Yesterday I was seized by a desire to put on eyeliner. I was watching a scene from a new TV show, where a college student is pressed against the wall at a fun, crowded house party, sipping a beer. She was wearing a full face of makeup; smudgy dark liner, eyeshadow, foundation, a sparkly blush like my current favorite NARS Orgasm. Sprawled out on my bed, wearing the same cotton jumpsuit I’ve been wearing nearly every day in isolation, not a single bit of makeup on my face, I thought, “oh, remember when I also did that?”
Among the privileged and self-isolated, the general consensus seems to be that nobody is wearing makeup anymore indoors. “With few beauty tools at hand, and no pressing reason to get gussied up, would I work more efficiently, reflect more profoundly and get in touch with my authentic self?,” writer Ruth La Ferla recently wondered in a piece for the New York Times about women giving up bras and lipstick. “Going makeup free has really hammered home the point I’ve always told myself but never fully believed: No one is looking at you,” wrote Bella Cacciatore in a Glamour essay about rethinking her relationship to makeup. Even a Cosmopolitan essay by Ama Kwarteng about choosing to wear makeup was written partly in response to haters who were judging her for keeping up her routine at all.
I mostly haven’t been wearing makeup. I feel no desire to dress up for Zoom chats or meetings, as the Jezebel staff is feral to begin with. But recently I’ve been putting just a little bit on. On some mornings I put on mascara because I’ve convinced myself it makes me look more awake. The past few days I’ve been casually putting on perfume, a spring scent I switch to when winter is over. And like last night, I have pangs of wanting to “get ready”—to delicately apply glitter to my eyelids, performing the motions of beauty as if I have anywhere to be except my bedroom (and/or my living room and/or my bathroom, yes those are the three rooms in my apartment.)
When I brought this up to the Jezebel staff, admissions of small beauty routines rolled in. It turns out we’ve been wearing mascara for Zooms, perfumes and colognes daily, applying concealer and tinted moisturizer, putting on pants and “half-decent” shirts, painting our nails, putting on lipstick and eyeliner to go out or take pictures. Someone admitted to putting on a full face of makeup to fill up a propane tank. Here I assumed everyone was ditching makeup like lizards molting a second skin, but everyone was wearing a little.
In isolation, some women are realizing that their daily makeup routines were simply just that, routines. They’re shedding those feelings of obligation when it comes to getting gussied up for the day. That’s fine, but there’s also an over-stated fetishization of what happens to women in the absence of wax appointments, haircuts, and weekly meetings where high heels and lipstick may feel necessary. It’s as if women will collectively transcend centuries of forced femininity and objectification inside their homes and emerge from quarantine each with a copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves in hand. The reality is, many of us are trying to dip a toe into a sort of normalcy by simply whipping out a tube of mascara. If you’re wearing a little makeup, just admit it.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified a Cosmopolitan writer as Amy Kwarteng instead of Ama Kwarteng. Jezebel regrets the error.