It is now the 18th of May, and it’s been more than two months since I started doing my fair share of civic duty: staying at home, social distancing. With the switch to work from home in lockdown, I am now living the majority of my life online: starting my mornings with staff meetings on Google Hangouts, Skype-ing my friends in the evening before tuning in for a Twin Peaks episode. 

A few weeks ago I started noticing how different the sponsored posts on my social media feeds are. From skincare companies reminding me to exfoliate to make-up brands suggesting I practice my skills to come out of lockdown “flyer than ever”, I began to recognize that I was being bombarded stronger than ever: don’t forget to perform femininity. 

The points often brought up on social media, that you need to come out of lockdown with something, with being better, smarter, thinner, leaner, prettier completely ignores the fact that we’re living through a pandemic. So why am I being constantly urged to go on a diet, purchase a workout plan, “invest” in a skincare routine, or read a book marketed as “self-development” that has zero substance and tells me how a “self-made” billionaire made it? 

“Struggling with manky manicures, lank lockdown locks and stressed skin?” asks one of the most read newspapers in the UK. “A serious case of quarantine hair,” mocks a US magazine. A daily reminder: just because other people may not see you in the flesh, you still need to be in tip-top shape: exfoliated, clean-shaven, glowing, sporting your chic manicure and a braid from Pinterest, on a new nutrition and workout plan, working to be your best self. We ought to focus on self-development, on creating nutritious, clean meals, exercise on a daily basis, apply hair and face masks whilst our nails dry while listening to a podcast about financial literacy. 

And the catch? You do all that because you are a strong, independent, empowered woman, who can balance all the responsibilities in her life while looking her best.

Actually, the newspaper headline should ask, “Struggling with domestic burden, homeschooling and your own work while living in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety?”. Studies show that women’s workload is exacerbated in a self-isolating household, as cooking and cleaning tend to be “female tasks” in a typical heterosexual couple’s division of chores. With the whole family home, these suddenly escalate. And yet, the current hot topic on social media and the media is about how a lack of haircut, a diet or a new workout routine means that you come out of self-isolation as a slacker, who didn’t realise that this was the perfect time to “level up”. Very often these messages will be worded in a faux-feminist way, as becoming mainstream lead to the commercialization of feminism. We are now past the 2010s “Eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man” mottos, replaced by “Effortless, natural makeup that makes you feel empowered”, or loudly progressive nutrition plans (not diets!) that focus on losing fat (not weight!). 

“What is accepted by most women as a flattering idealization of their sex is a way of making women inferior to what they actually are – or normally grow to be. For the ideal of beauty is administered as a form of self-oppression,”

writes Susan Sontag in her essay, ‘A Woman’s Beauty: Put Down or Power Source?’. Indeed, altering your appearance to cater to social expectations is neither empowering nor anti-patriarchal. But it is in to be a feminist, it’s trendy, it’s chic, even Benedict Cumberbatch proudly sports a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt, a garment which is made by exploited, underpaid women of colour.

Now more than ever, we turn to social media to keep up with friends, family and acquaintances. But this increase of our screen time exposes us to more sponsored content, with messages that instil guilt and shame into us for the lack of productivity that would materialise in perceived self-improvement. Or, as “self-help” is one of the catchphrases that went out of fashion, replaced by the catchy “self-development”. I encourage you to become more critical in your online presence these times. Skip over sponsored content without hesitation. If you follow influencers and notice that you feel guilty for accomplishing seemingly less than they do, please, stop for a second. Keep in mind that these people are paid to look happy and great in that picture, that they are selling you something: be that a lipgloss, a crop top, or a specific body type that is suddenly supposed to fix everything in your life. 

Is it your job to engage with their content and feel inadequate for it? 

Because it is exactly that shame and guilt that they reap and monetize: when you buy the umpteenth book about productivity and efficiency, purchase a shiny new diet plan, or the hottest fashion and makeup trends. You are not less for slowing down during a global health emergency. You are not hitting a plateau, you are coping with the situation the best you can at the moment. 

Remember, the Renaissance happened after the Black Plague, not during it. You don’t need to come out of lockdown as a new person. Give yourself grace. Consider what makes you feel at ease: does going offline help? Something as mundane as putting on your favourite tracks, practicing yoga or meditation, or chatting to a loved one can offer comfort. If you like being in the kitchen, I can recommend trying your hand at the lazy sourdough, or call a relative for a family recipe, and relive old memories. 

Written by Luca Dudits.
Luca obtained her History, Politics and Economics BA at UCL. She has a passion for social development and human rights and has gained experience at organizations such as Transparency International and IOM. Currently, she works for Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQI NGO. She’s been trying her hand at Twitter during the lockdown. 

The featured illustration was created by Lazy Madison, using pictures from a Nanushka magazine.