COVID has impacted every part of our lives – including our beauty regimes.
Here, three women explain how they learned to love themselves during the pandemic.
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SASHER Robinson, 41, is a mature student and lives in Surrey with her son Rico, 12.
She says: “Sitting in the barber’s chair, I saw my shaved head and was struck with one joyous thought: I was beautiful!
Sasher Robinson, 41, learned to embrace her natural hair in lockdownCredit: Lancton
I was born in London and moved to Saint Lucia, where my mother’s family are from, in 1985, when I was six. From birth, I absorbed the unspoken belief that certain kinds of hair are ‘better’.
From the girl in my class with the bouncy ponytail, to the pop stars on MTV, I understood that this was what the world saw as attractive – not the kind of hair I had.
So it was no surprise that in 1995, when I was 15, my grandma took me to get it relaxed. Strong chemicals were applied to straighten out my hair. It stung my scalp, but I didn’t complain. To me, this was just what women did.
That summer, I returned to the UK. From then on, every six weeks I was back at the hairdresser, like so many of my friends, having my regrowth relaxed.
As I got older, relaxed hair didn’t just mean discomfort and huge amounts of time and money – thousands of pounds over the years – it meant constant vigilance in the shower in case any water touched my hair in-between its regular home Sunday wash and deep condition.
It meant never feeling able to dive into the sea, and sleeping a certain way while wearing a head tie, so it didn’t get ruined. It was a never-ending battle. But for years, it all felt worth it.
She stopped using extensions and relaxers and let her hair grow at the roots
I loved how my hair looked and was always experimenting with different styles. Sometimes I had it bleached blonde, other times I had braids or extensions sewn in.
When I was in my mid-20s, my mum decided to have dreadlocks. Seeing her hair grow long and wild, I was embarrassed – although I didn’t say anything to Mum. I see now that my reaction was due to internalised racism.
I had my daughter Ebonee in 1997 aged 18 and my son Rico in 2008, when I was 29, and over those years I started exploring my Rastafari roots and black empowerment.
As my body changed during pregnancy, I loved hearing messages that celebrated black beauty. But I never felt able to push through and embrace my natural hair.
I also knew that my jobs as an office manager or PA required what society saw as a ‘professional look’.
These extra burdens placed on black people to have hair that looks ‘tidy’ are exhausting. So the extensions and relaxers continued.
When restrictions eased she had it all shaved off – and immediately felt liberated
Then, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin. It took me two weeks to watch the horrific video, and I cried with anger. That’s when I said: ‘no more’ – I was going to embrace my true self.
The world shutting down meant I had the peace and space to really sit with myself. I left my hair to grow at the roots, and then in December, when restrictions eased, I had it all shaved off.
These extra burdens placed on black people to have hair that looks ‘tidy’ are exhausting.
At home afterwards, I felt liberated. I’m letting it grow out into dreadlocks now. There’s no treatments or styling any more, no money or hours spent at the hairdresser.
I could almost cry with how wonderful that feels. I want to be a role model for my kids, so when I feel insecure I look in the mirror and accept what I see. Loving yourself and being authentic really is a superpower.”
NIKKI Mendes, 50, runs a gin company and lives in Roydon, Essex, with her son Josh, 17.
She says: “As the needle slid into my lips, I felt full of nerves and excitement. I was sure my worries about ageing would soon be behind me.
Nikki Mendes, 50, stopped using filler and Botox after realising how hooked she had becomeCredit: Lancton
In my 20s and 30s I wore make-up for work and did my hair to go out, but it never really interested me. Then when I hit my late 40s I started to dislike looking in the mirror.
Make-up collected in my wrinkles, and when I smiled all I could see were lines. In 2019, when I was 48, one of my friends said she used injectables and I thought she looked great. It was a bit of a vulnerable time – I was suffering with migraines and felt exhausted.
I’d see old photos and be upset by how much worse I looked now. I’d split up with Josh’s dad when he was young, and been single since my next relationship ended in 2015, and wondered how I’d meet anyone.
The migraines were so bad that in May 2019, my neurologist administered Botox to my temples, which helped reduce the pain.
Knowing how straightforward the injections were, I thought: ‘Why not try them for cosmetic reasons, too?’ First, I had lip fillers, as I felt unhappy with the way mine looked.
That July, I was at the same clinic my friend used, spending £375 to make my lips look plumper. It was painful, but once the bruising had gone down 10 days later, I was happy with the result.
