When the UK government closed all non-essential businesses in March, nail salons, hairdressers and beauty clinics shut, too. While keeping on top of a beauty routine may seem like one of the lesser challenges the world is facing, there is no denying that many people have found it hard. But for trans women especially, lockdown measures have posed difficulty of a different kind.
Beauty forms a key part of trans identity, specifically how trans women see and present themselves to the world on a daily basis. With a lack of resources such as hairdressers, clinics and department stores, not being able to maintain regular beauty routines has resulted in gender dysphoria for many trans women around the globe, stirring feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. But their stories and struggles are rarely highlighted. Ahead, 5 trans women reveal exactly how quarantine measures have impacted them, the support systems they are leaning on and how they are using beauty to navigate this unprecedented time.
“Prior to lockdown, I had a regular beauty routine to maintain as I work as makeup artist and assistant manager of a makeup shop. I would regularly get my nails done at the salon, restock on makeup essentials, have laser hair treatments and regularly buy skincare. I wear a full face of makeup everyday to work, always do a full Korean skincare routine before bed and touch up on Restylane dermal filler and lip filler once or twice a year for maintenance.
The feminising of my appearance as much as possible is essential to my regular life as it makes me safest when I look more “passable” as much as I hate that term. With the violence against trans women being so prevalent, I’m constantly in fear of being harassed or hurt, so maintaining my beauty routine offers me a degree of safety. I feel like I’m putting on my superhero suit to go out and face the world. It helps me to feel more confident and gives me strength. I don’t see makeup as a mask to hide behind, but when I’m done up and feeling my full fantasy, I navigate the world differently and I feel braver.
Coronavirus has had a pretty intense effect on my life in general and definitely my beauty routine. I actually had my gender reassignment surgery two days before lockdown was announced. I’ve been unable to get my nails done or my hair trimmed, but it’s also been more difficult to restock on products thanks to shipping limitations and being furloughed.
The entire situation has definitely caused feelings of dysphoria. There hasn’t been much of a reason to apply makeup these days and it can feel demoralising. There are days where I don’t feel like myself and it weighs heavily on my spirit. For a lot of people it seems vain, but it really does give you a pep in your step when you feel good about how you look.
One of the worst parts of my trans experience has been my body not reflecting who I know myself to be. Being stuck at home with my thoughts and the raw reality of my body has been really intense and emotionally draining. Recovering from such painful surgery as well as being under lockdown has felt super isolating and definitely amplified my dysphoria. The lack of laser treatments has been tough, too. I know I’m privileged to have access to it, but it really helped in taking care of my facial hair shadow. It’s been disheartening to feel like progress has regressed. It’s been hard to manage my dysphoria. Once I was strong enough to get out of bed, putting makeup on for the sake of it gave me some comfort. A good cry and my mum has helped, too.
Post lockdown I’m really looking forward to playing with so many new products in store. There’s really something special about doing that in person versus ordering online. I’m keen on getting my nails done and will definitely resume my laser treatment!”
“A bit of makeup everyday, like mascara, really enhances the feminine features on my face, making me feel a lot better about myself. But lockdown has meant wearing less makeup because there’s no need. I’m in bed all day. It’s been good and bad; my skin has had a break but also I miss looking pretty. I’ve got done up a few times for no other reason but an Instagram post!
I have struggled a lot with my gender dysphoria in lockdown because it gives you more time to think or to look in the mirror and criticise yourself. I’ve had days where I’ve tried not to look in mirrors around the house because masculine features such as my Adam’s apple would really get me down. Most days I’m left feeling very trapped in my body, as I’m still a pre op trans woman.
I want to be able to get made up and go on a good night out, but quarantine has allowed me to spend more time on my skincare routine. I use a cleansing oil, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C cream, eye cream, coconut oil on my lashes, a day and night moisturiser and a face mask once or twice a week. I have actually managed to grow my nails out, too.”
“Personally, I feel as though my beauty routine makes me feel more accepted and confident. For many trans women, it’s a vital part of our daily routine. When we present ourselves to the world, our face is what everyone sees first. We say, ‘this is who we are and please ignore the parts that may contradict that.’ Given how much intolerance, hate and ignorance there is, I can’t help but use makeup as a way to blend in. It’s about feeling good in ourselves as well as personal safety.
