Six weeks into quarantine, and it looks like buzz cuts are back. People across the globe have seized this period as a chance to do something drastic. According to Nielsen, sales of hair clippers have increased 166% and hair coloring products are up 23%. Shielded from the side-eyes of the outside, what have you got to lose?
The burning impulse to cut a fringe is more deep rooted than just boredom. Altering your appearance is a way to assert control when the rest of our lives is largely beyond our command.
As author Jia Tolentino wrote her essay “Always Be Optimising” in our society women are expected to become “more appealing, more endlessly presentable.” But lockdown means that we’re interacting less with the outside world and the societal pressures that come with it.
So it can be liberating to find the joy in letting go. Some have relished the chance to be bare-faced, embracing greys, going full zero maintenance. It’s an opportunity to love the parts of yourself that society dictates we conceal. Could this be us getting in touch with our most natural selves? A f*** you to expectations that may see the demise of the razor industry entirely?
Perhaps. Yet last week Kylie Jenner was publicly ridiculed after candid photos showed her, as one user tweeted, having “turned back into a white girl.” When cosmetic surgeons seemingly can’t yet do house calls, “Instagram Face” is dissolving before our eyes. A few days later Kylie staged paparazzi photos in full glam. In reality, it can be hard to feel and look authentically yourself without fear of judgement. One step forward, one step back.
For many people the way we look is an anchor to our identity. Going through the motions of daily life – putting on lipstick or trimming a beard – can be important in maintaining our psychological well-being. It’s deeper than vanity. It’s a subconscious tether to the life we’ve left behind. It can be hard to maintain a sense of self, when you don’t look like yourself. It would be an interesting change of tack for the turbo multi bladed razor brands to change from utility and performance as themes to self care and identity (without completely jumping the shark as Gilette did last year).
When all the events in our schedule involve sitting in front of a screen, it can be difficult to work out the off and the on. ‘Getting ready’ provides a much needed sense of routine. Taking the time for yourself can be almost meditative, self-love as opposed to a compulsive social behaviour. Intrinsic focus vs extrinsic focus. There is a clear avenue for beauty brands to slow everything down, or for influencers to take a more ASMR route looking at the inputs of applying make-up instead of fast forwarding to the outputs.
Yes, we mustn’t dismiss there is still an external element too. We want to see how the way we look and dress affects the way we behave and feel out in the world, even if that world is online. We’d venture that as zoom’s “touch up” function becomes more sophisticated and virtual makeup becomes a seriously viable option, many will breathe a sigh of relief. In fact millions of straight men will very quickly enter the virtual cosmetics market if we continue to meet regularly behind a 13” screen. After all, digital make-up is convenient to apply, doesn’t need to be removed after your 30 minute meeting and doesn’t need to be delivered to your house in unmarked packaging.
But if, after lockdown, we continue to embrace a digital world of screen to screen and not face to face, the question then remains, is the ritual of getting ready IRL the only thing tying us to normality?