If I had to pick a song as the soundtrack for this past year, it would definitely be Beyoncé’s “Me, Myself and I.” Not because of the stress of pandemic dating, but because I’m "all I got in the end/ That’s what I found out.” Staying at home surrounded by mirrors, my webcam, my iPhone camera, and endless Zoom calls basically meant I was looking at my face a whole lot more than before. I was noticing just how dark my under-eye circles had gotten from an irregular sleep schedule and found it difficult to not pick at my maskne while brushing my teeth. I’d gone from wearing makeup every day for work or social outings (remember those? Yeah, me neither) to forgetting I had a makeup bag for weeks at a time. On New Year’s Eve, I put on glitter eyeshadow for the first time in months just to feel something.
And you know what? It worked.
The makeup served as a reminder of the queen I am, even if I spent a lot of quarantine not feeling that at all. The eyeshadow came off as soon as the clock struck midnight, and I’ve gone back to forgetting about makeup. But every now and then, it’s nice to put on a little bit of concealer, blush, and lipstick to go for a walk and feel like myself.
I spoke with five other Canadians about how their relationship to their faces changed over the course of the pandemic (and the products they turned to time and time again). From a woman who decided she needed lip and cheek fillers to a 17-year-old who began to experiment with gender expression, here’s what they said.
My face became my canvas.
Mei Pang, 24, Toronto
At the beginning of 2020, I was newly sober and trying to figure out who I was. Before the pandemic, I was just trying to fit in. I lived my life based on other people’s acceptance of me, both in terms of alcohol (I started drinking because that’s what other people were doing) and my look. Now I try to push myself to become my best person.
As a Virgo woman, I like to keep busy and, with an arsenal of makeup and time on my hands, I began to experiment with tattoos and makeup looks. My ink and wardrobe are very neutral — mostly blacks, whites, and greys — so I used my face as a canvas to explore colour. Bright and graphic makeup makes me happy, and my makeup style is getting more bold, painterly, and realistic. Recently, I did a giant centipede starting from the top of my forehead down to my chin using gel eyeliner.
Makeup for me is very therapeutic; I do my makeup for myself and no one else. I’m really proud of that look. I also tattooed myself around August; I don’t recommend it. My legs looked janky, but I had nothing else to do so I dabbled. Fingers crossed, if we come out of lockdown, I plan to get my collarbones and legs done. Basically everything except my face.
Lockdown Beauty MVP: Sugarpill Build Your Pro Palette. This palette is vegan, cruelty-free, and very pigmented, with every shade under the sun. Plus, it’s customisable. My favourite shades are Tako, Bulletproof, and Kim Chi. The pans are massive so I use a paddle brush to pack it on my eyes or as a blush.
I never thought I’d get work done on my face. I was wrong.
Kheiana Sharp, 26, Vaughan, ON
I started my fitness journey this year. At first it was to lose weight, but I got so much more out of it than I imagined. I learned to appreciate my body and the loose skin, and I gained my confidence back.
I was in awe of how strong I was becoming, but I noticed my face was changing as I lost weight. My lips were not as big as they once were because my face was getting smaller. I have a beautiful lip shape, but my upper lip would disappear into my smile.
After talking to a friend who had injections, I decided to get lip filler. I had my appointment in October, and afterwards I fell in love with my lips even more! The shape was exactly the same, just more full. Two months later, I got cheek filler and cannula contouring because I was losing definition in my face.
I never thought I’d be the person to get work done because I thought that meant there was something wrong with the way I looked. Now I realise that I can love myself and still want to enhance my features. That was a hard concept for my mom to understand. To me, beauty is literally about how you feel. The pandemic sucked, but I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to get to a place where I feel beautiful and comfortable with myself.
Lockdown Beauty MVP: Eucerin Intensive Lip Balm. I used to exfoliate my lips because they would get chapped and flaky, but since I’ve been using this my lips have been so smooth.
I used makeup to gain traction on Instagram — then I talked about important issues.
