Tessa Virtue is one of only two best-ever ice-dancing athletes on the planet. Scott Moir, her on-ice partner of 22 years, is the other one. Together the duo shattered multiple world records and racked up an unprecedented number of awards, national and world championships, and five Olympic medals, including gold in 2010 and again in 2018, after which ESPN called Tessa one of the most famous female athletes in the world.
Since retiring from competition, Tessa's been busy with a number of projects and contracts with brands including Mattel (Tessa Virtue Barbie has just made her official debut at Toys"R"Us), Nivea Canada, Colgate, Sick Kids Hospital, Adidas and more. Last month, she celebrated the launch of her first lipstick with MAC Cosmetics, which gave us an excuse to have a good chat about how her life has changed since stepping away from the ice...
BEAUTYGEEKS Makeup and skincare must have started early for you; you've been skating since you were quite small. (Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir became ice-dancing partners in 1997, when she was seven and he was nine.)
TESSA I remember having conversations at a really young age with coaches and advisors, trying to figure out what was age-appropriate for a Latin-style program and how we do makeup and costuming and everything that works for 10-year-olds. One of my coaches, Rebecca Babb, used to do my makeup for competitions. That was always something that I really looked forward to. I think there was an awareness early on about how I presented myself in the skating world, simply because it's judged and it's such an aesthetic sport. It's part of the entire package of telling a story.
As I evolved and grew as both an athlete and a performer, I really came to enjoy and appreciate that element of it because it's really what sets figure skating apart from most, especially winter, sports. That balance between art and athleticism – and part of that was the costuming, the hair, the makeup, the ability to take the ice and get into character, and make someone feel something. The makeup routine became part of my mental preparation, too – meditative. I would get into the zone as I was applying makeup, and also have fun expressing myself in different ways.
BG Now that you're into another life chapter, what's your beauty routine?
TESSA You know, it's funny, I'm at both extremes, and I used to say this about my wardrobe. I was fully athletic wear or black tie. There was very little in between. Friends would ask me to go for coffee and I would rock a power suit or something because I just didn't have that sort of casual in-between mode. Maybe that's part of being an athlete: you compartmentalize and you're a bit of an extremist. And now with makeup, I'm either working with some of Canada's best glam teams or I'm wearing nothing as I travel or do my own. Mascara, blush and lipstick is sort of my go-to every day.
Stepping away from skating and having fun in the beauty industry and in fashion world in a different way has been really liberating because I've tried to take some risks, explore different looks and aesthetics. I think like most of us, when I'm doing my own makeup, I'm so tempted do the same routine. Picking up tips and tricks from others along the way has been really great. I've also learned that the getting-ready process is actually the most fun part of any event.
BG When you're sitting down for hair and makeup, do you have photos to say "let's try this" or do you consult with your team? Has the process changed now that you're in a different arena?
TESSA Often I'm getting ready to do something work related. In some way I'm always focusing on what my task is and what I have to offer in the upcoming event, strategizing on how I can maximize that for whoever has hired me or whatever I'm representing, whatever charity I'm trying to help. I use that time to talk with my team about that. So when I sit down in the chair, I completely put my trust in the people around me. I've worked so closely with those artists, and I've realized that they become your family; they're some of my closest friends. I value their expertise. And I think there's fun for them with that too, because they're empowered to try anything and everything.
BG Those are good friends to have. And your time with them is so intimate.
TESSA I feel so lucky. Sometimes we're on set and there'll be a hundred people who all have an agenda of their own, who all have someone to answer to and are all trying to accomplish something in their own right. It's nice to have the security of a glam team or a stylist or someone to come back to – that's your safe place, where you can sort of recharge, get energy and then put yourself out there again. There's a vulnerability that comes with stepping into a spotlight, so to speak. I think that's taken on greater meaning as I put myself in different work positions too.
BG So in some respects, members of your beauty team are touchstones as well.
TESSA Exactly, yes exactly.
BG I love that. Let's hit skincare: has yours evolved since leaving the ice or was it particularly involved beforehand?
TESSA I realize now just what harsh conditions I put my skin under when I was training. And that was partly because of the cold and the dry arenas, but also the sweat and, in my case at least at competition, having to sweat with makeup on. I'm still conscious of hydrating, but I find less and less need for that. Although I suppose I'm on airplanes and traveling quite a bit, so that sort of replaced the arena.
