Beauty In A Time of Crisis
A stream of consciousness reflection on deconstructing personal beauty habits during the pandemic (and a revolution).
Liberatory Expressions From The Heart is a space reserved for my innermost and honest explorations of beauty, culture and healing. I’ll be delving deep into topics related to social and health justice, dismantling traditional beauty culture, and analyzing practical spirituality. Join me for semi-regular posts reflecting on what’s top of mind and needing to be expressed.
Subscribe below if you don’t want to miss a post and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to support my work.
(Note: “Beauty” refers to beauty routines and rituals, makeup, skincare, etc. not beauty in the general sense.)
Beauty is intricately paired with our outward experience. It’s straight forward to say that we want to look good for others, but the layers of internalized expectation that exists within ourselves related to a need for approval is heavy to dissect.
Beauty programming is deeply embedded, especially for women, and those standards are projected onto us seemingly out of the womb. It’s almost impossible not to absorb the demands to be perfect while tuning out an awareness of all of the ways we treat and alter our bodies in order to be accepted. Many of us have created daily systems of transformation in order to present ourselves as the persona and mould we most identify with, leaving our true self lost somewhere in the mix.
The pandemic has been an opportunity to witness this crumble. Never before in our lives have we had an extended period of time where we are collectively being removed from the rhythmic and addictive nature of #goals, ambition and being perfect. I witness some pushing the previous models, and, in the current environment, it’s not quite catching. Why? We’re exhausted, weary and in our most vulnerable state, and even for some of us who are aiming to be productive and maintain some form of who we were prior to this, there is an uncomfortable acknowledgement that it’s not quite possible.
My go-to response when I’ve been asked how I’m doing is, “Everyday is different.” Waves of inspiration, grief, sadness, anger and indifference. I’ve experienced all of it, but what I’m finding is that there is a theme throughout it all, or an opportunity within the struggle. The uncertainty of this time is forcing us to fully face ourselves and to witness who we are in this world, or, at the very least, in our daily lives, and these gentle questions are starting to take shape:
What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what do we do to maintain this narrative?
Is this story true?
Is it a way to hide and not be seen?
Is it a way to absolve responsibility?
Is it a way to be loved?
Is it a way to avoid healing?
At this point, I’m sure you must be asking, “What does this have to do with beauty?” My answer would be, “Absolutely everything.” As someone who has been naturally interested in all things beauty since childhood, and has worked in various parts of the industry for most of my adult life, I’m starting to apply all of these questions to how I approach my body and outward appearance, and even my career, because it’s directly related to my self-esteem, happiness and general acceptance of self, but potentially also what I project onto others.
When the severity of this pandemic fully hit, all of my beauty routines went out the window. I tried holding on - doing my full skin care routine morning and night, applying concealer to hide the worry and fatigue, making sure to smile even though I was absolutely not in a happy place. The little things I’ve held onto for years that “make me who I am” tried to hold on solely because, without them, what would be left? Beauty is so intricately intertwined with identity. It’s tough to separate one from the other.
I experienced hair loss for the first few weeks, had the most uncomfortable cystic breakouts of my life, and my general feeling was, “Ok, fine. I’m over it.” I’m not going to fight this, I’m not going to jump for one hundred miracle products in a desperate attempt to “fix” myself, and I’m not interested or going to care. Frankly, I felt like it was stupid and almost immoral to care about these things given the current circumstances. “People are dying and I want to look perfect? Fuck that.” I’ve been sensing this inward rebellion and need to completely abandon my usual approach to beauty.
I’ve been sitting with these feelings for a year now. Some days, I’ll walk over to the mirror and put on some mascara and be fascinated by how it alters my appearance, but also not enough to commit to wearing it everyday. I’ll look at the breakouts all over my face, and have a split second where the anxiety of having “bad skin” and “not being beautiful” sweeps over me, and I know under normal circumstances I would be scrambling to find a solution, but, right now, all I can think is, “It doesn’t matter.”
And not just now, but I have an overwhelming feeling that this needs to be my default approach moving forward and that’s the kicker. That’s what’s happening right now (for me, at least) - the complete dissolution and breaking down of internal expectations, addictions and programming when it comes to beauty, and my overall sense is that I won’t be going back to those ways of operating. In fact, since this started, I have such a strong urge to be “ugly on purpose”, as in do all of the things that don’t qualify as being valuable or beautiful in our society, because as much as we seem to think we’ve progressed, general standards of beauty are very much the same as they’ve always been, maybe even more severe and unrealistic given technology, algorithms and the rise in popularity of injectables.
I’ve had adverse reactions to hair stylists shaming people on social media for cutting their own hair, or how-to lists for increasing productivity. Skincare brands desperately trying to monetize the dreaded “maskne” and insist that it’s necessary to wear SPF indoors. Many things are making it clear that #1 we should be ashamed of simply being our unaltered selves, both in physical form and in our natural emotional state of being, #2 we should be ashamed of altering our appearance in ways that aren’t perceived as beautiful, correct or “on trend”, and #3 we should always be in a constant state of purchasing. And, for that reason, I hate the beauty industry, because no matter how indie or personal the message appears, it’s still coming from the same place of programming and profit and manipulating how people view and approach their own beauty and body.
Image from New York Times article “Maskne is the New Acne, and Here Is What Is Causing It”
I see this time as an opportunity to relish in the state of being “undone”. To fully be with ourselves, feel the grief, the sadness, the exhaustion, and allow it to show. Express it. Be human. And allow the programming of the previous world to rise to the surface in order to be analyzed, dissected and potentially reconstructed. Keep what serves you and dismantle the rest. We don’t have to return to the old ways of how we view ourselves or make desperate attempts at keeping ourselves beautiful in the conventional sense. It’s dishonest and sterile and is not the way forward.
I’ve actually taken solace in seeing the bags under people’s eyes on social media, which may sound cruel, but how often do we get to see others in their true and honest form? We are all so heavily curated and marketed (myself included), that there’s very little to relate to - only more fuel to add to the self-loathing fire. If we were to see each other in realistic representations, wouldn’t the chronic act of self-comparison and effect on our mental health significantly decrease? Wouldn’t it facilitate a greater sense of community and connection because we wouldn’t have to permeate filters and holier-than-thou personas created solely for platforms?
And even personalities and platforms claiming to be for personal liberation are loaded with productivity, perfection and self-work porn. It’s an onslaught of expectation that perpetuates shame and the “I need to do and be more” cycle.
In our regular, non-virtual lives, we can exist minus the burden of one hour prep times and tweaking in anticipation of surprise photo ops, boomerangs and general observation from others (remember that?). If we truly took the time to unearth and extinguish those internalized expectations and judgements, would we be approaching our beauty routines the same? I highly doubt it.
Create what feels good. Take the time to take care of yourself, however that looks and feels, and discard all of the previous patterns if that’s what’s needed for healing. Right now is the perfect time.
On the other side of perfection and obligation, there is a different type of relationship to have with beauty. It is an outlet, it is a tool for self-connection and touch, it’s uninhibited expression and empowerment. In reflection, I realize that, in many instances, beauty rituals have served as a way to reconnect to myself in the midst of trauma. A familiar practice can work wonders. Imagine if we removed the burdens of image and fulfilling outside expectation and solely explored these methods as a true form of self care and creativity? It would take on an entirely different meaning…and that’s what I’m striving for.
Thank you for reading Liberatory Expressions From The Heart. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider subscribing and sharing on social media.