A week before we went into lockdown two friends shared an excerpt of the same poem on social media.
How long have I been wed
to myself? Calling myself
darling, dressing for my own
pleasure, each morning
choosing perfume to turn
It wasn’t a huge coincidence – the poem, called simply Bride - had just appeared in the New Yorker. But it made me wonder at the time, perhaps cynically, if it really was ourselves us ladies were married to, and not some ideal of patriarchal beauty (read: white and thin).
I didn’t think the theory would be put to the test so soon. But these past five weeks in quarantine have shown hundreds of thousands of women just like me - women who are privileged enough to worry about it - exactly how deeply committed we are to maintaining our standards, wrapped up in the faddish cloak of “self-care”.
The New York Times quoted Germaine Greer this week in an article about women and beauty standards in lockdown. “If a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got?” Easy for Germaine, I thought. With her flawless bone structure and high cheekbones. Germaine, who once said Julia Gillard had a “fat arse”.
A week or so into quarantine I saw the celebrities on social media posing in their face masks, amid memes about letting go of bras and swapping spin class for banana bread. Two weeks in and women on social media were showing off their grey roots.
As I write this, I’m waiting for my $10 box of hair dye to be delivered.
As I write this, I’m waiting for my $10 box of hair dye to be delivered. I have tried twice in the last two weeks to add it to my supermarket order without success. It’s sold out everywhere. I hate looking in the mirror and seeing those greys poking through.
According to Walmart CEO Jim McMillon, people have been panic-buying at-home hair colour in the US as well. Meanwhile, Australian mask company Sand & Sky have sold out of both of their masks, reporting a 600 per cent increase in sales since the lockdown.
So it looks like we do want to maintain standards for ourselves? But if we really were stranded on a desert island like Tom Hanks, the newly anointed patron saint of COVID-19 recovery, and star of Castaway, would we mourn our lipstick? Maybe we would – but should we? We are living through a time of unprecedented panic and uncertainty, with record job losses not seen since the Great Depression. If we are healthy, isn’t that enough?
My sister, who stopped wearing makeup the day after her wedding six years ago, posted this meme to her Instagram last night.
“Low maintenance chicks are having their moment right now. We don’t have nails to fill and paint, roots to dye, eyelashes to re-mink and are thrilled to not get dressed every day. I have been training for this moment ALL my life.”
I’ve never been one of those low-maintenance chicks.
I’ve never been one of those low-maintenance chicks. I wore makeup every day, even to the shops. Straightened, then curled my hair every 48 hours. Frequented hair salons and skin clinics. The only flat shoes I owned were sneakers for exercise. Then I had kids. Within their first fragile months on this earth, my beauty routine fell away. It was liberating, if I stopped to think about it, but I barely had time to shower. And it never really returned. Not in the same way.
Every Friday night since lockdown I Zoom with my four dear friends. Every Saturday night I Zoom with my parents and siblings. I consider these the defining events of each week and I wear makeup to both. My brother wanted to have an impromptu Zoom last week but I declined, telling him I looked wretched. “I don’t care!” he told me. “No, but I have to look at myself in that little square on the laptop and I do”.
But as acute as the pain of looking at my own “low maintenance” face might be, the greater pain is seeing that face be seen by others.
But as acute as the pain of looking at my own “low maintenance” face might be, the greater pain is seeing that face be seen by others. My darkest self, the one that soaked up misogyny like a big girly sponge and internalised every inch of it years ago, feels this like an open wound. And I guess that is the answer to the question of why I do all this stuff to myself. Even in a pandemic I look out to my reflection, searching and landing on what I might take pleasure in. But my gaze is not my own.
Natalie Reilly is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter at @thatnatreilly
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