I've always been of the less-is-more mindset when it comes to skincare. That's thanks to my mom. She always told me to touch my face as little as possible. So I'm pretty simple with micellar water and moisturizer. I make sure that I get all my makeup off at night so my skin can breathe, and if I'm traveling, I don't really put anything on my face.
BG It's also a good thing that your skin was at its peak when you were training and performing – you had so much natural hyaluronic acid, collagen and resilience because you were so young. You're still really young. (Tessa turns 31 in May.)
TESSA Well, thank you. But you know, there's also stress, hormonal changes and everything that goes along with competing and performing. That's not easy. Sometimes when you're battling stress, hormones, not feeling confident, and then to continue to put yourself out there... But yes, thank you. I do feel pretty fortunate. I know a lot comes down to genes, so I can thank my parents for that.
BG How important is sleep to you? Do you need a specific number of hours?
TESSA I'm still stuck in that athlete mindset of needing eight hours a night, at least. What I miss are those mandatory naps that were part of our daily disciplined routine! I'm probably sleeping much less now because I'm on the go – and every day is different. That more than anything has contributed to a sense of, depending on the day, either unease or complete liberation.
There was a time when I was training that I could have told you that eight years from now, on March 1st at 2:30 PM, this is what I'll be doing. That sense of structure is so incredibly important as an athlete. And now every day is different, and I'm really trying to embrace that. I think it makes it a little bit harder. Things like sleep, fitness, easy nutrition – it's harder to find a routine in that realm. But I do feel pretty lucky that every time I leave the house I get to do something I love to do.
BG You've had 22 years of an incredibly goal-oriented lifestyle. How have things changed for you now that that goal has been not only met, but surpassed?
TESSA That was a hard transition. But I found it was harder to go from being a competitive athlete to a performer. I was so focused for decades, saw everything through the lens of "how can this make me a champion?" Whether that was a meal, an event, a sponsor, a friend – everything was filtered through this very simple mandate of "how can I be my best?" and "will this assist or prohibit me from becoming my best?" That was a singular focus, and then suddenly I was thrust into this place where I was wearing a hundred different hats, and I felt like maybe I wasn't doing anything all that well.
At the same time, that support network – the sports psychologists, the trainers, the therapists, everything, this whole safety net that we had built – on February 21st, 2018 was gone. And I felt so alone. At a time when everyone expected me to feel a certain way, I just really struggled. There's an inherent low that comes after any kind of high. Whether it's a competition, a wedding, a degree, any monumental occasion is often followed by a bit of a crash, and so I just had to live that at a time when everyone thought I was living out this fairytale. It was an interesting thing to reconcile.
You started the question with something about goals. I think that's been a saving grace for me: I've set new goals. If you give me a task, I can figure out a way to work towards it. That's when I feel confident and competent and more settled.
BG So you can recognize yourself again in that particular mini structure.
TESSA Exactly, yes.
BG I can't imagine the change. I mean it's 900% more complex than transitioning from working in an office for several years to going freelance, for instance.
TESSA I think a transition of any kind is difficult. I was feeling a little bit ostracized, so on my own for a little bit. And then I realized that no, everyone is going through that in some capacity. I mean even Kaylee [MAC's PR director in Canada] coming back from having a baby and getting back to work, like any kind of life transition, takes its toll and, and it's all relative. Right? So don't diminish that change for yourself, that would've been huge.
BG You mentioned it's harder to slot regular fitness into your schedule these days, but do you manage any kind of routine somehow?
TESSA I don't have a routine, which is kind of strange, but also necessary at the moment and I'm learning to exercise when I can, because I do need that dopamine hit. I need to sweat, I need to move my body. But I'm also learning to be kind to myself. So if that means taking a day or two off, or having an extended period of time when I'm focusing my energy elsewhere, I try to be gentle and not get too caught up in that.
And when I'm working out, it's so interesting. There was a very specific cycling class I did last year and I felt – I'm pretty sure I wrote a note in my phone about the feeling – a tangible weight being lifted off my shoulders. I realized I'm just doing this for me. I'm not trying to be a better ice dancer, I'm not trying to do this so that I can represent Canada. This isn't functional. It's really just so that I feel good, and suddenly I felt a hundred pounds lighter because that mindset had shifted. And I think right now as I explore boxing and spar classes and spinning and peloton and yoga, I'm just trying to figure out what makes my body feel good in the moment, and take the pressure out of needing to do something. Instead it feels like it's a privilege to be able to work out.
