I Used Make-Up As Self-Care During The Pandemic. This Is What It Taught Me

Seeking sanity throughout lockdown in New York, Sable Yong indulged her creative side and the result was more than skin-deep.

Instagram @sabletoothtigre

by Sable Yong |

If you think that staying home for the past two years has given us a reprieve from worrying about our looks, you would be wrong. It’s been quite the opposite. We may have collectively absconded into sweats, but those of us who weren’t fixated on a fatal pathology were left to ruminate instead on our own mortality’s most superficial layer — our appearance.

Luckily, this was not new for me; I work in the beauty industry. I have a multi-tiered skincare routine, my hair is always some colour usually not found in nature, and my make-up routine often includes neon blue eyeliner and glitter. Some people have morning workouts to energise them, I have morning make-up application, which has similar invigorating benefits.

In the early days of the pandemic, I don’t think I touched a lick of make-up. I, like many, found it exhausting performing being a person through the pixelated delay of a laptop screen and spotty WiFi, emphatically nodding and looking appropriately present. The daily monotony turned my brain to mush. My creativity craved an outlet, and since make-up could arguably be considered cosmetic-grade art supplies, I took to exploring different aesthetics through vanity.

I experimented with bleached eyebrows, rhinestone freckles, blotted out my eyelashes with white mascara, painted Guy Fieri flames on my eyelids, and bedazzled and glittered most parts of my face. It was like all the best parts of getting ready to go out, without the hassle and expense of going out. Friends would FaceTime and double take at me fully in some avant-garde look. Mostly, I’d document for Instagram’s sake, finding community with others who found joy in beauty.

Instead of feeling liberated from society’s shackles of performing femininity, I realise that decorating my face was more than just a habit; doing it contributes to my happiness. I’m not a gregarious or extroverted person, but a bit of colour and shimmer was my form of self-expression to the outside world — a visual point of much-missed connection. Now that I was home alone, with endless lashes, glitters, clip-in extensions, palettes, and paints at my disposal, how would I find that same kind of fulfilment? How would I please her?

I read time and again throughout the pandemic about how so many people’s vanity efforts focused on their eyes and brows (the parts that are still visible when wearing a mask), even going a bit more glam than they normally would to pull the weight that a smile usually carried — brighter eyeshadows, cattier cat-eyes, false lashes, and meticulous brows. I’d make eye contact with other fellow face-decorators on my daily 'mental health walks,' glad to spot a flash of glitter which had become like a bat signal for my kind of people.

I wonder if we’ll all continue with the cosmetic signalling, once we can safely socialise sans masks. Having spent so many months on my own, my sense of self has crystallised into a space that involves both playing pretend and shedding pretence: this is who I am — feathery lashes, iridescent cheeks, black-cherry lips, and all — love me or leave me alone.

Flexing those dormant makeup muscles allowed me to indulge in the fantasy that beauty often promises but rarely grants. How often do we get to incorporate play into our appearance? And what better time to experiment with your appearance than a government-mandated staycation? The last 24 months or so (yikes) have been like my own personal makeover movie montage. Except instead of self-optimising in the name of social and economic gain, I’ve been trying on different versions of myself I was too busy to discover while having to commute, socialise, or fulfil any kind of obligations that required me to leave my house.

You’ll be surprised at how you can surprise and please yourself - especially if you still think there are 'beauty rules' - when you explore beauty beyond its aspirational and often unattainable interpretations. The kind of beauty that — when it’s for your eyes only — can inform who you are inside and outside. At least until you wash it off.

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