By Loïc Cardinal
It was late in the evening on a cold winter night—cold even for my home city of Montreal. The days were short in the winter—the nights long and severe. Going out into the wind and chill sapped your skin of all its vitality, and on some nights, like that one, the darkness did the same to your spirit.
Throw in the same fears, anxieties, and stress we all face—work, love, health, et cetera—and it started to feel relentless. But on that night, like every night, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror and took a deep breath. I started by examining my skin to see what it lacked: moisture, brightness, tone. I thought of a combination of different products to create the perfect routine for that night based on my analysis.
This ritual allows me to reset. It makes me feel in control and at peace after a busy day. I struggle with anxiety and minor OCD, so this helps me to feel good, connect with myself, and sort through the issues swirling nonstop in my head.
That particular night though, I was out of one product and called my mom to see if she had it. Each season, my mother goes to a big sale where they sell high-end cosmetics and she stocks up on all her favorites. Naturally, she is like my cosmetics dealer when I'm out of certain products that are a little too pricey. On the call, we started talking about how I was always excited to accompany her as a kid, and the memories began to flood back.
The memories brought me back to a time when skincare wasn't a comfort, but more of a reminder of the differences between myself and other guys my age.
Becoming comfortable with my sexuality through my teen years was challenging. I was raised by a single mom, and she would take me cosmetics shopping every other week. When we got home after shopping, we would do a nighttime skincare routine together. It was likely a way for her to keep a hyperactive child occupied and calm him before putting him to bed, but it was also a way to bond. And I loved it.
But when I stepped out into the world, I didn’t know better than to talk about moisturizers and serums or my favorite brands. I felt fully comfortable expressing myself and experiencing things that were not traditionally masculine.
But the more I was confronted with the standard for masculinity in our society, the more I slowly tried to pretend I didn’t love it and ignored how good it made me feel. I remember a woman once at a pharmacy in the beauty section made a comment to my mom and me on how I must be so bored here with my mom doing “girls’ stuff.”
My nighttime routine became something shameful, and not something empowering.
Shortly after high school, I needed to get a job to earn money and the only one available was in a cosmetics store.
The people who worked there were passionate about beauty and skincare. But more importantly, so were the people who came into the store, no matter the gender or the age, looking to skincare like I once did—with a hope to gain some semblance of control over an aspect of their lives and feel good, even if just for a little while.
Slowly, in tandem with accepting my sexuality, I accepted the reality that while other people had the gym or cooking or writing as a way of coping with the struggle that is just living, I had something less traditional—the time I spent on my skin at night. There’s probably something terribly clever to say about loving the skin I’m in as a metaphor for coming to terms with being gay, but the simple reality is it made me happy.
I’m not saying everybody needs a nighttime skincare routine—although please do moisturize, fellas—but if you can find time to devote to your mental health, no matter what form it may take and no matter if it’s what society expects you to do—do it.
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