The story of beauty over the past seventeen months is tricky to unravel. There were the months we stayed home in our sweatpants, pacing the living room in anxiety puddles, our overgrown eyebrows the farthest thing from our minds. There were the months when every waking hour was seemingly spent on Zoom, fixating on our roots growing in at an alarming pace. There were the ring lights and filters and eye masks flooding the market, attempting to come to our helpless rescue. There were those amongst us who found freedom in trashing the entire makeup drawer, and there were those who clung tighter to their eyelash curlers than ever before.
Since reopening, plastic surgeons have reported unprecedented interest in rhinoplasty (nose jobs) and face-lifts. There’ve been psychological studies conducted on the link between staring at our own faces on Zoom and decreased levels of self-esteem. And in a recent feature story for The New York Times Magazine focused on the tie between social media and changing beauty standards, journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote, “We seem to be among the first people in history to be both in the midst of a global pandemic and also obliged to project an attractive image of ourselves to the outside world.”
Yeah, talk about complicated. The data is revealing, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. So, where does that leave the state of post-pandemic beauty? I decided to reach out to several women I admire—from across different industries and with different perspectives—to gain insight into the ways in which our relationships to (“capital B”) beauty have evolved. And one thing is clear: when it comes to the story of pandemic-era beauty, there is no singular story…
The Downfalls of Zoom…
We don’t spend hours in front of a mirror all day for good reason. But, Zoom essentially forces that same effect. And as much as we’d like to say we’re exclusively focused on the meeting at hand, that’s hardly the whole truth.
Brittany Lo is the founder of Beia, a new pleasure-focused beauty and self-care brand. She says, “Given how Zoom and Google Hangouts are set up, it’s almost impossible not to look at yourself during a meeting or catch-up. I found myself finding lines or wrinkles that I never knew existed.” And Carly Cushnie, a designer and creative director, shares, “I definitely saw some wrinkles that I started to get from certain expressions I kept making. I would have never noticed otherwise!” While entrepreneur and consultant Jackie Courtney shares, “Perhaps it’s a bit like adjusting your outfit or hair before you walk into a room. When a meeting starts, I find myself ‘checking myself.’ I try not to once the meeting has started, but it’s hard, I find myself gravitating back to it.”
Long before the pandemic broke out and Zoom became our main form of socializing, Lisa Conn, a tech entrepreneur, was aware of the self-view as a design flaw in video conferencing platforms. Three years ago, she co-founded (and serves as COO of) Gatheround, a different video networking platform that hides the self-view from users’ screens and aims to “replicate the feeling of intimacy and authenticity” of IRL interactions. “When we’re face-to-face in real life, we don’t look at ourselves. Can you imagine having coffee with a friend and having a mirror in front of you?” she asks. Lisa’s prior experiences in community organizing led her to start Gatheround, backed by research in effective conflict resolution and peace building. She says, “Humans are at our happiest gathering around campfires or cafes to share stories and lose track of time together. When the internet came along, it gave us more ways to interact than ever before, but something got lost in translation: real humanity.”
A Skin First Approach to Stay-at-Home Life…
Yes, Zoom has increased our awareness of facial flaws. But for some of us, remote work has also given way to a dismissal of makeup and more time to spend on what’s under it—our skin!
It’s important to note that the ability to reject makeup during this time is largely informed by industry standards of female beauty—think, just because news anchors couldn’t access their makeup artists in the early days of the pandemic doesn’t mean they weren’t still encouraged to do their own makeup and don a full beat when broadcasting from home.
But, for the lucky women who felt comfortable enough to lean into the au naturale look, it was a source of pleasure… and of market boom. When makeup sales plummeted, online skincare sales skyrocketed. Even celebrity makeup artist Jenn Streicher says, “I was surprised to learn how easy it was to just go makeup free for 16 months! I absolutely loved it.” Jenn leaned into experimentation with her skincare routine and enjoyed finding new products to love… and using that extra time to indulge in baths. “Bath oils, bath salts, CBD salts, milk baths, I’ve tried them all,” she says (her favorites are: Nature of Things Restorative Floral Bath, Olverum Bath Oil, and Kneipp Dream Away Bath Oil).
