Opening Argument: Your Imperfect Face, Which Nobody Minds
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we all present ourselves this week, in part because my hair is so badly grown out by now, four weeks into my own isolation, that it’s very hard to keep my hands off it when I see myself on camera. And of course, like a lot of people, I see myself on camera a lot more now. On work calls, when I catch up with friends, at a trivia hangout with a bunch of friends-of-a-friend who didn’t know me before. They met me like this, with my hair in my eyes or intermittently pulled back with a headband that I would wear and then take off and then wear and then take off, depending on which version of my own face I felt like looking at.
I don’t think of myself as especially vain. I haven’t lived my life being praised for any great beauty, the blessing of which is that I never grew to need that particular kind of reinforcement. But I don’t like it that I can’t get my hair cut. I find that I don’t like it that webcam looks are often unflattering and come at you from weird angles, as if they’re shooting a documentary called Lumpy People or What’s That Slight Discoloration?
It’s laid bare the fact that precisely because I don’t think of myself as vain, I have a hard time persuading myself to follow the same rituals I normally would — should I put on makeup to go to a meeting from home? To talk to a friend? Isn’t that weird? There are a lot of exchanges that go on, kind of eternally, about makeup in particular, and about whether women wear it for other people or for themselves. I’ve always taken the position that I don’t precisely do either; I wear it for the same reason I wear jersey dresses. It’s just … how I look? How I prefer to look?
But I’m still trying to figure out whether my isolation style is supposed to be different from my regular one; or, rather, whether I want it to be different. I never think of my own style, to the degree I imagine myself having one, as being specific to going to work, or going out, or seeing people. I don’t think to myself, “I’m going to wear this because people will receive me more positively.” I just do it like I do it, because it’s how I do it.
So the real issue, perhaps, is that as the rest of my routine has evaporated, so too have my presentation rituals. I can’t imagine other people’s haven’t, too — I cannot possibly be the only person who cringes at Webcam Me. And I haven’t decided whether it would be better to revisit those rituals in the interest of “normalcy” or to make up new ones. And if I made up new ones, what would they look like? Should I unpack the dress I ordered before This All Happened, even though This All Happened before it was delivered, rendering it an obsolete dress until nobody-knows-when?
These are the meaningless anxieties of watching your hair grow out; their meaninglessness is not lost on me. The important victory is this: I went to the trivia thing anyway, even feeling as schlubby as I did. I talked to people anyway, because that, I know I need. What presentation rituals might be appropriate to this kind of socializing will probably get worked out with time. Until then, just know that if you fiddle with your face when you see yourself on a screen, you’re not alone. As with most things, you’re not alone.
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I very much enjoyed this take on the drummer from the Buffy theme song. Just … trust me.
If you’re looking for a binge-watch (still) that will last a very long time and hold up pretty well, I’ve been spending a lot of time this week with Cheers. Definitely stronger in earlier seasons than later ones, but what a lot of good stuff there is to be found. (Streaming on Netflix and Hulu.)
Not to be all obvious and everything, but if you haven’t yet heard all the people singing “Non-Stop” from Hamilton in their various living rooms, it might give you a lift.
What We Did This Week:
In our Wednesday show, we brought you some short bursts of joy, since not everybody wants a big binge-watch right now. Want to check them out for yourself?
In our Friday show, we talked about the great and good Schitt’s Creek, which won our listener poll.
Stephen wrote about the death of the brilliant Adam Schlesinger, who was part of Fountains of Wayne, part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the mind behind the song “That Thing You Do!”, without the perfection of which the movie of the same name wouldn’t make any sense.
Stephen is also part of New Music Friday, because new music continues to happen, fortunately.