Here we are in the middle of 2021 and it’s beginning to feel like we can all collectively release a deep, restorative exhale. The last 15 months have proven to be a time of upheaval, loss, challenge, and hopefully, ultimately, transformation. We’ve seemingly made it through the thick of it, and as the world reopens, we are called to reflect on and ponder what in the world we learned in all of the chaos, uncertainty and stunted social lives. How did we grow? What did we learn? Are we better for it? And how, if at all, will it make our post-pandemic lives any different?
The year 2020 left no shortage of heartache and grief, and yet, it still presented me with the shimmery sparkle of silver linings. One of the most unexpected and liberating gifts I've received is my relationship with my face.
Prior to the pandemic, what I saw when I looked at my reflection were flaws that needed to be covered and boring features that needed to be enhanced. Patches of hyperpigmentation stamped across my cheeks, fine lines, little eyelashes, and the dreaded reality of (gasp!) pores stared back at me as if I had smeared highlighter all over them.
At a young age, society ingrained into my psyche that I was inadequate. I was bombarded with images of enhanced, airbrushed and photoshopped women with impossibly smooth and poreless skin.
I acknowledged these details daily, but passively, I was unaware of the negative self-talk that would take place each time I looked in the mirror. Every gaze at my reflection was met with a subtle grimace or sigh of disappointment. Muddled voices of disapproval existed as a quiet hum in the background of my mind that I was oblivious to, and they had me convinced that there was work to do before I could be seen in the public eye. Even if it was only a quick five minutes to slap on some concealer and mascara, this process was necessary and would ultimately make me feel better. While my conscious mind believed that I had finally learned to embrace myself fully, my subconscious mind was busy convincing me that I didn’t and shouldn’t feel “normal” or “acceptable” until my flaws were out of sight.
It’s not surprising that I operated with a specific subconscious ritual of "leveling up" before I went out into the world. At a young age, society ingrained into my psyche that I was inadequate. I was bombarded with images of enhanced, airbrushed, and Photoshopped women with impossibly smooth and poreless skin. Understandably, my self-esteem was low, and as I matured, I worked on releasing and rejecting the false narrative of the beauty standards I was bamboozled into believing. I truly thought I had shed this old skin, but the pandemic life shined a bright light in the hidden corners of my mind to reveal that those messages still took up precious real estate.
The truth was, even as an adult, I carried a deep-rooted feeling of inadequacy. I was embarrassed about my melasma and lack of having a perpetual, effortless fresh-faced glow, and I was on the constant lookout for the next best concealer, serum, toner — anything to make me look "acceptable." This is not to say I was devoid of self-love and acceptance, but it certainly was limited, and this limitation had a long history. From childhood into adulthood, the message hadn’t changed — there is always a flaw to be fixed, concealed, or maintained, and there is always a product or treatment that promises to fix them.
Society trains us to see and define beauty with limited criteria — a tiny box not big enough to hold all of us. The truth is, beauty is expansive, it's inclusive, and as the saying goes, it's in the eye of the beholder.
During this past year, removing the daily face-to-face interactions with others also removed the need for daily makeup. I began to see my honest reflection in the mirror, and to be candid, I wrestled with it for a good while. But the funniest thing began to happen. The more I saw myself as I was, with no expectations and no one to impress, the more my eyes adjusted alongside my mindset and self-talk. Over time I would surprise myself by opting out of wearing makeup for work video meetings, and I began to prefer my face without makeup. I thought I looked lovely as is. And on days I didn’t think I looked lovely, I wasn’t bothered. The spots, the fine lines — they all became nonissues, mere details.
Society trains us to see and define beauty with limited criteria — a tiny box not big enough to hold all of us. The truth is, beauty is expansive, it's inclusive, and as the saying goes, it's in the eye of the beholder. It's never not there, we just need the eyes to see it. It's present all around us, all the time, in each other and in our own reflections.
This may seem like a small win, but for me, it’s a form of liberation I didn’t know I was missing. It’s not a rant against makeup or different forms of self-care, and it’s certainly not a prescription for everyone on how to live. I still enjoy playing with makeup, but now it’s optional, and I’m not carrying shame with me if I leave the house without concealer. And to be honest, I’m curious to see how this newfound liberation will thrive once I begin to immerse myself more and more into the post-pandemic public sphere, and how, in fact, it will make my post-pandemic life any different.
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.”