The Psychology Of Wearing Makeup When No One Can See You

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Every weekday, Allyson Fisher, a home product developer for a major department store, religiously engages in her 10-minute makeup routine before starting work. But instead of commuting the 25-odd minutes to the company’s corporate offices, Fisher walks a few steps and logs on from her dining room table. It’s part of her new normal during COVID-19 stay-at-home mandates.
An incredible amount has changed in the two short weeks since Fisher started working from home, but her makeup look has remained pretty consistent — even if no one will see her that day. “I like a morning routine and this was already a factor in mine, so I kept it up," she says. "I’m not doing foundation, but a bit of concealer, a swipe of bronzer, and mascara, always. It makes me feel set to take on the day."
The idea that women put on makeup for the consumption of others — particularly men — retired a long time ago. But the notion of wearing makeup for ourselves sharpens when our face is the only one we'll see that day. During a global crisis, it might even feel a bit trivial to pull out your makeup bag and go to town on bronzer. But experts say it can actually make a huge difference in navigating these unpredictable and overwhelming circumstances.
“I tell my patients to put lipstick on in the morning if they're having trouble separating home and work life," says Samantha Boardman, MD, a clinical instructor in psychiatry and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College. "It can [help] to separate your weekend self from your work self by presenting differently." Studies have shown that wearing makeup while test taking can lead to higher scores — so it makes sense that wearing makeup can help boost productivity for some. 
“I like to practice similar getting-ready processes as if I was going into work. That helps me treat the day like a work day versus the weekend, during which I’m rarely ever in makeup,” agrees Fisher. “It keeps me on routine and gives me some normalcy in a very abnormal time. It’s also amazing what a little eyeliner can do for your general attitude.”
Of course, not everyone affected by COVID-19 social distancing measures is fortunate enough to recreate their nine-to-five in a makeshift home office. Celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, who works with stars like Kaley Cuoco and Rashida Jones, is one of many beauty professionals who are currently out of a day job. Still, she’s created her own morning routine: feeding her kids, going for a run, showering, then lighting a salt lamp, putting on music, and doing her hair and makeup. It not only helps her feel ready for the day, but it also serves as a mood elevator. “I noticed on the weekend, I wasn't as active and I was a little more sad and frustrated and definitely had some crying moments,” she says. “But I'm a firm believer that in the eye of scary shit, you have to remove yourself and laugh because there's nothing you can do if you sit around and let it completely cripple you.”

Meditative Makeup Sessions

It’s not just Greenberg who has taken to her makeup drawer for a serotonin hit while self isolating. The beauty pro of 14 years, who has used this time to post tutorials on Instagram and launch The Make Down podcast with hairstylist Christine Symonds, has seen a significant spike in engagement around makeup-driven content — and people are clamouring for more. 
“I've gotten so many lovely emails from people saying, ‘Thank you. This is what I needed today. Please don't stop doing this,’” she says. “When you're in a catastrophe and in real trauma, you have to take everything day by day and you have to try to have purpose that day. People are asking for it, and I think it’s helping people and that feels good.”
It can feel a little weird turning to makeup or other ordinary tasks (like making your bed or completing a puzzle) to calm the spirit. But as Dr. Boardman notes, it’s the tactile nature of creating a look — and the total concentration it takes — that can create a sense of centredness in ways that hitting “next episode” on Tiger King won’t. 
“Because we're constantly interrupted by dings and pings, especially right now, we have fewer and fewer moments of flow in our daily lives,” says Dr. Boardman. “So when we can have these calm moments, when all of our intention is being directed into one area, and when we are using our hands, there's something beautiful about the level of attention you're bringing to something that makes you feel strong and good.”
Beyond the practical reasons for creating a productive work environment, mastering a technique, or completing a relaxing activity, there is still a deeper driver to get all done up with nowhere to go, according to Tara Well, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Barnard College. Well, whose research and client work focuses on using mirrors and reflections to build self awareness and emotional resilience, cites this unique time of shelter-in-place as an opportunity to delve inward and heighten self awareness. For some, she says, the ritual of putting on makeup can be the perfect starting point.

Try to look in your own eyes in the mirror and recognise, ‘I’m here, I’m relaxed, I’m calm, I’m okay.'

Tara Well, associate professor of Psychology at Barnard college
“This juncture is a really great opportunity for people to confront themselves in new ways than they had before, when their attention was always outwardly focused. Instead of thinking, ‘How do I look to other people?’ You can bring attention back to yourself,” she says. To start, Dr. Well suggests trying a few practices she typically gives her private patients. “Try to look in your own eyes in the mirror and recognise, ‘I’m here, I’m relaxed, I’m calm, I’m okay,’” she says. Taking a few moments to look deeply into your own eyes while doing your makeup (and past whether your brows are even) might feel strange at first. But according to Greenberg, who has incorporated this ritual into her own routine, it can be incredibly reassuring.
“For me, I relate it back to mental health,” Greenberg says. “We’re so used to doing our makeup in a rush that we don't even pay attention to ourselves. We don't look ourselves in the eye. So this is a great time to slow down and connect with yourself. If you look at doing makeup while in isolation as a daily meditation, it can be a really pretty thing.”

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