One of my new favorite pastimes I’ve developed over the last few quarantined months—in addition to, you know, emptying our Oreos supply directly into my belly and crying into my pillow about the apocalyptic doom clouds overhead—is gently stroking my freshly budding chin hair.
In this strange new world order, I have found the scraggly black hairs that grow out of my face (and which I would normally combat with sharp razor blades and the vigor of a mortal enemy) an unexpected comforting companion.
I am not alone.
COVID-19 has eased us out of heels and into sweats, out of makeup and towards a more I-actually-literally-really-did-wake-up-like-this look. Mask-wearing and social distancing—not to mention closed hair, nail, laser hair removal, and waxing salons—has inspired some to chill on the whole mortal enemy thing. Whether by choice or not, we are growing our facial hair out, and some of us are digging it.
“After years of hair removal, I’m curious to see what my body does naturally,” says Manhattan-based speech therapist Jen M. with a sense of resolve and a hint of humor, who—pre-quarantine—got rid of her facial hair after a hormonal imbalance caused a higher-than-normal crop. “I thought about temporarily plucking some on my own, but my unsightly hairs hiding under my mask have become my pandemic secret for now.”
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Some are realizing that letting their facial hair down is actually a plus on the beauty chart.
“I will say, I used quarantimes to grow my eyebrows back to their full glory,” Lori S., a textile designer, tells me in earnest. “Normally I’d probably be too self-conscious of the in-between.” And now? Her bushy brows are cleaning up on Instagram likes. “I love them. I get compliments,” she says.
Okay, so does this all mean that a shift in female beauty standards is a side effect to these trying times? Yeah, sort of.
Dr. Kormeili, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, is seeing a 20 percent decrease in female facial laser hair removal since salons reopened after COVID-19. “With masks being our new norm, some women have totally opted out of their laser hair removal routines,” she says. “This can be because now that facial areas are less exposed women do not worry as much about exposing their facial hair as they used to. Whether it’s by choice, motivated by financial savings or simply because they do not prioritize the facial hair regions, this is definitely a trend that is slowly becoming more evident.”
For some, COVID-19 safety precautions have finally provided a safe space to self-explore.
Alex Weiler, a student and artist in Southern Pines, North Carolina, who is gender nonbinary, had facial hair as an adolescent that they initially embraced. “I thought it made me look like Frida Kahlo. I was big into art back then,” Weiler tells me. But then peers bullied them and Weiler felt forced to shave. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, though, “I’ve let my facial hair confidently grow more as social distancing, work-from-home and mask culture gift me the space to separate feminine beauty ideals from my body’s own natural [traits],” they said.
Carmen Clark, a dog walker and pet sitter from Charleston, South Carolina, has PCOS, a hormonal disorder which causes excess hair growth, and claims her facial hair is so thick, she “could grow a beard in a couple of weeks.” She’d gotten lax about shaving when she quit her corporate gig last year to start her own business, and the pandemic has loosened her tolerance for facial hair grooming even more. “I have become shockingly unconcerned with making sure I’m clean shaven every day. Because dogs and cats really don’t care if I have a five o’clock shadow or not,” she says.
Obviously it’s hard to say what, you know, the world will look like post-pandemic, let alone our faces, but you can count on at least some of these “trends” sticking around once we’re on the other side of this. Just look at your history books.
The Gibson Girl hairstyle (i.e. poufy buns with hair tucked in) became less popular circa 1918 after pandemic flu mask culture made big hair less feasible (and less safe). (Fashions changed too: looser clothing became more popular, as petticoats and corsets were retired, possibly thanks to stay-at-home orders—think early 20th century sweatpants.) There were, of course, other social factors at play, like the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919 and the beginning of TV and film culture, but still.
“The pandemic probably showed women that their fussy beauty and grooming and dress routines were impractical. And so they evolved,” Rachel Weingarten, beauty historian, cosmetic consultant, and former celebrity makeup artist, tells me.
Today, L.A.-based board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Hootan Zandifar has noticed an uptick in women wearing less makeup and embracing “natural beauty.” And consultations for procedures have begun to focus less on the lips and lower face and more on areas around the eyes, forehead, eyebrows, nose, and hairline.
Bushy brows, dramatic haircuts (see: aggressive shags or a punk renaissance), and dramatic color and textures on the eyes are all trends likely to emerge and stay due to mask culture, Weingarten explains.
As far as the facial hair thing? Sure, maybe—hell, some women have already been celebrating female facial hair for a long time.
“I have always understood the growing of a women’s beard—refusing plucking, shaving, electrolysis and the rest of it—to be a revolutionary act,” says Jennifer Miller, director of Circus Amok and professor of performance at Pratt Institute, who has been proudly sporting a full-fledged beard for more than 30 years. “And we are in the midst of a revolution!”
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