Not being able to test makeup or have my hair cut has been difficult, but something I’ve come to accept. It’s the impact on my ongoing transition that’s hardest to deal with. To others, not being able to continue with laser hair removal is trivial. For me, there’s a lot more to it. That laser hair removal is a symbol of me being in control of my own body, one I hated while growing up and one I feel like a prisoner in. This has definitely triggered feelings of dysphoria. It’s almost like being forced to pause my transition. While it’s probably not something others around me may even notice, I do. I guess I’m used to second guessing my appearance because of how trans people are treated by society. I ask, ‘Am I feminine enough? Do I still look masculine? Will anybody notice?’ I’m fortunate in that I was never very hairy, but that doesn’t change how I see myself. Of course, nobody said that women aren’t allowed to have body hair, but society conditions us with unwritten rules which are difficult enough for cisgender women to overturn, but even more so for trans women.
I’ve tried to maintain as much of my regular routine as possible but knowing I’m not the only one going through this has been beneficial – that goes for trans and cisgender women. Knowing it’s affected everyone, rather than feeling like a target is quite reassuring. It makes a change from being a target, in fact. Being forced into changing how we live has really helped me re-evaluate the way I see myself. It’s helped me to grow. It’s also enabled me to speak to lots of inspirational people from around the world and connect with so many who share what I’m going through. Being able to interview Carmen Carrera has totally changed my perspective, too. She is somebody I admire and look up to. Hearing that I share the same struggles as she does during a worldwide pandemic has really put things into perspective.”
“Quarantine has impacted my identity because changing my looks with makeup and hair is a big part of it. I like to transform. Living in London, I’ve not been going out in public every day, so there hasn’t been a point to getting dressed. Since I’m a real fashion gal, it hurts, but I’ve become accustomed to it.
Before quarantine, I’d get different protective styles likes faux locs, braids, or cornrows so I could put a wig on. Most of my hairstyles were long, as I’m most comfortable modelling when my hair is that length. I’d wear a full face of makeup and get gel extensions if I had the money. Due to coronavirus, I have been forced to wear my natural hair for quite some time. I’m Black, and my natural hair is a lot to deal with. I have extremely thick, 4b kinky, coily hair; that says enough. I’m not that bothered about makeup right now, but I was feeling quite dysphoric about it, because I used to validate my identity by getting dressed up and being fabulous. I still do this from time to time to make sure I can still wear my makeup. But then I realised there’s other things to worry about, like a revolution going on right now for my people.
I always just remind myself that getting dressed up everyday doesn’t mean anything in terms of my identity, it’s all about how I present mentally and people will understand that within time. A lot of trans people have dysphoria, but most times they also battle that alone as cisgender people will never understand. There needs to be more help resources out there. When I’m feeling dysphoric, I usually just keep it to myself and push through on my own, which works best for me. But I really am looking forward to being fabulous in public again!”
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“I used to wake up every morning before work to do my hair and makeup and felt like I had more motivation to do so. But since quarantine, I haven’t touched a lot of the makeup I loved to use. Maintaining a beauty routine definitely does make me feel better, and now, it feels as though a part of me has been stripped away. That said, there are some positives. I’ve had to learn to be more confident without makeup which was something I struggled with quite a bit more before this.
Because of coronavirus, I can’t make it to my hairdresser, which has caused feelings of dysphoria. As well as makeup, the way I did my hair helped to combat this. I’m looking forward to changing my hair colour and addressing my roots! But I’ve just been trying to remain positive. Having received two dates for my surgery has really helped, and my friends and husband have supported me, too. I’d also suggest people check out Transvengers or @_transvengers on Instagram. They are a very inclusive help group for the trans community.”
If you are an LGBTQ person and you would like some more information on your rights or any of the issues raised in this article, check out Stonewall’s website.
The Beaumont Society is a national self-help body run by and for the transgender community. If you need some advice – or just a friendly ear – contact their information line on 01582 412220.
If you are a young person and you don’t identify with the gender you were given at birth, Mermaids can help. Give them a call on 0808 801 0400.
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