I could tell you that the flamboyant beauty pageant judge who lives out loud in my head was silenced and evicted as a result of far-reaching self-reflection triggered by shelter-in-place pandemic life.
I could brag about how I was transported to a new and liberated awareness.
Standing before you now, I would be a non-makeup-wearing, body-confident individual who exudes beauty from the inside out, just radiating togetherness hither and thither and every which way.
I could tell you that, but it would be a big ole lie.
I still worry about how I look in clothes, and whether my make-up looks “just right” during important Zoom calls.
The twist for me is that there are two beauty regimens in particular—maintaining my manicure and dyeing my hair—that used to be a big part of my life, yet in this upside-down time of Covid-19, I have tossed aside completely.
And lo and behold, letting these seemingly benign beauty rituals go reconnected me to my ancestors, creating a surge of confidence and spiritual connection that I didn't know I could muster.
“Beauty and folly are often companions.”
What I’ve let go
Rocking natural nails is the second most drastic change in my physical appearance, post-pandemic.
Although my nails are always clean (which is even more critical during this pandemic), they are no longer shaped uniformly, and my cuticles are in perpetual need of a moisturizing treatment. Rather than heading to the salon for a mani, nowadays I smear on whatever cruelty-free lotion I have in my bathroom cabinet.
And it turns out, that's enough.
The thing is, I grew up admiring my mom’s beautifully manicured hands—and precise nails became a value of mine early on. Even in college, before there was a nail shop on every corner in major cities, I always made time to keep my nails perfectly conditioned, painted, and well-shaped. Maintaining “beautiful’ hands was a priority.
But since the shelter-in-place order began earlier this year, I’ve rarely even filed my nails. I only pull out the emery board when I break a nail or when one has grown to an unmanageable length. For the first time since I was a kid, you can see my cuticles.
In other words, my nails have basically gone wild.
And you'd think I'd hate this new-to-me part of me. But what happened instead was that I noticed with awe that my unvarnished nails on my unbeautified hands look just like those of my late beloved grandmother, Rosa Belle Dixon.
As a young girl, Rosa worked with her family as a sharecropper in the Carolinas. And later on, she headed north to New York City during The Great Migration of Black people, leaving the American South to pursue better opportunities up North.
She made it as far as Washington DC and settled in Maryland, where she became a licensed cosmetologist.
Beauty was important to her too.
Circumstances changed, and Rosa found herself doing domestic work to survive. Using her hands in bleach, wax, abrasive cleaners and other chemicals caused creases and dryness across the back of her hands and fingers.
Yet my grandmother’s hands always represented absolute comfort, healing, power, and wisdom for me.
My grandmother's hands represented beauty.
And, as it turns out, my own hands are similar to hers. I had never noticed that connection before Covid-19 forced me to redefine my well-worn ideas of what beauty meant.
And now my grey emerges
I have used a conditioning vegan hair dye, Naturtint, for more than a decade. And yet, keeping up with disguising my grey roots was becoming ever more time-consuming this year, as the mayhem of the world ensued.
This is, after all, the year that everything changed. So why not change my hair?
In February, I decided it wasn't worth the trouble to keep dyeing it, and I stopped coloring my hair altogether. Stay-in-place orders in March reduced my self-consciousness about my decision (so many of my friends were also letting their roots come in), as did joining a couple of Facebook groups filled with women transitioning to embrace their grey hair.
And although I have been cautioned about “looking old” by a few people, my family and closest friends tell me that my grey hair is “beautiful.”
And I think so too.
For sure, I feel more powerful now, for reasons I'm continuing to unpack. I think it has to do with broader acceptance of myself, and because of that shifting view of my reflection, others embrace my new vision of myself as well.
They see me as powerful too.
The time I've spent at home avoiding the coronavirus has gotten me thinking about my internal standards of beauty, as compared to the external ones that I have absorbed for so long, almost unconsciously.
How do the intersections of these two standards influence my interpretation of my reflection and how I show up in the world?
This is definitely worth further examination.
For me, all of these questions boil down to what beauty looks like in the time of COVID-19.
And I'm pretty sure that beauty in its purest form has less bling than I thought it did. It's more authentic, less smoke-and-mirrors.
As it turns out, beauty in its purest form is not related to a nail color or a fresh hair dye job.
At its core, real beauty looks more like it had for my ancestors—and for my wise grandmother, Rosa—the strongest and most beautiful woman I knew.