Apr 17th, 2020, 03:06 AM

Care to Be Beautiful in a Pandemic?

By Adaeze Nwokolobia
Spilled nail polish. Image credit: Pexels
Looking good is still in business

On April 11, 2020, CNN reported that grooming products like hair dye and clippers were selling out rapidly in Walmart stores. In a pandemic, panic-buying beauty products would seem frivolous and wasteful. Alas! This is not the case.

Realities have changed for millions of people across the world ever since the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 150, 000 deaths have been recorded with 2 million infected and global shelter-in-place lockdown continue to be extended in curve-flattening measures.

The unprecedented move from idiosyncratic routines to survivalist measures is jarring. Toilet paper is running out in US stores, food prices are increased dramatically due to artificial inflation in developing countries, and residents in France are restricted to exercising before sunrise and after sundown. 

Aesthetics are simply unimportant now. Or are they? 

"It's not a demand crisis, it's a supply crisis. Consumers are really eager to buy all types of beauty products but they just can't do it because the stores are closed," Chairman and CEO Of L'Oreal, Jean-Paul Agon said on call as reported by CNN. According to Agon, consumer interests in beauty and grooming have not diminished.

Beauty heavyweight L' Oreal's online sales have jumped 67% in China and 53% worldwide. L'Oreal's beauty empire includes brands such as Garnier, Maybelline, and NYX. It has a global supply chain typically delivering seven billion products per year. Agon also confirms that hair dye purchases have risen up to 50%. 

The closures of beauty and hair salons have resulted in widespread complaints across social media. Issues are not merely about broken acrylic nails or faded hair roots. In  Coronavirus hotspots like Italy and the US, people are asking hairdressers and beauty technicians to come to their homes with some offering to pay more than usual. 

Mayors are livid in the face of these flagrant violations of the stay home orders. Working from home also has its own pressure with professionals who feel they have to look good for online business meetings with their managers and colleagues present. 

An article in the New York Post revealed that professionals working remotely have become increasingly worried about how they looked during conference calls as well as recommended tips ranging from lighting to make-up tips to look better on camera. Others, however, have only opted to look good as far as the camera can see. 

The historical shift of beauty standards from traditional visual broadcast media to social media has something to do with why people are risking their lives either through plastic surgery or breaking public health orders to look more beautiful.

Screens have gotten smaller and more individuals are focused on their phone screens than TV screens. Statistics show that the internet and digital sphere account for about 73% of all the media consumption while television is 44%. Over 3.2 billion social media users spend an average of 2.20 hours per day.

Now during this crisis, the number of people online has increased significantly. People have gone from watching stars on television and reading about them in magazines to becoming stars themselves through their social media accounts.

People feel they need to look good in these times where comforts are being tested. Social media applications, remote virtual professional, and family meetings can demand aesthetic attention. And not only from women but men as well. The New York Times reports that men are increasingly dressing up to work from home. 

Data from the American Society of Plastic surgeons reveals that a massive boom in cosmetic procedures, as well as non-invasive surgery, occurred since 2015, and surprisingly in young people in their mid-20s and 30s as well as teenagers. This occurs, most notably, after the rise in video and photo social media platforms like Instagram. 

Subsequently, in China, plastic surgery apps like GengMei with 36 million users and almost 20,000 surgeons on its platform matches users to surgeons as well as provides before and after pictures of procedures. Furthermore, the app features access to microloans through lending service, Huabei.

The latest reports now state that over 7.4 million people in the US were reported to have had botox and 15.9 million people have done cosmetic minimal non-invasive surgery. These cosmetic procedures usually need touch-ups and in the face of a lockdown could become problematic as the crisis wears on. 

“My beauty routine has changed during this lockdown and I no longer wear makeup on a day to day basis,” Basia, an AUP student, said. “I have replaced makeup with self-care and beauty maintenance like applying homemade, natural face masks. I am keeping my skin clean and moisturized by allowing it to breathe without the use of excessive products as normal.” 

The "If the shoe fits" scenario also comes into play where some people dress up and some don't. Others are investing more in skincare while some simply do not care about complicated beauty routines. 

“I have to wash my face and look presentable before I go on Teams, I don’t want to scare anyone” AUP student Alessandra Campbell said. Alessandra, a senior History, Law and Society major, says that almost everyone in her classes opts for the no-video option but she does the opposite.

“I don't really care how I look and it’s empowering for me to show up the way I am on camera without worrying about how I look.” There are speculations that most students turn off their video options for fears of how they look on camera while others state that it is easier to focus on the professor alone or block out family members from walking in. 

The panic buying is understandable as beauty has since come to represent self-empowerment and self-care. In times where it is easy to feel helpless, women across history in the case of C.J Walker and the Walker Movement have turned to beauty & grooming in order to take back control. C.J Walker, the first female American self-made millionaire, built a beauty empire and trained other women to be "beauty cultivators" in face of the pre-civil rights era where African-American women faced extreme discrimination. 

Aesthetics and beauty still play a major role in this pandemic with people learning to cut and dye their own hair and others doing a miserable job of it. Beauty might not be at the forefront of news channels, but online media tells a different story. 

Social media challenges like the #dontrushchallenge still record people at home for the camera transforming from homebodies to the glamorously dressed as well as certain celebrities still calling on their glam teams. Clearly, keeping up with beauty remains all the rebel and rage.