Delainee Antoine-Tootoosis, 24, Poundmaker Cree Nation, SK
In Saskatchewan, we didn’t have mandatory mask orders right away, so I’d wear makeup when I could. When masks became mandatory, I didn’t want to waste my time with it because nobody would see it anyway.
Before the pandemic, my routine was full-coverage, cakey, and matte. I’d use a pore-filling primer, heavy concealer, liquid and powder foundation, contouring powder, eye makeup, and liquid lipstick. I was getting makeup on everything. I was really self-conscious about my skin, and it affected my mental health. Makeup was my safety net.
Now, on most days, I just do soap brows and put on false lashes from Vancouver brand Honey Drip Cosmetics. I was really caught up in trying to be perfect for social media, and I realise I don’t want to contribute to the toxicity of it. Makeup is not a necessity anymore; it’s more of a hobby. I use it to draw attention on Instagram, but then I use my words to talk about mental health or showcase Indigenous beadwork or jewellery.
I think a lot of the time, our women are not as confident as they could be. Society puts a lot of pressure on Indigenous women to have Eurocentric features. I have little sisters, nieces, and cousins, and I want to be a role model for them. I want them to know that they don’t have to be perfect and they’re loved just the way they are. I’ve realised there are more important things to focus on in the middle of a pandemic.
Lockdown Beauty MVP: Lush Tea Tree Water. I use it as a toner and I spray it on everything, including my body, my hair, and even my face mask. It’s really refreshing and my most versatile product. Tea tree is the only thing that helps my acne.
I experimented with gender expression.
Jill Tuan, 17, Mississauga, ON
I got really comfortable in my own skin during the pandemic. Before, I was hiding who I wanted to be for a while; past friends didn’t support me coming out as non-binary. In lockdown, I wasn’t around people every day so I was able to question myself and finally be able to say who I am.
Social media has been an escape and a place where I could be surrounded by people who really understood me and experienced the same struggles. I’m really inspired by Fecal Matter. They’re a creative duo from Montreal and really push the boundaries of human features.
Being non-binary gives me this freedom to tiptoe around masculinity and femininity, and I love the idea of putting myself up for interpretation. I’m not someone you can put in a box. Experimenting with makeup during lockdown made me realise there are no rules, and it gave me the freedom to be in the middle. I’m really into the futuristic, cyberpunk aesthetic, and I once did a freehand line-makeup look with silver across my nose. To me, beauty is something that’s constantly changing, and the pandemic taught me to not care what others think of me.
Lockdown Beauty MVP: e.l.f. 18 Hit Wonders Eyeshadow Palette. I can do so much with this palette. I’ve never owned eyeshadows before, and now I can finally do the looks I’ve been saving on Instagram.
I’m happy with my skin.
Su’aad Hassan, 24, Mississauga, ON
2020 was the year I began to actually take care of my skin. Before the pandemic, I was a part of the YouTube recommendation fan club. I spent £80 on one face oil I really regret buying — for that price, I needed it to do magic.
During lockdown, I went from trying expensive new products every week to sticking to the same affordable products for three to four months at a time. I was using too many at once, which didn’t give any opportunity for it to actually work. My skin-care routine is now about four steps whereas before it was around eight.
I’m grateful that I was able to keep my job during COVID, which allowed me to save up money for professional microneedling to target my hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. I had my first and second sessions in September and October and upgraded to the PRP (platelet-rich plasma) vampire facial in January. I justified spending £300 on three sessions because they were heavily discounted. Plus, I was no longer splurging on expensive skin care. I’m really happy with the results because my scars have improved significantly and, in some areas, are completely gone. I’m at a point where I’m genuinely happy with my skin and quarantine taught me to focus on growth in a more well-rounded way.
Lockdown Beauty MVP: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. It’s full of active ingredients and replaced my clay mask, which would dry out my skin and cause breakouts. I use it two to four times a week.
These interviews have been edited and condensed. This story was originally published on Refinery29 CA.