She had been panicked about ageing and would count down the days until she’d be back in the chair
So much so, in August I was back at the clinic again, this time for Botox injections in my face and neck. As I left, I was advised to book again for 12 weeks’ time. It made returning feel inevitable.
I liked the tightening effect I saw over the next few weeks, and I looked fresher. But I had replaced the panic about ageing with the panic about the Botox fading, counting down the weeks until I’d be back in the chair.
I squeezed in more Botox in March 2020, just before lockdown. Hearing that everything would close was stressful.
Letting go of the pressure to constantly monitor my appearance is freeing.
I’d just launched my own drinks company, The Only Way Is Gin, in November 2019 and as the face of the brand, how could I be all over social media if I couldn’t get my injectables?
But lockdown began to change me. I was leading a simpler life, walking the dog and spending time with Josh. My face no longer seemed so important.
In June, I had another round of Botox, but as I paid, I knew it would be my last. After three months, the wrinkles started to creep back, particularly around my eyes. My face was more lined when I smiled and laughed, and my neck wasn’t as taut.
During the pandemic Nikki realised she felt more like herself without the treatments
But I realised that my face didn’t look old – it looked like me. Accepting this is how I look, and letting go of the pressure to constantly monitor my appearance, is freeing.
It took the pandemic to show me I was hooked on cosmetic procedures. Now I’m saving thousands and I know I can be happy with the way I truly look.”
ESTELLE Keeber, 38, runs a support platform for business owners and lives in Leicester with her sons Jed, 12, and Obi, 10.
She says: “Watching Boris announce the first lockdown, I panicked. What would it mean for my business, and my own destination wedding? Then another thought struck me – what would it mean for my hair?
Estelle Keeber, 38, ditched spray tans, facials, brow threading and pedicuresCredit: Lancton
I hadn’t always been like that. Growing up, I was a tomboy and I never spent much time on hair or make-up. After having my sons – Jed in November 2008 and Obi in January 2011 – I was a stay-at-home mum and my appearance wasn’t my priority.
But when I became a single parent in 2015, aged 32, and had to become financially stable, I knew I needed to look presentable.
That year, I launched a wedding photography business and wanted a good haircut and neat nails. Then, in 2017, I launched an online networking business and things exploded.
We had events in 160 locations worldwide and I was on social media every day. I’m an introvert by nature, so I created a mask with a full head of hair extensions every three months and acrylic nails at all times.
She says the beauty treatments were her way of hiding her lack of confidence (pictured with Caprice)
There were spray tans and facials, brow threading and pedicures. It was my way of hiding my lack of confidence. By early 2020, I was on a relentless beauty treadmill – at a cost of around £600 each month.
We had a huge awards ceremony in March, with former supermodel Caprice as a guest. If someone had asked me then if I’d ever stop having my hair and nails done, I’d have said: ‘Not a chance!’
By early 2020, I was on a relentless beauty treadmill – at a cost of around £600 each month.
Then came Covid. At first I panicked – how would I maintain it all when the salons closed? Thankfully, I’d had my extensions removed in early March.
My plan had been to have them put in again just before my wedding to my fiancé Chris – who I met online in February 2019 – in Cyprus that May. As for the rest, I was forced to find DIY solutions.
I’d use sheet masks and paint my own nails. The results weren’t as polished, but it was fun, and became important moments of self-care.
Everywhere I looked, women were stepping away from their perfect online personas and revealing their true looks and lives.
Now she values self-care but says ‘the pandemic has taught me to celebrate my natural looks’
I began to understand that I was good at my job, even if I didn’t have a scrap of make-up on. It’s something Chris had tried to tell me a thousand times.
That self-confidence was a huge help when, in July 2020, my business closed and in September I launched Immortal Monkey, a support platform for business owners. This time, I didn’t need to hide behind that mask.
I still enjoy a bit of pampering. But the pandemic has taught me to celebrate my natural looks. I won’t let society’s beauty expectations control me again.”
- Hair & make-up: Bethan Owens
- Styling: Cigdem Tanrioglu
- Nikki wears: dress, Finery London X Marks & Spencer; shoes, New Look
- Estelle wears: top, M&S Collection at Marks & Spencer; trousers, Asos.com; bracelet, Claire’s: shoes, Primark
- Sasher wears: dress, Missguided.co.uk; earrings, Claire’s; shoes, Ego.co.uk