Is Masking Affecting Women’s Self  Esteem?

Photo by Sehej Desan

As the world continues to experience the deep effects of the pandemic, beauty companies are facing serious challenges:  women, with their faces hidden behind mandatory masks, appear far less motivated to wear make-up and lip color— and they’re spending less on beauty products as a result. Beauty retailers and cosmetics manufacturers are reeling as make up and lipstick sales have dropped. According to a McKinsey & Co. report, published last May, the U.S. beauty industry stood to lose as much as 35% of its revenues because of COVID-19.  The predictions weren’t too far off:  the NPD Group, a marketing research firm, reported that make up sales alone in the United States dropped 34% in 2020.

“We have been struggling to sell colored lip color, because women no longer want to wear it with the masks, especially the cloth masks,”  says Kelly Hetherington, a make-up specialist for MAC products in Queens.

Mandatory masking may be leaving women with more dollars in their wallet, for sure. But not wearing make up also has its down side:  it is affecting women’s self-esteem, as NY City Lens found when it spoke to a number of make-up lovers in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“I am really uncomfortable mingling with others behind a face mask. I am not able to talk to people freely as I tend to communicate with facial expressions,” said Yoan Buggey, 25, a student at Hunter College. “The reason behind my lack of confidence is nothing but a face mask.”

One Brooklyn woman says she felt so inadequate without makeup that she even postponed meeting her boyfriend’s parents. Sonia , a resident of Brooklyn, who started seeing her boyfriend during the pandemic,  said while the couple was en route to his parents’ home, she suddenly asked him to cancel the visit until she could see them without having to wear a mask.  She said she knew that because his parents were older, she realized that she would have to wear her mask during the entire visit and that made her uneasy.

“I wanted them to see my beauty without a mask,” Sonia said in an interview. “I feel like my future parents in law missed out seeing my beautiful smile and white teeth because of a mask. Masking is such a tease.’’

She acknowledges that wearing a mask makes her not only feel less attractive, but also less self-assured. She adds that self doubt has even affected her motivation to go for  job interviews since she can’t put on make up.  This has left her jobless and surviving on unemployment benefits.

The saying goes that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder . But with masks, many women feel that the beholder can’t make a judgement about their beauty because they can’t see their full faces.  Countless stories have been published during the pandemic that talk about how smiles are no longer visible underneath masks.

However, not all women have abandoned lipstick and makeup.  Some of them continue to wear both under their masks, even at the risk of smudging it.  They don’t even worry, they admit, if anyone sees their make up or not. Just wearing it makes them feel better. After all, lipstick has been a metaphor for self confidence for women ever since red lip color started selling in 1912.

“We are doing it for ourselves,” says Jazmine De Groat, 29, who admits that despite the pandemic’s mandatory mask requirement she has not stopped slicking on  lipstick.

Ashely Chandler, 34, an Estée Lauder make-up artist in Manhattan, says the pandemic hasn’t stopped her from wearing make up either.  She says she wears it every day, even when she’s at home.

“I put it on, and I feel instantly more confident, even if no one can see it,” she says. “There have been thoughts about not wearing make up in the pandemic and they are totally energy sucking. Women should defy the odds and wear lipstick during the pandemic because it empowers them.”

Beauty retailers and cosmetic companies probably hope that other women take her point to heart. Net sales at Ulta, the beauty retailer, for example, have fallen by 8%. But some analysts who study the beauty industry see a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, according to the McKinsey & Company report on the state of the industry, the beauty sector could climb back to 2019 levels in the United States by the first half of 2021.