Some of us are using lockdown as an opportunity to shave our heads, beef with our flatmates or pick up smoking again (what better way to relax during a respiratory virus pandemic than with a delicious cigarette?). But as self-isolation grinds on with no end in sight, more and more people are taking the opportunity to alter their appearance in ever more creative ways. Whether this is done in a spirit of care-free experimentation or existential anguish depends entirely on the person.
I spoke to a bunch of people expressing their extreme psychic distress – or simply having a laugh – through DIY tattoos, dye jobs, facial hair and more.
Sehir is a photographer for the NHS, so, unlike many of us, can't work from home. But she recently spent what should have been a two-week holiday in Italy stuck inside her flat, which is when her curiosity began. "I have dark and thick eyebrows, which are the defining feature of my face," she says. "I've always wondered what I would look like without them. That's when the bleach came out."
Sehir describes the reception from colleagues as mostly amusement, and was flattered to be told it looked "Bowie-esque". "It's quite amusing to watch people's reactions, many of which have been why!?!"
On the plus side, her friends and family who've seen the new look on Zoom have all responded well, including Sehir's mum – which came as a pleasant surprise. As a key worker, Sehir's life is pretty stressful at the moment, and experimenting with her appearance has helped her to unwind. "I find a sense of release in different forms of creative expression," she says, "and that includes my style. I've learned that the old saying about blondes is true: I'm having fun with my bleached brows!"
Jemma has given herself not one but two stick-and-poke tattoos since self-isolation began. "The one above my knee says 'softly",' she says. "As wet as it sounds, this is a reference to Clairo. The other one, on my wrist, '1945', refers to the year my gran was born. I've wanted both of these for a while but didn't feel like waiting until tattoo shops reopen. Plus, I begrudge paying over £60 for such small pieces of text. Using my own stick-and-poke stuff was just too tempting."
Giving herself these tattoos helped make Jemma's time under lockdown more bearable. "I've found that being in self-isolation has given me far too much time to be in my head, overthinking absolutely anything," she says. "But these tattoos have completely lifted my spirits in the same way I imagine more conventional 'self-care' would. But then again, body modification has always made me happier – so I really think it depends on who you are."
Jemma is currently planning her next lockdown tattoo... perhaps the VICE logo might be of interest, Madame?
Lots of people are giving up shaving simply because they can't be bothered, and there's also less imperative to look presentable when you never need leave the house. Every cheerless "virtual pub" session I've attended so far has boasted at least one man who's taken his lockdown beard too far and ended up looking like a cross between the Unabomber and an Amish serial killer. But for Joseph, a copywriter based in Leeds, experimenting with his facial hair was a considered decision, rather than a lethargic descent into self-neglect.
"I already had a bit of a stubble thing going on, but I always fancied a moustache," he says. "Moustaches and beards always look shit during the in-between [growing] stage, so lockdown seemed like a perfect opportunity to cultivate a strong 'tache. Coincidentally, a few of my friends from university had the same idea, so we've been comparing them on our weekly Zoom quiz. I think they'd be the first to admit that mine is the strongest."
You'll be relieved to learn that the reaction from Joseph's friends, family and fiance has largely been positive – he's been compared to everything from a New York City cop to a young Mario. "Both of those I can live with," he says. Although Joseph isn't sure whether he’s going to keep it up after self-isolation ends, he considers the experience a positive one. "I'd recommend growing a moustache to any man during lockdown – even if your facial hair could be licked off by a kitten," he says. "Turning your face into a novelty item brings a vague feeling of joy, and ultimately, no one is going to see it anyway. Crack on."
Sadly, not everyone is as enthused about their lockdown makeovers as Jemma and Joseph. After giving herself a hasty DIY mullet, Carla was overcome with a feeling of profound regret. "It looks shit!" she says. "First I dyed my hair pink, which I didn't mind, but when I decided to give myself the mullet I instantly realised I'd made a mistake. I do still want one, actually – just one that looks nice and is done by a professional."
What advice does she have to stop other amateur hairdressers from following in her unfortunate footsteps? "Don’t cut or dye your hair in quarantine unless it's something you usually do in your everyday life. Yeah, you won't have to face other people with your ugly new haircut, but you can easily spend all day staring at it in the mirror."
One person who is unambiguously delighted with their new lockdown locks, however, is fashion blogger Tifé: last week, she shaved then bleached her hair in what was a long and painful yet ultimately satisfying process. "I was just bored out of my mind, logging into Zoom, logging out of Zoom," she says, "so I started doing other things: I started baking, I began to learn sign language."
Changing her hairstyle came from the same desire to use her time well and not let the lockdown experience go to waste. "I thought, 'If I'm going to be bored, I might as well do something different. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, I'm not going anywhere anyway.'"
The only downside is that she likes her new aesthetic so much she regrets the fact she can’t properly show it off: "Although, when I'm going to the shops, I try to wear outfits that will complement my hair."