The good people there tell me it’s time perhaps to refill my stock; there’s even a sale on, they throw in as a bonus—and coax me to click on the online link and shop without the attendant corona scare.
And each time, I think of Leonard Lauder and his Lipstick Index. During the early-2000s’ recession, the chairman of the board at Estee Lauder had coined the phrase in the context of cosmetics—lipsticks particularly—to show how this sector appears to be inversely correlated to a prevailing economic scenario. The theory: Women purchase more makeup products to compensate for bypassing (more expensive) clothes and accessories in times of financial distress, and give the beauty industry a leg up.
Can’t blame the brand-sell by my beloved beauty label, I reckon. No harm trying in a flailing market, especially since I’ve been a hoarder of lipsticks, buying extra pieces just in case stores run out of my desired shades.
Except that in this current extended scenario, aka covid times, the Lipstick Index has been turned on its head. The vanity of beauty doesn’t look good, with 2020 projections being painted bleaker than charcoal body scrubs, and segment companies turning to producing safe hand sanitizers instead of trendy eye shadow palettes.
Beauty, the cosmetic kind, is not a compelling enough proposition when legions of women are insulating themselves from the world at large. I realize I may have fallen for the old wives’ rhetorical question trap: “Who do you doll up for?” I know after riding out the body- and face-shaming bogey, a woman should try and look good for herself first, not for the world. I tried that.
In the first few days of the lockdown, I pretended I still inhabited a non-viral world. I followed a lead that’s nearly three decades old: There has hardly been a day when I’ve stepped out of the house without some semblance of makeup; even on weekends and holidays, I’d be too vain to be “seen” sans basic application.
But a couple of weeks of trying razzle dazzle for my eyes only got me bored. I had started wearing lipsticks from my rejected pile, shades that look ghastly on me, and terrifyingly electric blue eyeliners that I had been colour-blind enough to purchase in a wasted chapter of my life. So I stopped altogether. Then I started liking my unhighlighted lips and un-kohled eyes (no one to exclaim “OMG, are you feeling okay? You look soooo unwell” ).
Now I’ve gotten used to them. A cosmetically-undefined visage, for me, is the new normal—and, contrary to what I thought earlier, it’s pretty damn straight.
On my assorted female WhatsApp groups, a lot of chatter has been on beauty and its services rendered.
As a sampler, here is a smattering of lines, in random order:
•My entire makeup collection is under lockdown too.
•Got to wax my legs, they are not exactly a sight for sore eyes.
•Who knows how to thread eyebrows/upper lips? Please share info on this thread.
•Any tips on mani-pedi?
•That killer herbal facial that makes my skin glow like a goddess—how does one do a DIY?
•The grey has started to show in my hair—I need an emergency touch-up!
•Longing for a proper haircut.
In less than a month, most of these women had wisened up to practical interventions. Turned out, we all had them in our armoury, but had been loath to put them to use. The epilator. The tweezer. The DIY hair-colour kit. The Korean sheet masks. Those aside, there were YouTube tutorials on hair-cutting techniques and “homemade” beauty solutions. How to give yourself a head massage. How to set up a spa-in-residence.
I put my firm thumb imprint on a mani-pedi set I’d picked up abroad with a view to gifting it to someone who’s always complaining of not being able to eke out time for a salon session. It works like magic, real easy, and it’s good to use for at least a year. Sorry pal, better luck next time, I messaged her. And to myself I said, “What was I thinking? This is so much more stress-free! From now on, DIY mani-pedis will be my new normal.”
Today, most of my chatty girlfriends claim they “wouldn’t mind traipsing to the salon for treatments occasionally, but its way simpler doing the gigs at home”.
On the face of it, a new order has been set. Will I ever get back to the lipstick jungle—for visits at least? Sure, I will, but not till the (medical) masks come off—and God knows when that will happen. And when I do go back, I’ll be far better equipped to practise DIY to perfection. And far more comfortable and better poised being bare-faced.
Sushmita Bose is a journalist, editor and the author of ‘Single In The City’.