BG It sounds like you're having an adventure there, too.
TESSA Yeah, I am and I think that's just the nature of my lifestyle at the moment when I'm traveling so much. And also I have to admit that I'm still not in that place where I just go to a hotel gym and motivate myself. For someone whose job for two decades was to work out, I would wander around quite aimlessly. So it's been fun to explore different avenues and try new things that I wouldn't have been able to do when everything needed to be, as I say, so functional.
BG Do you actually have any more leisure time than you did before? Because it sounds like you're incredibly busy.
TESSA I'm trying to build that into my schedule now and I think I'm doing that somewhat successfully. But the difference is that being an athlete and having downtime, I mean that's part of the job, that recovery and it was also part of our job to sort of block out the rest of the world and really insulate ourselves in this bubble. And I was very cognizant at the time that there would be no other opportunity, so I really had to do that. But now, I'm planning on getting my MBA starting next Fall, and I know I won't be able to isolate myself fully and immerse myself into that world because that's just not life. People rely on you, people depend on you. You have to carry on. And yet as an athlete, it's quite a selfish pursuit and endeavour.
That's been the biggest change as far as downtime. I'm trying to work it in now – self-care is just such a buzz phrase. But we're also in the midst of this busy culture where everyone is busy and that seems like a status thing, or it seems like somehow we're more important if we're busy. I think I got wrapped up in that a little bit and ended up wanting to work, work, work, feeling like it was a kind of validation. Now instead I'm trying to focus more on the things that matter to me work-wise, and also fit in time to be fully present with friends and family. I haven't really had the tendency to do that over the years; they've had to accommodate me so much.
tessa virtue's mac maker lipstick
BG Let's talk about your new MAC lipstick. How did you decide on the shade?
TESSA Well, I started with a mood board, unsurprisingly, and just kind of curated this aesthetic, which ended up being actually really beautiful. Just a bunch of different kind of pink tones and shades that I was drawn to.
I have to be totally honest: there are three or four lipsticks that have been on my rotation for many, many years and they're all MAC shades. There's Syrup and Mehr, Soar and Brave, and they're all sort of in that shade family.
Next the MAC chemists took my inspiration and did their thing. They came back with about three different testers and from there we made some tweaks and some adjustments. But it was pretty clear from the moment I saw this particular one, which I affectionately nicknamed Tutu, that it's exactly what I wanted in a lipstick. I'm not lying when I say that I've worn it every single day since. It's been a struggle because people ask me what shade it is and I've not been able to tell them!
It was important for me to have it be an everyday lipstick, one that works for a coffee run and also for an event, and a shade everyone can wear. That's very MAC too, to be inclusive and welcoming and accessible to as many people as possible. I wanted it to be hydrating, as well, so we chose a satin finish for extra comfort as opposed to matte.
BG Where did the inspiration for the packaging itself come from?
TESSA I had instantly thought pale pink – it's my favourite colour – and polka dots. And I'm hesitant to even say this because it seems like an incredibly egotistical thing, but I kind of loved that the polka dots were reminiscent of medals. It just came about really, really, really organically. And it just felt right as soon as I saw the final draft.
BG Good move – if there hadn't been a nod to gold medals, I bet we'd all want to know why not. Do you think you might get involved in more beauty collaborations in the future?
TESSA I don't know. I feel, so fortunate. This is something that I never thought that I would have the chance to explore and I've been able to really dive in and learn about the company and the industry in a different way. And that's been really refreshing. I think what MAC has done, with both the Canadian Originals campaign and with this MAC Makers, has been really inspiring. It's getting back to the roots of an originally Canadian brand and our values that we can all be proud of. It's such a privilege and a joy to participate.
Tessa Virtue's MAC Maker Lipstick is a limited edition; find it at maccosmetics.com.
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In case you weren't familiar with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir before this interview, here's a YouTube vid compilation of their Olympic routines so you can see the precision and intricate, challenging lifts that were such a part of the pair's artistry and athleticism.
So, lovelies, what do you think of Tessa Virtue's MAC Maker Lipstick?
Who's already picked one up? Who's thinking about it?
And do you have thoughts on Tessa and her life after Olympic Gold?