have a desk in the living room where I usually work during the day. It’s big enough, with a comfortable chair, with enough space around it. I had to move out of the living room at the moment my kids started to have video calls with their schools. Obviously the schools can’t coordinate the timetable of different classes, so it happens that they have calls at once — needing space for both of them. So I gave up my writing space and moved back to my bedroom, where I have a small table in front of a huge mirror on the wall.
When I was arranging the spaces in the flat and put the ancient-looking silver framed mirror on the bedroom wall, I didn’t have it in mind that it should be used as a working space. The small table is more like a boudoir table which I don’t use, but it looks pretty enough and gives a nice ambient to the room. It was designed to be a bedroom — not a workspace.
And here we go anyway. Now, I found myself doing all my work sitting in front of a mirror, seeing my reflection all the time — and that was disturbing both my focus and my self-esteem.
I was trying to work, write, sit through calls and video meetings — my reflection always in the periphery of my eyes. I saw myself worried, I saw myself as tears filled my eyes from all the panic outside and inside, I saw myself tired and worn out. And I just couldn’t take it anymore.
I was trying to pull myself together, get out of my depression funk — and although I have no troubles putting on regular clothes, I really had a hard time accepting that I have to face this battered down version of myself for the forthcoming months.
So, here’s why I am putting on makeup — every day — even if no one sees it:
1. Life goes on
I need to know that life goes on, that it is somewhat normal, that not everything is lost. I am clinging to tiny details to make sense of the whole that is impossible to digest at once.
Just as I am always getting dressed and not staying in pyjamas (I’m very strict about this with myself and my kids), putting makeup on has a hidden meaning. It tells me that this is not a holiday, this is not a sick-day, this is not a snow day. This is how our life is now — for an undetermined time. And as much as it is abnormal in every sense, I want it to be normal.
For me, a normal day is when I know when I sleep and when I am awake. When I have a specific time dedicated to resting and being active. Putting on makeup signals that this is the active part of the day.
2. Things are already ugly enough
The last week was okay, but the one before was terrible. I can’t tell how many bad days or bad weeks are ahead and I have enough to deal with already, I don’t need a mental breakdown just because I feel shitty about myself and my self-esteem.
I don’t think that our looks are the most important these days, but feeling good about myself definitely helps to manage everything else. And if putting foundation on to cover the shadows under my eyes tells me that I am fine, then I will take it.
3. I am doing it for myself
This is a weird time. Everything I do, I do it for myself. (Except staying at home, because I do that for the community and the world.) During pre-pandemic times I always had to consider others when weighing my decisions.
My kids, my coworkers, my friends, my partner — when I had one. All of my decisions were for someone else. I suppressed my own needs just to make someone else happy or comfortable. I thought I was nice, but I was just insecure.
I was trying to please others because I thought they wouldn’t like me any other way. Putting on makeup was to impress someone — usually. Now I do it for myself. I want to impress me — because no one else is around. (My kids love me with or without makeup, so that’s a good thing.)
It is teaching me that it’s okay to make an effort for myself. It is okay to treat myself well — it doesn’t have to be conditional.
4. I need to feel like a woman
It’s unfortunate to be single during a pandemic. It’s not easy either.
When you are partnered, you have different problems. You need to tolerate the other, you need to get used to spending a lot of time together during a lockdown, you need to work on your issues because the proximity will surely bring them out.
Being single these days is difficult. You need to handle it on your own, with no help. My mum used to be a great help — physically and mentally too — but now I am making do without her, not to put her at risk. This means that I am in the flat with the kids, with no adult company, with no one to hold me and tell me it will be fine.
And I miss it. And I miss being treated as a woman. I miss flirting and I miss the human touch. And I can’t do anything about it that is not something reckless or stupid — and I’m not doing that.
So I am left with myself. So I use makeup to feel like a woman. I highlight my eyes and tell myself how pretty I am.
I don’t think I am uglier than usual, but what I feel about the whole world seeps into my thoughts and it could easily undermine my mental health and self-esteem.
I don’t think that looks really matter that much — and if they do, now they don’t. But it is about keeping it all together and giving myself the validation that I need.
Eventually, this time away from others might just teach us about appreciating ourselves, valuing our own company, learning to rely on our own validation.
We all cope differently. Some do exercise challenges. Some jump into work. Some jump into writing. Some let themselves go and sulk on the couch binging Netflix series and junk food.
I added one more tool to my coping mechanism toolbox — to make myself feel okay, to be able to face myself in the mirror, to show that I am still here for myself.
It might be superficial, but it is for myself and no one can judge anyone these days about how they deal with something of this scale.