Disclaimer: I am fully aware that I am extremely lucky to be healthy and safe during this devastating pandemic. I’m simply sharing my raw and flawed feelings with you.
I am not a pretty quarantine. I have a lot of friends who are very pretty quarantines. I know this because I see them every single day on Instagram. They gaze at me through the cracked screen of my phone with clear eyes, dewy skin, and moon-white teeth. The images in question are not (overly) filtered and I know this because these are girls I know in real life (remember real life?). They’re the kind of girls who look flawless straight out of the shower. The kind of girls who appear in your kitchen in the morning after they’ve crashed in your apartment, with wet hair and no makeup, and you just, sort of gasp at their raw beauty.
The girls who let their hair air-dry because they can let their hair air-dry — and still have the kind of hair western-reared girls universally covet. Wavy. Luscious. Frizz-less. Long.
Girls who look good in loungewear. Girls whose hands look pretty without a manicure. Girls whose feet don’t look like animal feet without toe-nail polish. Girls who probably don’t have hairs on their toes.
I guess you could call these girls “natural beauties.” But I call them “quarantine beauties.” There’s a difference between a quarantine beauty and a natural beauty. I know a lot of naturally beautiful girls who’s bodies don’t favor sweatsuits and eyes don’t gleam during a global pandemic.
Since I was fifteen, I’ve made a big deal out of getting ready. I came tumbling out of my mother’s womb begging to wear makeup. I was the first girl in the seventh grade to wear cat eye makeup to school. I was obsessed with it. I still am. Painting my face is a deeply sacred ritual for me. My friend Liset calls the vanity table in which she adorns her face “the meditation station.” I get it. I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning just so I can decorate myself. I’ll put on the latest Lana Del Rey record get lost in creamy highlighters and glimmery eyeshadows and blood-red lipsticks for at least forty five minutes.
I do my hair every day too. My hair is the texture of brillo pad when left unattended. Girls with smooth hair tell me to “embrace my natural hair” but they’ve never worn a crown of frizz that they could not remove, so they don’t understand the complex plight of being a brillo pad head. I heat up my salon-quality hair-straightener till she reaches 450 degrees and sandwich my fuzzy waves between two deadly hot clamps and press down hard. I don’t stop until each frizzy lock has been flattened out.
I also look good in a dress. I look like I’m in the throes of a psychotic break when I wear sweatsuits. Even when I wear the expensive, trendy sweatsuits — the tie-dye one’s celebrity girls in LA are always photographed wearing when they go to pick up their matcha lattes — even those make me look mentally ill. Like I’ve just had my heartbroken or am going through a harrowing depressive episode. And as someone who has written an alarming number of essays about being depressed and heartbroken, I don’t want to worry people. People ask me if I’m “feeling okay” when I swear sweatsuits. People ask me where I get my “fabulous clothes from” when I’m in a dress.
Oh, and can we please talk about hands? I always thought I had decent-looking hands. But now I’ve come to the hard-hitting realization that I have hideous hands. I was tricked into thinking my fingers were slim and sexy because they’ve been gorgeously painted since the seventh grade. Without the bedazzlement of nail polish and acrylics, they look like…penises. As I write, I stare at my hands all day as they clack away on a keyboard and all I can think is, “why do I have penises for fingers?” It’s dark.
I’ve never felt more physically vile in my life. My hair is a giant, mental-illness bun that sits on the top of my head, like a distressed pom-pom, every day. I wear over-sized pajamas and unflattering leggings and don’t look or feel like myself, at all. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I run away.
“So why don’t you buck up and wear a dress and do your hair and makeup in quarantine, Zara? Why don’t you do it for yourself if it makes you feel better?” Well, That’s a great f*cking question, Karen. Maybe, Karen, it’s because I feel as if I’ve slipped into the ugly rabbit hole and can’t seem to crawl out of it. You know how they say the more you go to the gym, the easier it gets? And then one day you wake up and your body suddenly craves working out? Before you know it, you can’t imagine starting your day without that sweaty spin class? But when you stop going to that sweaty spin class for even two short weeks, suddenly just the act of putting your sneakers on feels painful and stressful and impossible? You’ve lost your confidence in your ability to move your body. That’s how I feel about grooming and dressing right now. I groomed and dressed to the nines, every goddamn day of my life for fifteen years, and suddenly stopped. And now, Karen, it hurts to pick up a f*cking makeup brush. Even though, I know that picking up that makeup brush would ultimately make me feel better. It’s called a “downward spiral.” Karen.
It would be very easy for me to blame the patriarchy on this whole mess. The patriarchy made me feel ugly without wearing pretty dresses and putting on makeup! The patriarchy made me feel sad when I feel ugly because the patriarchy sent me the damaging, violent message that my entire self-worth is wrapped up in my looks.
And I’m sure the patriarchy did play a role in my withering quarantine self-esteem. But I can’t give the patriarchy all the credit. Because with or without those evil forces, I attain an authentic love of makeup. I love fashion. I love putting together looks. The hair issue is much deeper and is definitely the patriarchy’s fault — but feeling good in my fashion is not. If it was, I wouldn’t wear prairie dresses and red lipstick every day. Nothing freaks out a straight white man like an adult woman in a prairie dress and red lipstick. The male gaze likes daisy duke shorts and clear glossy lips. Not peter pan colors.
I keep saying to myself “Once this who things is over, you’ll feel like yourself again!” But who knows when this thing is *actually* going to be over, you know? And the not knowing of it all, is what’s so goddamn paralyzing. It makes me want to give up on myself entirely. Not just in style, but creatively too. Because the two are wildly interconnected. If there’s no point in adorning myself in pretty dresses and bold lipstick, what’s the point in creating any kind of beautiful art? And if there is no point in creating beautiful art, what is the point of life?
I’m not going to leave you with this dark thought, little sister. Because just last night as I was laying wide-awake in bed, shuddering at my the vile vision of my phallic fingers I was hit with a dramatic epiphany. It was strange. Spiritual, almost. The ghost of my former, glammed up and creatively inspired self, came to visit me. She sat at the edge of the bed. She wore DVF floor-length wrap dress and lilac lipstick. She whispered, “Zara, you do understand that the greatest periods of growth happen when you’re uncomfortable, right? And you’re at your most uncomfortable right now. You’re uncomfortable in the discomfort of not knowing when this whole thing will end. You’re uncomfortable in your body. In your raw, naked face. In the fate of your creative endeavors.”
I nodded, taking in the scent of her glamorous fragrance. I ran out of fragrance weeks ago and buying a new bottle seems fruitless during a quarantine.
She continued. “It’s like those growing pains you had as a kid. It was so painful, but one morning you woke up and looked in the mirror and you were taller. Being stretched every which way hurts. You might want to cry and hide. And it’s totally okay to cry and hide. Just remember, as you’re crying and hiding and writhing in the discomfort, amazing things are happening. You are growing! And you’re going to come out of this, not like your old self, it’s true. But you’ll be better than your old self. I can’t wait to meet Zara 2.0.”
She fluttered her eyelashes and left.
And suddenly I felt overwhelmed with that feeling — that beautiful, indescribable sensation you feel rush through your bloodstream when you know you’re on the verge of something. Look: I no longer have anything to hide behind in quarantine. No fashion to get lost in. Everything I’ve ever relied on for creative inspiration has been taken from me. It’s heartbreaking. But maybe my heart needed a break.