Beauty without the Beast: Can we learn from Lockdown?

As lockdown eases in the UK, we are returning to the hairdresser and beauty salon in droves. In our visual and virtual culture, beauty matters. So desperate were we to cover our roots or change our styles that some hair salons opened at midnight on July 4th! Doing beauty again is a pleasure for many and provides a sense that we are getting our normal lives back.[1]

Some of us rethought our beauty regimes in lockdown. Felt it didn’t matter, given the magnitude of the pandemic. Others felt less pressure – wearing less makeup, taking less time on hair-styling, and wearing pyjama bottoms all day. Take Lily Allen and Una Healy embracing their grey hair on Instagram. But, as we’ve discussed previously, the pressure to be perfect didn’t go away, and for some it intensified. 

By the third week of March, video conferencing apps had been downloaded 62 million times. Video conferencing has transformed our work and social lives, and their effect on body image was almost instant. Looking at ourselves on video conferencing made many of us feel worse about our appearance. Conscious of flaws we didn’t know we had – a phenomenon the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) have termed “the Zoom Factor”. Many of us have become ashamed of our appearance, for example, cosmetic doctor Dr Tijion Escho has reported patients wearing facemasks or ‘self-isolating’ in their rooms to avoid people seeing their faces as treatments wear off. 

We have even been told that lockdown is an opportunity to do body work. Did you feel the urge to do the lockdown diet? The Zoom factor is most clearly seen in the focus on faces. In a recent survey from Save Face, “98% of respondents said they wanted a non-surgical cosmetic procedure when lock-down restrictions are lifted” but that safety measures are essential. Cosmetic surgeons in Australia, where clinics have already reopened, are noticing a surge in enquiries for procedures on the face, and particularly on features closest to the camera. The determination to fix our faces is reflected in the way people have been talking about transforming their bodies post-lockdown on social media.

We’ve found the same in the anonymous stories submitted to the #everydaylookism campaign during lockdown:

As we’ve said time and time again, body image worries are not trivial. That many of us are coming out of lockdown with a wish to ‘fix’ ourselves by changing our bodies is part of a broader change, where beauty has become a dominant – for some the most dominant – value framework. How we judge ourselves and others. This focus on the body and getting it right, and being ashamed of ourselves – our very selves – when we do not, is part of a bigger story. 

We want to push back against the pressure, reduce the shame, but at the same time embrace the joy. The last chapter of Perfect Me is called ‘Beauty without the Beast’. We want the connection, the pampering, the self-care. But we don’t want the shame, the feelings of failure, and the constant sense we’ll never do enough, never make the grade. One small way to help is to join the #everydaylookism campaign. Taking inspiration from the #everydaysexism campaign, #everydaylookism shares body shaming stories to highlight what is wrong with body shaming and gives us the words to recognise lookism when we see it. 

If we could take the freedom to do less, or do differently, which some have felt in lockdown, and together make our beauty culture kinder, these would be good lessons to have learned. 

To find out more about the campaign, read stories and submit your own go to:

Heather Widdows, Author of Perfect Me and Professor in Philosophy Department at the University of Birmingham

Jessica Sutherland, Research Assistant and Global Ethics PhD student at the University of Birmingham


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