“I think I might just grow my moustache,” suggests my usually-bearded partner, a frontline healthcare worker who concedes that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) masks fit better on a clean-shaven chin. “Me too,” comes my reply. Nine days prior to the strict UK lockdown being announced, my partner tested positive for Covid-19, and like millions of people around the world, I was confronted with the prospect of two weeks confined to my home.
Having worked freelance before, I consider myself well versed in the process of getting up, getting showered and getting down to work of my own volition. But only a few days into total removal from the outside world and I begin to notice my routine slide. Pyjamas stay on for longer, the gap between hair-washing days grows exponentially, and the can of dry shampoo remains undisturbed on the dresser because – why waste it? Most mutinous of all, for me, is the appearance of very dark, very coarse hairs protruding from my upper lip, and long downy hairs hugging my cheeks.
Like many South Asian women I know, I have been engaged in a fierce battle with my facial hair for most of my life. Since I was 12 years old I have plucked, waxed or shaved my face at least once a week. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve been waging war against my follicles from such a young age. Women have been encouraged to remove their body hair for literally centuries, and it’s a beauty standard that has persisted throughout time. From magazines to music videos we have been inundated with images of impossibly hairless women for years, and even women in disaster movies somehow find the time to shave between desperately hunting for food or killing zombies. No wonder I feel conflicted about my own hair removal during the real-life disaster movie that is 2020 so far.
“I consider the foreseeable future in isolation and ask myself – what’s the point?”
There have definitely been some marked improvements, however. Razor brand Billie’s USP is that their advertising features actual hair. But even progressive movements such as Januhairy, an initiative that encourages us to let our body hair grow during the month of January, seem to focus on underarm, leg or pubic hair. Beyond the work of facial-hair-positive activist Harnaam Kaur, I have rarely seen the conversation turn to the ‘tache.
And now, for the first time ever, I feel like I’ve been given a short hiatus from my relentless upper lip epilation. The unexpected consequence of the pandemic is that whilst we remain withdrawn from the public sphere, we are no longer subject to the scrutiny, or perceived scrutiny, of others. But after finding it enjoyably anarchistic to let my moustache do its thing for over a week, in what feels like its inevitable conclusion, I head to the bathroom cupboard for my wax pot. As the wax melts, so does my resolve. I consider the foreseeable future in isolation and ask myself – what’s the point?
It appears to me that the desire to uphold societal beauty standards becomes pointless when you’re not currently participating in society. Like the fabled tree in the forest, if no one’s going to see your make-up, is it worth putting it on?
“With our new reality, I feel like our collective focus seems to have shifted away from what we look like, to how we spend our time”
As we come to terms with our new reality, I feel like our collective focus seems to have shifted away from what we look like, to how we spend our time. People are asking themselves a new question at the beginning of each day, not “What shall I wear today?” but “What shall I do?” Nothing has made this more evident to me than the new isolation bingo, where you can check off the mundane or ambitious tasks you may have set yourself whilst being at home every day.
The upending of our beauty routines has a noticeable knock-on effect. People who take lengthy showers to shave their legs, or proclaim that they cannot leave the house without makeup are now finding themselves very much not leaving the house. In return, they are rewarded not only with the money saved on numerous hair and makeup products, but with accumulated time each day. For parents or carers with dependants to look after, this extra time and money must be invaluable.
This shift in our priorities may have a lasting effect on our grooming habits once all of this is over. I personally have revelled in how quickly I now go from waking up to being ready for the day, and for me, this just equates to extra time in bed. I’m not yet sure if the possibility of a lie-in is enough to persuade me to keep the ‘tache forever; it’s a few months of lazy mornings versus a lifetime of social conditioning. But to others, the extra time gained could be worth so much more.