In the pre-coronavirus days, I used to claim—and, I think, believe—that I wore makeup primarily for myself. Of course, it was nice to get a compliment on my lipstick or whatever, but for the most part, I wasn’t wearing makeup to look more professional or more attractive; I was wearing it because I liked mixing colors and textures and finishes on my skin, or because I wanted to inhabit a certain aesthetic or persona.
Since March, though, I’ve had to reconsider my motivations for painting my face. Now that I’m between jobs, I’m no longer appearing in virtual department meetings and Zoom lectures. My partner and I take an hourlong walk every day, but our town is so sparsely populated that we rarely pass more than two or three other people on the sidewalk. Whenever I do come in contact with strangers (mainly at the grocery store), I have a mask on, which means I’m not wearing lipstick, and if I’m not wearing lipstick, is there much point in making up the rest of my face? Apparently, my old reasons for wearing makeup were more dependent on the gaze of others than I thought.
To be clear, I still love makeup. I still wear it on most days. I still buy it, even! (I really shouldn’t.) But I always go for a light five-minute look: liquid or cream blush, a little highlight, a single eyeliner or eyeshadow, and a sheer lipstick or gloss. Putting on makeup lifts my mood, but it also makes me feel silly, as if I’m wasting products or wasting my face or…something. Today is the first day in over a month that I’ve worn a bold, opaque lipstick. Bold, opaque lipstick has always been my favorite category of makeup, but now it just reminds me of all the places where I could be wearing it if this country weren’t teeming with people who think COVID-19 is a hoax. (Ohio’s governor finally imposed a mask mandate last week. At the grocery store the very next day, I saw a man wearing a mask printed with the slogan THIS MASK IS AS USELESS AS OUR GOVERNOR.)
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me, among other beauty goodies, an almost untouched tube of Lisa Eldridge Skyscraper Rose, a shade I’d coveted for an entire year. Since then, I’ve tried it on only once, and only for a few seconds before a shower. I just can’t bring myself to wear it around the house, because I want to wear it to museums, restaurants, bookstores, conferences. I want to wear it while writing in now-shuttered coffee shops or chatting with colleagues in the halls of the college where I no longer teach. And who knows when those places and occasions will be available to me again?
Of the many problems facing us right now, a lack of occasions to wear lipstick ranks pretty low. But I think we’re justified in mourning the evaporation of certain everyday pleasures. Five years ago, I wrote, “I like buying makeup to commemorate happy occasions. Lipsticks and nail polishes and eyeshadows function as little pins that secure my memories to the material world.” I’ve come to realize that I wear makeup for much the same reason: to enhance my experiences in the world, and to help me remember those experiences. I may not be able to tell you where I put my keys five minutes ago, or what happened in a novel I read last year, but I can tell you which lip gloss I wore to my general exam in 2012 (Revlon Bordeaux), and which lipstick I ordered in the summer of 2015 while taking a break from my job in the university archives (MAC Eugenie). But in 2020, such experiences occur either virtually or not at all, so what is there for makeup to enhance or to help me remember?
Clearly, I need to shift my perspective. I need to accept that for the time being, my virtual experiences and my solitary experiences are my experiences in the world, and that I have every right to make them as pleasurable as possible. I may feel a little silly wearing makeup to a writing session at my own table, but that’s better than letting my collection expire in cabinets and drawers. And maybe reviving this blog (I say, posting for the first time in two months) will help me achieve that shift in perspective. I have quite a few ideas for posts, so we’ll see.
Happy National Lipstick Day, by the way! Three years ago today, my mom and I went to the Nordstrom in San Francisco’s Stonestown Galleria to try and score a free MAC lipstick. We got in line outside with an hour to spare, but when the store opened, it turned out that everyone in our line had been waiting at the wrong door and the lipsticks were already gone. That morning seems so far away now: the crowd, the chatter, the absence of fear. But I’m wearing Bésame Wild Orchid today, and that’s some consolation.