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As Philadelphia’s stay-home order stretched on, Kiki Volkert realized she had no time for shaving her armpits.

At first, she says, the decision to forgo shaving was subconscious. She has continued to shave or trim hair on other parts of her body during her time at home. Running her hands along smooth legs makes her feel sexy. The thought of ridding herself of armpit hair did not.

“I feel like I’m craving some sort of transformation,” Volkert, 28, said. “Even if I don’t get anything done, if I don’t become a better person in any way, I want one small physical transformation — and if that’s having armpit hair, that’s cool.”

With nowhere to be and hardly anyone to see, many people are modifying their beauty routines, reconsidering the role makeup and body hair plays in their lives.

(Courtesy of Kiki Volkert)
(Courtesy of Kiki Volkert)

Megan Barney, a book publicist, has largely avoided makeup during her ongoing self-isolation with her husband in Boston. Ordinarily, her beauty routine is fairly extensive, she said, and consists of brow tinting, mascara and foundation. She also uses concealer to cover stubborn hormonal acne scars from her early 20s. Unless she has a Zoom presentation with higher-ups at work — for which she applies a light dusting of foundation and blush — Barney spends her days barefaced. Over the weeks, the 26-year-old has grown accustomed to a makeup-free complexion.

“If I were to go back to work tomorrow, I feel like I would use fewer skin products,” Barney said. “This period of time has made me realize that there’s not much left to cover up.”

Makeup and beauty routines fulfill a range of desires, both in ordinary circumstances and under lockdown.

“For some, it’s a ritual that starts their day, like brushing teeth or sipping their first cup of coffee,” said Vivian Diller, a psychologist who specializes in self-image. “For others, makeup is applied carefully and creatively. They view it like choosing a new outfit, an opportunity to add color and appeal. For some, it feels essential to be in control of their looks, to cover and conceal. For those, makeup can feel like a burden.”

For nonessential workers, shelter-in-place orders have allowed for a collective societal pause, allowing people the time to take stock of their routines and what purpose they serve.

“You start to deconstruct, ‘Why did I start doing this stuff in the first place?’” said clinical psychologist Tricia Wolnanin. “You piece together what you most value in regards to beauty or confidence.”

Just the act of looking at your own face on Zoom calls can be therapeutic. Tara Well, an associate professor of psychology at Barnard College, has studied how mirrors and viewing our reflections can impact our self-perception. During a time when we may be more frequently watching ourselves on virtual meetings, reckoning with our appearance — whether barefaced or fully made up — can help us evaluate what aspects of our beauty routines give us confidence and what ones we can live without, she said.

“If you’re doing [your makeup] and it feels like drudgery then you feel a lot of freedom in not needing to do it,” Well said. “If you do it and you feel good, then you should definitely do it, but don’t mistake who you are for your beauty routine.”

To pass the time at home in St. Louis, 28-year-old massage therapist Ciera Danyel has been looking through old photos. As a teenager, Danyel experimented with makeup, playing with colors that popped against her skin. Adulthood, with its responsibilities and stressors, hasn’t been as conducive to an elaborate look. But the images, she said, reignited her interest in beauty. She pulled out unused palettes, trying out new colors and techniques. Her beauty motivations, she realized, needed to come from within instead of from impulses to impress.

(Courtesy of Ciera Danyel)
(Courtesy of Ciera Danyel)

“There’s so many things that we try to rid ourselves of with these routines, but I flipped it on its head,” she said. “I’m using it as a method of celebration, as a means of being in awe and admiring my own beauty.”

The spa where Danyel works has recently reopened. When she returns to work, she said she plans on bringing her new looks to the outside world.

Anu Onemola has expanded her skin care practice while dropping her makeup routine. A recent graduate in Philadelphia, Onemola, 22, discovered her college lifestyle wasn’t doing her skin any favors. Her newfound spare time, regular sleep schedule and minimized stress levels are doing wonders for her skin. Like Barney, by not wearing makeup over the last two months, Onemola realized her complexion has improved.

“I’m getting to see my skin has changed,” she said.

Onemola will always love makeup, she says. It’s a practice she finds equal parts superfluous and therapeutic. If, perhaps tomorrow, the desire struck to go full glam, she’d do it for her own enjoyment.

But she doesn’t think that day will come soon.

Without makeup, she says she has been able to see herself as “a whole person.”

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