August 2, 2021

Amplify: Whether you’re going grey or rushing out to buy lipstick, can we agree to enter the zero-judgment zone?

Elizabeth Renzetti

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Elizabeth Renzetti is a columnist for The Globe and Mail.
I can’t be the only person staring intently at the photos from the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, which is currently shooting in Manhattan. Not just for the fashion, but because of Cynthia Nixon’s magnificent new hair.
If you loved the show, you’ll recall that Nixon’s character, Miranda Hobbes, was almost as famous for her gorgeous red hair as her acid retorts. (The producers asked Nixon, a natural blond, to dye her hair for the original series.) Now, as the show resumes 11 years after the last benighted SATC film – the less said about that the better – Miranda Hobbes is back with a lovely short bob. A lovely short grey bob. It’s sad to say, but grey hair on a woman in prime time still feels radical.
But then, if this isn’t the time for reappraisal, when is? The New Yorker recently featured photographs by Elinor Carucci documenting women of the pandemic era laying down their touch-up brushes and embracing silver: “It was almost like breaking an addiction,” said one.
We’ve heard a lot about the Great Reset as a socioeconomic response to the pandemic, but I’m equally intrigued by what I think of as the Great Unloosening. What if this period also sees a relaxation in the policing of women’s beauty and fashion standards – not just by workplaces, but by other women as well?
Maybe we could also call it the Great Unhooking. Actress Gillian Anderson recently made headlines when she announced that she would not be enticed into wearing a bra ever again, because they’re so uncomfortable (I’ve removed her chosen expletive to make it suitable for a family readership.) “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I don’t care if … my breasts reach my belly button.”
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I think that may have been a rhetorical apology. Why should women apologize for the ways they choose to adorn their bodies and hair – or not adorn them, as the case may be? Of course, we’ve been conditioned our entire lives to win approval by rigidly adhering to a narrow set of beauty standards – thinner, taller, chicer. The great unhooking is not going to happen all at once.
But we are seeing a rebellion fuelled by a year inside, which had a paradoxically liberating effect. We have athletes, at the moment, leading the charge: the German women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which has chosen function over sexiness in its uniforms; the Norwegian women’s beach handball team, which said nei to itty-bitty bikini bottoms; and the swimming-cap company Soul Cap that wants to cater to Black women’s natural hair, even if the swimming authorities are stuck in another century.
There has been a recognition that the dress code that ruled some offices will have fallen by the wayside when we finally do return to our cubicles. The workwear industry is adapting for a populace that has left its top button undone for more than a year, metaphorically speaking. No one actually wore buttoned pants. Anecdotal evidence suggests that U.S. workers may be attempting to return to what Bloomberg terrifyingly calls “office bod,” but this is not something that worries me: Fitness has never been an identifying characteristic of newsrooms.
Even when office doors open, women will likely not choose to be crushed by a tall heel (dress codes that required high heels had fortunately already been banned in the United Kingdom and parts of Canada.) Unless, of course, the stiletto heel is your weapon of choice. I personally love heels, and I’m looking forward to wearing them again, when I choose to.
This is the crucial point: We should be allowed the freedom to explore our own notions of beauty and style, to swan around in kaftans like Mrs. Roper or jeans and sweaters like psychotherapist (and cult style icon) Orna Guralnik in the reality show Couples Therapy. Some women will be grateful never to have to wear makeup again, while others are already at the drugstore filling their baskets with cosmetics, as the skyrocketing sales of lipstick attest.
Maybe we can enter a non-judgy fashion zone where it’s all good, as long as you don’t clip your fingernails on public transit. In an ideal world, we would adapt Michael Pollan’s brilliant prescription for sustenance (“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”) and apply it to the world of style: “Wear clothes. From your closet. That make you happy.”

What else we’re thinking about:

Michaela Coel’s brilliant series I May Destroy You was just nominated for nine Emmys (including three for Coel herself, for acting, directing and writing). Now’s your chance to catch up on a show that is wildly inventive, heartbreaking and – weirdly for a story about the consequences of sexual assault – funny. It will lodge in your brain, in the best possible way.
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