The Life-Changing Magic of Mascara

Em Unravelling

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Before we all got banished to sit out Covid-19 in our houses (the first time round), I had a very specific weekday morning post-shower routine. Towel-clad, I’d pop in my contact lenses, so I could actually see myself, and then I’d begin.

First, unguents. (I’m a devoted fan of an overpriced serum, and let it never be said that I’d forget a decent slathering of SPF). Then, hair. (Mine’s a pathetic excuse for hair, really – it’s baby-fine and very blonde, neither use nor ornament, but it still needs taming).

Next, clothes. Usually a skirt suit, a fitted dress or a trousers-and-blouse combo; whatever, it would always involve high heels. Finally, with all the unguents absorbed tackily into my face at last, I’d meander back to the bathroom, heels clacking, ready for the makeup stage.

Pre-concealer. Concealer. Foundation. Powder. Blusher. Eyeshadow, two shades (darker on the crease; lighter on the brow bone). Brow pencil. Brow wax. Eyeliner. Mascara. Lipstick. Spritz of scent: wrist, wrist, ear, ear.

I’ve written it down, and it sounds a lot. It is a lot. But on it would all go, in a practised rhythm, and then my face in the mirror would look like my real face. Time to set off for work.

When Covid-19 hit in April, and I quickly packed up my desk and computer and shifted everything to work from home, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself in the mornings. The lack of a commute saved time, of course it did. But so did the lack of a need to paint my face into place.

I was giddy. It seemed so simple, now. All I needed to do was shower, put an elastic band round my hair, and put on moisturiser and some SPF. (That state-sanctioned half hour of outdoors time was still enough time for UV damage to the delicate epidermis, you guys). But no one would be seeing me, so I could wear jeans and an old T-shirt and shuffle into my sheepskin slippers. And I’d be ready for work! Five minutes max! I felt so liberated.

Well. For a week or so, anyway, I felt liberated. I reset the alarm clock, giving us the treat of a whole extra hour in bed. Of course, I had some “Coronasomnia” – weird hyper-real dreams, strange patches of total alert wakefulness at 3am, all the random sleep problems we all reported as the world curled into itself under the pandemic wave. But not every night. Generally, overall, I was getting more hours of sleep than I ever had before.

And yet I was still so tired and lethargic. I’d catch my eye in the hallway mirror as I slouched in my slippers to my desk, and I’d think “you look one hundred and two years old.”

Two weeks into the first lockdown, it was the day marked in our office calendar as “dress down Friday”. But, what with every day now being a dress-down day, we decided to shake things up a bit. We’d have a dress-up Friday! We’d all work from home in our suits and boots, and put photos on the firm’s Facebook page. What fun.

So, I obliged. I hunted out a panelled, fitted dress with ruching that I knew would be kind to the effects of my lockdown sourdough habit. I blow-dried my hair. I put on the pre-concealer, the concealer, the foundation, the powder, the blusher, the eyeshadow (both shades), the brow pencil, the brow wax, the eyeliner, the mascara and the lipstick. I spritzed perfume.

THERE I was. It was me! Not looking a hundred and two. Just me and my face, with slightly bushier brows and slightly longer hair, but otherwise – me. I smiled at myself and clopped downstairs in my heels to sit, in my dress and heels, in my own kitchen. I didn’t feel tired. I was less lethargic. When I went for my precious half-hour permitted run that afternoon, I didn’t hide my exhausted eyes behind unnecessary oversized sunglasses.

In the old world, I’d thought I was painting my face on every day because it was what was expected, because that’s what professional women do. I wore a lot less makeup at weekends, but because I’d be out and about, seeing people, going places, I did wear some. Mascara, definitely. Even if I was running a race, I’d wear mascara.

Because it was something I always did, I hadn’t realised that taking time to make sure I was well groomed wasn’t a constraint, but in its way, it was a liberation. It was certainly a bigger part of my identity than I’d realised.

Anyway. We're in another lockdown now, and I’ve put on mascara and eyeliner every morning. Right from day one.

Not the rest of the routine. Just a five-minute swoosh of liner and a quick upswish of the mascara wand. Just enough so that I feel like I recognise my eyes when I catch them in the mirror. Because I’ve realised that when my eyes look like my eyes, I feel more like me overall. Less tired, less haggard, less lethargic. It makes such a difference.

It’s a classic cliche, the old “self care for your mental health” mantra. Of course it is. It’s a bit too trite, a bit too pat. And no one’s pretending that a bit of mascara has the power to change my life. But I have learned that it does have the power to change my mood. And that is a very powerful thing.

(I still really love my sheepskin slippers, though).

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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