Lockdown changed the way I wear makeup

I started wearing makeup to school when I was 14. I’d wake up super early, sneak into my parent’s bedroom and steal my mom’s foundation and BB cream (neither of which were my colour, by the way). This became a ritual. Only interrupted by my mother slowly realising her makeup supplies were dwindling in volume far more quickly than they should have been.

I realise now that this was the beginning of what I consider to be a very complicated, and at many times unhealthy, relationship with makeup. Concealers, foundations, powders – I found such deep bittersweet relief after applying them to my face, if only for the fact that they turned me into a version of myself where my insecurities no longer existed. After all, how could I be self-conscious of what I could no longer see?

As I grew older, I slowly fell out of love with the makeup industry, and at some point even came to resent it. As a black girl attempting to engage with a market that had completely iced me out, I found myself trying to cover up the features of my face that were completely natural, from darker under eyes and hyper-pigmented patches to facial hair. I was more likely to find a larger variety of skin lightening products at my local beauty supply store than foundation that matched the colour of my face or eyeshadow that would appear on my darker skin. The message the beauty industry was sending became clear to me. My skin tone wasn’t worth catering to, and I internalised that.

Now that we’re in 2021, it’s safe to say that the past multiple lockdowns have influenced the way I think about cosmetics. The combination of access to more free time as well as inclusive independent makeup brands has given me the opportunity to experiment and express my creativity in ways I never could before. After Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty in 2017, the dramatic shift in what products are readily available to me as a darker-skinned person has been steadily increasing since, and have definitely climaxed to where we are now.

With bright pink powders, neon orange eyeshadow, ridiculous star shaped patterns made using white eyeliner strewn across my cheekbones, and even glue sticks (thank you Drag Race!), I never realised how much I limited myself in only doing my makeup to look “desirable”. It may not always be conventional, or trendy, or even look good, but I now know what matters most is me enjoying myself!

I still think the makeup industry still has a long way to go in terms of promoting unrealistic beauty standards amongst mostly young girls, and Eurocentric femininity. However, the unique circumstances of lockdown have allowed me to reconnect with makeup, and even utilise it in my journey of learning to accept my physical self as not pretty, not ugly, but valid.

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Mariam Jallow

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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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