It’s given us sickness and death and lingering ailments that may affect sufferers for years.
It’s given us joblessness, evictions and mile-long lines of minivans at food banks.
It’s given us xenophobia, kids stuck at home and “remote learning” where there’s plenty of remote and precious little learning. It’s given us depression and anxiety, stress-snacking and spousal squabbles, insomnia and, with it, extra time to worry about election night Armageddon.
But not all of its gifts have been malign. In addition to all of the bad, the pandemic has also given us the rare sight of women in the public eye without the ministrations of their glam squads.
In the Before, the standard look for a female newscaster or a politician or an Instagram influencer involved styled hair, a full face of makeup (primer, foundation, concealer, contour and blush) and eyelash extensions from here to the moon. There were exceptions, but that was the rule.
In the Now, unless celebs have quarantine-bubbled up with their hair and makeup team (translation: unless they’ve refused to let them go home), professionally prepped faces have given way to D.I.Y. attempts. Those long, long lashes are, for the most part, long gone; the blowouts are imperfect. And that — along with pets strolling through remote news reports and glimpses of public figures’ personal spaces — has been kind of delightful.
I’d even started to hope that maybe, once offices and salons reopened, we wouldn’t go right back to the way things used to be. Now that we’ve tasted the joys of slip-on sneakers, elastic waistbands and scrunchies, are we really going to rush back to high heels, underwire and blowouts?
It seems that we are. In fact, if Speaker Nancy Pelosi is any indication, we might not even wait that long.
Pelosi, as the entire world now knows, was caught on tape at a hair salon, wet hair combed back and mask dangling uselessly beneath her chin, a day before California salons were allowed to open for outdoor appointments only.
“Rules for thee and not for me” immediately crowed the Trumpers, slamming the speaker as if they’d been the ones covering their faces, following the rules and piously urging others to do the same. The White House gleefully joined the fray: Kayleigh McEnany, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, put Pelosi’s walk of shame on a loop during one of her so-called briefings.
It was an impossible moment to defend. If anyone should be following the laws to the letter, it’s a lawmaker. Pelosi should never have set foot in that salon.
But it was personally frustrating to watch — not just because if the speaker had wanted to give Team Trump a beautifully wrapped, aromatherapy-scented gift, she couldn’t have done much better, but also because Pelosi was seemingly giving us a preview of the post-pandemic future. And women, it turns out, will probably still be tethered to the same restrictive beauty standards and constricting clothes after all.
It’s true that grooming can be a healthy, pleasurable indulgence. When you’ve been stuck at home, working remotely, running a house/school/laundromat/24-hour diner, taking a few moments to put on lipstick or paint your nails counts as self-care.
And it’s even better if you can get someone to take care of you, the way you can at a hair salon, those oases of expertise and calm, fashion magazines and “Would you like something to drink?” At the salon, you leave your kids and, hopefully, your cares behind. Someone touches you, talks to you, tends to you. When you’re a woman — especially if you’re a woman who’s been getting by with drugstore dye and whose hair is currently three different colors, one of which is still gray — that can be a delight.
But sometimes — lots of times — grooming isn’t fun, or relaxing, or indulgent. It’s just another part of the job.
In her post-campaign memoir, Hillary Clinton wrote, “I’m not jealous of my male colleagues often, but I am when it comes to how they can just shower, shave, put on a suit, and be ready to go. The few times I’ve gone out in public without makeup, it’s made the news.”
A 2014 survey showed that women spent 355 hours, or two weeks a year, on their appearance. Another in 2017 found the cost of such upkeep was $3,756 a year, or $225,360 over the course of a lifetime.
Clinton reckoned she’d spent more than 600 hours in a salon chair. And if you stopped in your nearest salon at seven in the morning, before the pandemic at least, you wouldn’t have seen women enjoying a relaxing break, but instead women for whom a blowout is a necessary part of their workday, in industries where styled hair is as mandatory as shoes.
The pandemic has given us so many awful things but, along with them, it has given us a chance for a reset. A chance to slip the surly bonds of daily blowouts and monthly touch-ups and regular nail fills and eyelash extension replacements. It’s a chance, for those so inclined, to find a middle ground between pre-pandemic feast and work-from-home famine — to reconfigure routines, to embrace and normalize a more natural look.
Women of the world, unite! (That includes you, Madam Speaker!) You have nothing to lose but your highlights, and nothing to gain but money and time.
Jennifer Weiner is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and the author, most recently, of the novel “Big Summer.”