The other day, I turned to the back of my daily planner and made myself a list:
• Eyebrow wax
• Order tinted moisturizer
• Order a red lipstick
• Get running shoes
• Pap smear
• Eye exam
• Writing retreat
I barely even knew what to title said list. “Self Care” was inaccurate. I already lit a candle and took a book into the bathtub most nights. So, I settled on “Self-Maintenance Things” and underlined it for emphasis.
Then I looked at the 10 dots and sort of… gasped.
How much I’d done without for two years! Yes, I did manage one mammogram, one backyard haircut, one manicure with a friend back in… September? October?
But most of the other things? Ignored or forgotten entirely.
I’m not going to lie: Even before Covid, I didn’t dye my hair and tended to wait too long between haircuts. But I am still, let’s be honest, quite vain. You would have found me at some sort of salon beautifying myself every few months.
Once Covid hit and those things were deemed impossible, I found, like so many others, that I really didn’t care. I’ve felt zero motivation to return to most of the “self-maintenance things” I used to do on some sort of regular basis. Why?
Some of it, I know, is pure inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, etc. But with the full list in front of me in black and white, I was forced to probe: What was vital (mammogram, eye exam, pap)? What really mattered to me (better shoes, writing retreat) and what could be dropped?
The question then inevitably became: In the absence of all this outside help to keep myself healthy and beautiful, where had I been putting my attention and my money?
Over these long years, my self-maintenance has been, I realized, transformed: In January 2021, I took a Zoom class with hair stylist Jayne Matthews on razor-cutting my bangs – and now I don’t need to pay someone every six weeks for a trim. I bought a pool membership and go regularly, unwaxed bikini line and all. Instead of paying for manicures, I splurge on better sunscreen for my walks in the L.A. sun.
On the work front, I had time to pour myself into my business, teaching creative writing classes on Zoom, nurturing a loving community of women who were hungry to write. Over the two years, I added more writing groups to my schedule — groups I taught in sweatpants to women who often showed up in bathrobes. We were just happy to be together, talking about literature. It felt like a secret, wonderful gift: this realness.
And I began taking care of myself in new ways: I learned to make almond milk and pie crust, and I asked a friend to help me build a raised bed on the deck to grow vegetables. These hobbies were inherently nourishing to me. All the shifts made me think about where women might put their energy, heart and intelligence if we felt less pressure about how — and on what — we spend them.
This is not, I want to be clear, a judgment on any kind of beauty routine. I’ve still spent money on colorful earrings for Zoom teaching, and I am positive that when I set foot in a hair salon again (I did finally book an appointment!) I will be baffled by how good it makes me feel. But part of me is relieved that those things have fallen lower on my priority list.
When I shared my list with some friends, wondering if I was the only one who’d lost my grip on self-maintenance, one of them immediately wrote back: “Move mammogram and writing retreat to the top of the list.”
She was right. I think I will.
Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + Bodies. She has also written for Cup of Jo about marriage, loss, only children and befriending neighbors.
P.S. My aunt Lulu’s beauty uniform, and 12 readers share what they love about their looks.
(Photo by Guille Faingold/Stocksy.)