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What Happened When I Challenged Myself To Dress Up With Nowhere To Go

A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty out of it. “Out of it” seems like a good descriptor for how most of us are feeling these days — low-key to extreme levels of anxiety and depression are more than commonplace at this point. Our lives have been upended beyond what I think most of us were ever expecting, and dealing with the uncertainty of what society is going to look like for the next year or more is understandably difficult for many of us to grasp. So, in order to make myself feel less out of it (more “in it,” if you will), I decided to do what we at TFD often recommend to get yourself out of funk: primp.

I say that only half-jokingly. The “put on your red lipstick and your favorite power outfit and boom: instant confidence” ethos seems a little trivial right now; it makes a lot more sense when you’re going in for an exciting job interview than sheltering from a global pandemic. But I’ve always believed in the idea that feeling better on the outside helps you feel better on the inside.

I got a kick out of this cathartic Twitter thread a few weeks ago, asking people what they personally did to cause the pandemic. My crime was definitely all the times I thought “wow, I really love my life” at the beginning of this year. Because it’s true: I’d cultivated a life I really loved, that I was excited to dress up and wear makeup for on a regular basis. I was newly married, had a job I loved, had been out of the unpredictable cycle that is freelance income for more than a year, and had a life filled with friends, family, and fulfilling hobbies. 

In that “normal” life, I liked wearing capital-O outfits and blowing out my hair and wearing eye makeup (okay, eye makeup on nights out only). And in my funk, I realized that that part of my life was missing. I even spent the first two weeks of social distancing actively not washing my hair in order to try and encourage less greasiness/force myself to be less reliant on dry shampoo. (It kind of worked!) I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bothered putting on makeup. Worst of all, since I wasn’t wearing makeup every day, I’d begun occasionally skipping my nighttime skincare routine — something that’s always made me feel better, more refreshed, more on-top-of-my-shit since I started caring about my skin two or so years ago.

I decided to spend a week actually doing my hair and makeup like normal to see if it would help me get out of my funk. When I told my husband, Peter, about my plan, he asked, “Why? It doesn’t seem like you’re any less productive.” 

And it’s true — my work wasn’t suffering, because it was honestly nice to have something to focus on during the day. I said, “I just want every waking moment to have a little less underlying despair — do you not feel that?” Peter paused for a second, then said, “No, I guess not.” He had been living with much more of a normal routine than I had been since our isolation started, waking up at the same time, showering, and getting properly dressed every day. His experience made me feel like my point was already proven.

I took a selfie every day to prove that I did what I set out to do (not that I thought you reading this wouldn’t believe me): 


(These are very out of order but the best I could do on Google’s photo editing tool. Photo editing is about as out of my comfort zone as selfie-taking. But both are skills I’d like to improve, to varying degrees of embarrassment!)

As you can see, I wear relatively minimal makeup — tinted moisturizer, concealer, mascara, blush stick, typically lipstick, occasional eyeliner. I also have a very loose definition for what counts as “doing my hair”: some days that means a full blowout, others simply brushing it and putting it up in a semi-intentional way that hides how dirty it is. But this is how I operate in my normal going-to-the-office life, so it sufficed for this experiment.

The most obvious change during my week was getting compliments from coworkers. Perhaps it’s because we work in a company of all women, but we tend to notice each others’ outfits, accessories, and when we generally just “look nice.” I admit that receiving (warranted, non-creepy) compliments on my appearance almost always gives me a little confidence boost. It’s nice to be noticed, even if you’re being noticed through a front-facing laptop camera. 

The second change was that this experiment necessitated getting back into the groove of my skincare routine (which is nothing excessive — washing my face, using toner, and moisturizing). This actually made a much bigger difference than I expected it to. I felt more relaxed getting into bed, and my skin felt better in the morning. I knew I’d been neglecting this part of my daily routine, but I didn’t realize that it was actually affecting me, albeit a small amount. I’d never go to bed with makeup on, so putting it on was assurance that I’d actually wash my face at night — problem solved. 

Otherwise, I can’t say this experiment made a difference in my day-to-day life. I don’t think I was any more productive on the days when I primped than the days when I didn’t. I still felt (and still feel) anxiety over the state of the world. My romantic life was the same as it was pre-daily makeup. I still wore yoga pants to go sit at my desk in the room next to the one with my bed, and I was still more than fine with that decision. 

But it did make me realize that the life I loved — the one I enjoyed dressing up for — was still there. I still have my husband, my job, my hobbies, and my loved ones, even if I can’t be in the same room with them. If I didn’t have my job, I’d still have everything else. 

That doesn’t mean I’m going to regularly apply makeup and blow out my hair for the remainder of our days at home (though I may be inclined to do so for the occasional virtual happy hour or book club). It’s sobering to realize that everything in life is so uncertain, no matter how much we plan ahead, and not having to abide by societal expectations for how to “present yourself” is a welcome side effect, in my opinion. But it’s comforting to remind myself how much of my life there still is to love. I didn’t need to wear makeup to realize that — I just needed to remember why I liked wearing it on those “before” days, before I realized I’d have the chance not to for several consecutive months.

Besides, it’s always good to be reminded that, yes, washing your face makes a difference.

Image via Pexels

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