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#Culture: I’m Genuinely Concerned About What Happens to Lipstick, The Most Beloved Makeup Product, In A Post-COVID-19 World

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The world has been known to dismiss makeup as something frivolous and vain. And yet, you’ll see that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, female grooming continues to be of utmost importance. When men appear for video calls or meetings, they probably just put on a formal shirt over their PJs, comb their hair and are ready. Women, on the other hand, have to do all that plus get their ‘no-makeup’ makeup look on for the camera. And this can easily require a minimum of 3-4 products, definitely including some form of lipstick. Lipstick is non-negotiable. Lipstick is the keystone that holds it all together. 

I find myself looking at Instagram stories of social media influencers and actresses whose work both requires and permits them to wear makeup at home without being judged by their family for it. I know what would happen if I put on lipstick randomly one morning, my dad would think I’ve lost my marbles. Mom would probably just give me that Miranda Priestly-style pursed pout that indicates disapproval of my vanity. All Indian moms have that concern.

Of course, this doesn’t discourage me completely. Apart from work meetings, I sometimes indulge myself by putting on some sheer gloss here or a nude shade there, when I know I will be confined to my room for a few hours. It’s a nice way to perk-up my blah mood, especially when Aunt Flow’s due a visit. Just shopping for a lipstick during a recent online sale made me feel exhilarated. Sure, I had nowhere to wear it and go. But it served both nostalgia about the happier times of yore as well as hope that a better future is just around the corner. I’ll be rocking that shade soon….

Oh! But that mask though!

“It’s not what I wear underneath but how I feel about it that defines me.”

As longingly gaze at my beloved lipsticks and lip glosses lying listless in my makeup drawer, it makes me wonder what the future holds for the lip makeup industry. In these four months of lockdown, I’ve ventured outside probably 4-5 times for supply runs. And each time, I couldn’t help but remember how, pre-Coronavirus, I used to quickly swipe a brown lippie on before stepping out for errands. Now, with the mask becoming an indispensable part of our #OOTD, there’s no chance of doing that, is there?

Contrary to the general belief, women don’t wear makeup to impress others. They do it for themselves. Ah lipstick! It has the power to uplift your mood, brighten your day, boost your confidence, turn on your sex appeal and make you feel pretty much invincible. So really, it isn’t even a matter of other people not being able to see us wear a lipstick that bothers women. We’re still going to want to wear it because it has magical powers and because we paid considerable pink tax when we bought truckloads of them. Even underneath a mask? Yes, bub, we’re game.

But for the most part, our concerns are related to transferring product on to our masks and ruining the fabric or getting a sweaty upper lip because it’s already so hot in there. You know how it feels when you’re wearing lip gloss and your hair gets stuck to it? Imagine feeling that all the time, as the fabric touches your lip all day. And we’re only just starting to realise that wearing the mask for prolonged periods can result in face acne. So there goes any hope for those with already oily skin issues!

Work From Home Is Actually Doing Us (And Our Lipsticks) A Favour!

Home is where the comfort of wearing lipstick is. No, really. It’s the only place where (once we convince our fam we’re not just being vain for the heck of it) you can put on lipstick and roam around, click photos, and show off without a care. Why? Because you’re not wearing a mask inside your home, are you? So you see, while you continue to work from home, you’re still getting a chance to use all that makeup in the comfort of your home. Best part? You won’t even need touchups!

But have you wondered what happens once everything’s open and we have to return to our outdoor lives, as so many already have? Coronavirus isn’t going anywhere soon, folks, which means, you’ll still be wearing masks. You’ll have to wear them inside your offices, restaurants, movie theatres, shopping malls, weddings, events and basically any place that is not your home.

In these unprecedented times of COVID-19, you’re thinking about lipstick? Really? Well, yes. It’s psychology.

Yes, yes I am. Because as I articulated extensively before, a lipstick isn’t just another makeup product for women. For many it is a form of identity, a confidence builder, war paint, a tool for self-acceptance. And for many real people (not just women), it is a sizeable chunk of the beauty industry that feeds them and that will have to transform radically to keep up with a post-COVID-19 world.

Here’s an interesting fact about lipstick that you might have heard. There’s considerable debate over the subject, but it has been believed that the beauty industry, particularly lipsticks, see an upswing in their sales during a recession. Consumers tend to hold back luxury expenses but women tend to continue spending on beauty, in a phenomenon that has been dubbed the ‘Lipstick Effect’. Although there have been no indisputable proofs confirming the theory, the beauty giant L’Oréal reportedly was unaffected during the Great Depression unlike other consumer good industries, and even reported a profit.

I’ll let Sarah Hill’s guest blog on Scientific American explain why exactly are women concerned about their looks at a time of economic crisis. And as always, it’s got a lot to do with our primal instincts.

“Human ancestors regularly went through cycles of abundance and famine, each of which favors different reproductive strategies. While periods of abundance favor strategies associated with postponing reproduction in favor of one’s own development (e.g., by pursuing an education), periods of scarcity favor more immediate reproduction. The latter strategy is more successful during times of resource scarcity because it decreases the likelihood that one will perish before having the chance to reproduce.

For women, periods of scarcity also decrease the availability of quality mates, as women’s mate preferences reliably prioritize resource access. This preference stems from the important role that mates’ resources have played in women’s reproductive success. Because economic recessions are associated with higher unemployment and minimal or negative returns on investments, news of a recession may therefore signal to women that financially secure men—those able to invest resources in rearing offspring—are becoming scarce.”

[Whoa what? Don’t let your parents hear that or they’ll hire Sima Auntie to get you a rishta ASAP!]

It’s not rocket science to comprehend why women want to keep looking their best then. Apart from attracting their potential ‘mate’, they also want to keep the ones they have found.

Will lipstick change in a post-COVID-19 world?

In this pandemic-led recession, the lipstick effect isn’t holding. The focus is shifting to bold eye-makeup now, because that’s the only part of the face visible after putting on a mask. It’s also one that allows you to experiment and play around a lot more. Moreover, women are increasingly focusing on skincare because it is all about being healthy, inside out. So what happens to this beloved makeup product then? I have a bunch of questions!

Do we stop wearing lipstick completely once we venture out? I doubt that’s going to happen. Especially in industries like film and fashion, where models, influencers, actresses will continue to sport them. Even weddings and special occasions might become exceptions. But what about everyday wear, for women who equate lipstick with confidence, empowerment and habit? It means we’re going to need some major innovation and jugaad to happen! Will all lipsticks become transfer-proof in the future so that they can be worn underneath masks? Will we ditch lip gloss completely? Or will we opt for transparent masks that allow people to see our full faces?

I’d love some answers!

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