I've been noticing a bit of a theme on my Instagram lately: Wearing makeup apparently isn't "cool" anymore. At least, not during the quarantine. Every time I scroll through my feed, I'm bombarded with messages like "let your skin breathe while in quarantine" and "you don’t have to look perfect during a global crisis!"
And even though I know these comments are supposed to reassure me that it’s okay not to care about the societal pressures of beauty while I’m stuck in my shoebox apartment, the undertone just feels...shame-y. It’s almost like I’m being told that I shouldn’t be wearing makeup right now, and if I want to (or am), I need to seriously re-evaluate my priorities. But to be honest, makeup is one of the only things holding me together during this quarantine.
The first couple of weeks of physical distancing in New York City were rough for me. It started off slow, but then things got very real, very fast—businesses closed, friends got laid off from their jobs, a few even got sick. And as my friends left the city one by one, I reached out to my parents back home in Ohio. My mom, a nurse, and my dad, a cancer survivor, and I all came to the agreement that it would be best for me to stay put in my apartment until the storm passed.
I’m typically the annoyingly positive person in my friend group who’s constantly telling people to repeat affirmations in the mirror and take up meditation. But as the effects of COVID-19 became widespread, I found myself spinning, stuck in a constant cycle of bad news that made me extremely anxious about the future. “I think I’m depressed,” I texted my group chat. I tried everything to calm down my anxiety—I limited my news content, I kept up my exercise routine, I continued eating healthy, I read books, and I watched feel-good movies. But my energy levels were still low and the feelings of sadness lingered.
At this point, I couldn’t even bring myself to do my makeup anymore. It was something I'd always loved, but what was the point if I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything? I was just in my apartment in my pajamas and hair that I hadn’t brushed in days. Given what was going on in the world, makeup just felt frivolous.
Then last week, Mia Lardiere, Cosmo's Snapchat editor, asked me to film a TikTok for Cosmo's channel. I decided, okay, since people would, you know, see me, I’d better put on some makeup. What started out as looking presentable for social media became an absolute game-changer. My mood did a complete 180. I was instantly happier and calmer, and I suddenly had a more positive outlook on the future—all because of some concealer and pink eyeshadow. I finally felt more...me.
And unlike what my Insta feed apparently believes, those feelings aren't necessarily rooted in vanity. According to Daryl Appleton, a mental health counselor based in New York City, when we wear makeup we feel really great in, our brains actually release more testosterone (yup!), leading us to feel more confident overall. "Harvard did a study in 2017 called The Lipstick Effect and found that people who put on makeup not only had higher self-esteem but also viewed themselves as having a better attitude," says Appleton. "It totally changed the way they thought about themselves."
And even if we zoom out of hormones and look at beauty routines objectively, it shouldn't come as a surprise that going from wearing makeup every day to...never...can be destabilizing. "When your routine is disturbed, you can lose a sense of self because everything that makes you you is suddenly in flux," says Dr. Sabina Rebis, a family physician based in New York City. So that daily mascara or lipstick application might seem frivolous to an outsider, but suddenly losing it "can be a blow to your sense of self," she says.
For me, keeping up with my daily routines, including my beauty rituals, has given me a stronger sense of control during a time when everything outside of my four walls is so unpredictable. With everything going on in the world, it’s so easy to be pulled into a cycle of constant worry. But when I put on makeup, I'm able to take myself out of that feeling of never-ending anxiety, even if just for 10 minutes.
According to Dr. Rebis, if you’re focusing on a makeup routine that normally makes you feel good mentally, you'll also make yourself feel good physically. Because while you buff and blend, your brain gets flooded with dopamine (aka the feel-good chemical), helping boost your current mood, while also helping you create a more positive outlook for the future.
So even though, not going to lie, I look fire in my bold red lip, wearing makeup during a pandemic has nothing to do with vanity. When I sweep a bright eyeshadow on my lids, I’m able to take my mind off all of the negativity in the world—it's truly a form of release. And even on the days I don’t do a full beat and just add a little bit of concealer and some fun lip gloss, it still makes all the difference.
Because self-care looks different for everyone. For some, it's baking six loaves of banana bread, and for others, it’s journaling. But for me, it’s putting on bright lipstick and pink eyeshadow—and yeah, I might also look f*cking pretty doing it.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.