Carly Cushnie and Brittany Lo share similar sentiments. My approach has been to take better care of my skin, and therefore, I have less of a need for makeup,” says Carly. “Remote work allowed me to really indulge in a more complex skincare routine and wear masks more frequently,” adds Brittany. “The days I would have a Zoom, I’d put makeup on my eyes and lips, but for the most part, I would try not to put any makeup on my skin.”
And remember, makeup products often have shorter expiration dates than we think. So, whether you’re excited to start bringing out the lipstick again or you’re ready to purge your products for good—either way, it might be time to take a deeper look at your makeup case.
Finding Confidence in Beauty…
On the flipside of the no-makeup craze are those who found power, constancy, and a commitment to sense of self through their pandemic beauty routines.
Though Jackie Courtney has always considered herself a “fashion person,” as opposed to a “beauty person,” she found dressing from the waist up for remote work to be lacking in inspiration. As a result, she turned to beauty. “For a long time, being okay without any makeup was something that was important to me, to accept myself. But, this period has allowed me to accept that wearing makeup actually does make me feel more put together, and that’s ok.” She adds that additional things she’s noticed while on Zoom include: she feels most beautiful when smiling or laughing, her jewelry makes her feel powerful, and she loves her glitter eyeshadow.
And while Lisa Conn understands that there’s a gender disparity when it comes to beauty standards in the tech world, only highlighted by remote work, she finds strength in her beauty routine. “I do notice that my co-founders (both male) can show up to a meeting unshaved faces, no problem, while I feel the need to look put together—not too intimidating, not trying too hard, but polished in a natural way—to be taken seriously,” she says. But, taking ownership of her own beauty standards has helped forge a path to more present relationships and productive working conditions. “I’ve learned that when I don’t feel beautiful, by my own standards, it’s actually harder to show up and do my best work. It’s harder to feel confident in myself, and I’m less capable of engaging others and being present for them,” she shares.
Ultimately, Jackie concludes, “I don’t think the video reflection has brought much new to my attention, rather the things I already know, love, and struggle with have become that much more pronounced.”
Coming out of the pandemic, there seems to be a general excitement to dive back into beauty treatments and get into the swing of dermatologist appointments. Though for the women I spoke with, this interest is spurred less from feelings of insecurity around beauty and more so from a desire to treat themselves to a moment of relaxation or to prioritize their well-being after a year in which it was hard to do so.
Brittany Lo explains that part of her mission in founding Beia is to bring moments of pleasure to women’s daily lives, especially after a year that lacked so much intimacy. The company has launched with a single product—a Daily Hydrating & Setting Mist—but plans to expand into numerous categories of self-care, with the concept of indulging in forms of gratification at the heart of its evolution.
Similarly, Jenn Streicher leaned into ideas of luxury, touch, and joy when creating Scout, her new beauty boutique in Upstate, New York, that features a curation of her favorite thoughtful, natural products. “Nothing beats being able to touch and try on products in real life,” she says. “I have noticed that clients might need more of a push into ‘doing more’ with their basic pandemic makeup routine. I feel like people are eager to ‘go back to normal,’ but don’t necessarily want to look fully ‘done’.” Potentially, getting back to having fun with beauty as opposed to it feeling like a chore, is the first step that’ll carry us forward into our post-pandemic beauty lives.
As Carly Cushnie says, “After everything that this year has shown me, there’s nothing more important than being the most authentic version of myself—for my husband, my daughters, and for me. I want to celebrate who I am and celebrate the individual beauty of my girls, and be the best example that I possibly can be for them.” If there’s anything we’ve learned about the meaning of beauty this past year, I hope it’s this.