Marc Jacobs is standing in his Manhattan hotel bathroom dressed in a pearl necklace, hot pink T-shirt, fishnet stockings and his trademark platform boots. He’s filming a makeup tutorial—his new lockdown hobby. This one is inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show, using a DIY camera setup that he later reveals involves a cereal box taped to a faucet. “That’s really rough,” he says as he lavishly lines his lips with eyeliner. “But I don’t care how rough it is because I’m going to clean it up afterwards.”
In the UK, model and mental-health activist Adwoa Aboah also filmed her first-ever makeup tutorial. ‘You don’t have to dress up for dinner at home, #ButItHelps,’ reads the caption. From the outside, this increased focus on beauty might seem frivolous, especially amid a pandemic. But for many, it’s become a critical means of coping; in a time when we’re feeling powerless, beauty remains one aspect of our lives that we can still exert some control over. In fact, that has been the case throughout history.
During the second world war, Britain heavily reduced its production of cosmetics. But according to the Imperial War Museum, although makeup was expensive and subject to luxury tax, it was never rationed—it was deemed too important to the war effort (the government suggested that a lack of interest in personal appearance signified low morale). Then, during the recession in the early 2000s, former Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder coined the term ‘lipstick index’ as an economic indicator after noticing that consumers continued to buy cosmetics no matter how bad the economy was (and in fact, sometimes even buying more).
Now, in our current crisis, the first of the social-media era, we’re not only relying on and experimenting with beauty—we’re using it as a way of communicating with others, too. This is particularly true in the case of the makeup tutorial. Not only is it a cure for quarantine boredom, but it’s also a valuable distraction from increasingly grim realities, proving to be a lifeline to both creator and viewer.
Before the lockdown, London-based makeup artist Mona Leanne mainly used social media to share her editorial work. But since being stuck at home, she’s started filming her own makeup tutorials, documenting everything from her everyday quarantine makeup routine to her more glam looks for all those virtual Houseparties. “It’s important for people to have an escape,” she tells Vogue. “I personally don’t want to engage with the news all day because that starts to affect my mental health.” For Leanne, creating makeup tutorials has become a therapeutic act. “Whenever I’ve noticed myself slipping into a more negative headspace, sitting down and filming a makeup tutorial has lifted me right out of that.”
It’s this sense of purpose that is ultimately providing the biggest form of self-care for creatives who have found themselves suddenly without jobs or means of their usual creative expression. It’s something that TikTok star Abby Roberts is definitely feeling. “Creating content gives me a focus and a purpose during quarantine,” says the makeup artist, who mesmerises her 8.1 million followers with incredible pop-culture-inspired transformations. “Without creating looks, I’d feel a little lost right now, so it’s good to stay productive and feel like I’m doing something worthwhile!”
And it’s proving worthwhile for those watching, too. With so many of us stuck at home right now, beauty influencers and makeup artists are finding there has been a huge increase in viewers watching and engaging with their content. “As consumers have more playtime with cosmetics, online makeup tutorials have gained traction,” says Livvy Houghton, a creative researcher at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory. “Skincare demonstrations and haircare tutorials have also seen a spike. Although there is a slight insignificance in the nature of beauty right now, most influencers are continuing to provide content as a source of comfort and normality.”
For Eleanor, a 26-year-old marketing-content writer in Dublin, it is this idea of tutorials as a source of normality that appeals, as they help her forget about the uncertainty and sense of disruption that comes with life in lockdown. “They’re a small reminder of life before Covid-19 and hope for normality after it,” she says. “After watching them, I find myself daydreaming about looks I could wear and products I could use in the future, like for my sister’s wedding [cancelled due to lockdown].”
Nieves, 24, who works in architecture in Ibiza, agrees. “I have been watching tutorials for inspiration for […] when we’re allowed to have a social life again. For me, the makeup world is almost a way of life. It’s a source of inspiration. It makes me feel better.”
With everyone looking for things to do to keep themselves busy, particularly those in countries that are under the strictest lockdowns, tutorials provide a great outlet that anyone can participate in. In turn, this creates an important sense of community and reciprocity between both creator and viewer. As history shows, beauty is an important means of lifting spirits and keeping morale up. But where it was an individual pursuit before, done in isolation from others, it is now a means of keeping us connected.
This is certainly true for Leanne, who has noticed a big surge in engagement on her Instagram since lockdown began, with many followers messaging to say she has inspired them to get creative themselves and experiment with their own looks. “I get tagged in a lot of incredible recreations of my looks, which keeps me motivated to keep making content,” she says. “It’s lovely.”
For those of us who are finding being physically isolated from our usual network of friends and family tough, this type of connection is proving invaluable. Makeup tutorials help foster an environment of communal bonding—a sense that we are all in this together. This is something Marc Jacobs emphasises by framing his videos as Too-torials. “That’s not a YOU-Tube, that’s not a ME-tutorial, it’s a TOO-torial as in, too, you, we can all join in and do this together,” he says. That’s ultimately what it’s all about.
“I’m connecting with my followers in a whole new way,” says New York-based Vogue makeup artist Christine Cherbonnier. Since the lockdown, Cherbonnier has also turned the camera on herself, creating amazing floral-filled looks as part of her Nature series, which she started as a project to give her something to focus on.
“I’ve found that posting more images of myself has allowed my followers to get to know me in a way they hadn’t before. The positivity and encouragement has been so uplifting; [it’s] made me feel less isolated,” she says. “One [follower] told me she sees my Nature series as a breath of fresh air from all the horrible things creating stress and anxiety for her on social media. I miss making people feel good through doing makeup, so if I can inspire or provide some escape through this, it makes me feel like I still have a purpose. ”
So, whether it’s the artistry and creative outlet offered, the much-needed distraction from the news, or a way to connect with others and the normalcy of your old routine, makeup tutorials might just provide that valuable space of peace and calm in a scary moment.
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