Recently, I read Mr Burns, an Anna Washburn play about a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors are attempting to re-start the entertainment industry by performing half- remembered episodes of The Simpsons to paying audiences. They even perform the ad breaks, but are constantly having discussions about what ads they should perform, and whether it will create existential panic in the audience.
“I think people are ready for Status again,” one character suggests. She’s hopeful that society has recovered enough that people will be able accept inequality, and the idea that some people have nice things, while others won’t.
The sentence really stuck with me, particularly as the hair salons begin to re-open, international travel is a talking point, and clothes shops are begging us for business. I am constantly looking at Instagram Stories of friends who are joyfully getting their highlights done, and the line from the play keeps replaying in my head: People are ready for Status again.
So much of Status is caught up in how we look, what we buy and where we go, and that’s been on hold for almost everyone for several months now. Like a lot of women, my care and feeding has been significantly altered by lockdown. My hair hasn’t been cut in so long that it’s beginning to resemble the yellow bands of seaweed you find strewn around the beach when the tide has gone out. My upper lip is celebrating a fine blonde fuzz that makes me feel like a pubescent male tennis player at his first open. Annoyingly, my skin is clear for the first time in my adult life, forcing me to admit that the acne I’ve been suffering from since aged 14 actually was a result of wearing make-up, and not hormonal issues, gut health or ‘stress’.
While my body becomes coated in the tawny fluff of a Syrian hamster and my heels have more cracks than a clay pot, I haven’t actually missed any of the beauty treatments or maintenance I upheld before lockdown. I used to tell myself, like a lot of women I’m sure, that the annoying or boring treatments I did were ‘for me’. That they were there to make me feel better, more comfortable in my own skin, more confident when I entered a room knowing I was looking ‘professional’.
I see now that this was mostly crap.
I used to think that thick foundation was what I ‘needed’ to feel ‘myself’, but when I stopped (because other women stopped) I didn’t feel any less ‘myself’ at all. Ditto mascara: in the old days, if I was caught with naked lashes by a professional acquaintance or (gasp) an ex, I would allow the memory of it to haunt me all day. I’d immediately text someone to tell them of my indiscretion. “My eyes looked like two pissholes in snow,” I’d wail.
At the age of 30, it is time to admit that my eyes without mascara do not look like two pissholes in snow. They look like… two eyes.
Oddly, I feel the opposite about fashion. In the old world, the pre-pandemic one, I kept my clothes as non-descript as possible – usually some combination of a polo neck and cigarette trousers for work meetings; yoga pants and a hoodie for home days – and my face as lacquered as possible. These days, I wear nothing on my face but have gone full flamingo everywhere else.
Jumpsuits in primary colours, crop tops that show my belly flab, tiny dresses that are so short you can see my stretch marks. I dress like a child does when they are told they can dress themselves. The stack of body insecurities, both real and fabricated – having too big boobs for this kind of dress, having ‘chunky knees’ that are too thick for short-shorts – have evaporated during the pandemic. Partly because there were more important things (like, the world) to worry about, but let’s face it, no one’s that altruistic. No one can suspend their self-obsession for longer than a fortnight.
The truth is, I’ve been dressing how I want because Status was on hiatus. There’s been no energy to give a rat’s arse about what the rules are, about how you should look, or what you shouldn’t wear. As a result, I’ve really looked forward to getting dressed in the morning in loud, stupid clothes that don’t match. I’ve actually liked having pisshole eyes.
A lot of things are coming back, including Status, but my small hope is that some of the rules around how we look and what we allow our bodies to do will remain suspended. The apocalypse might have been narrowly avoided (this time) but let’s not forget the lessons we’ve learned about the world, or about ourselves.