Halfway through my second week of social distancing, my leg hair reached linguine-level lengths and I hadn’t used a hair brush in days. Still somehow I ended up with my head over the bathroom sink, marinating in Pepto-Bismol colored dye.
Chalk it up to boredom, an inflated sense of my own creativity, or simple vanity: coronavirus cannot stop me from doing my hair. I’m not alone. You have probably seen similar statements on social media. In front of dimly lit mirrors across the country, people are shaving their heads or dying their hair.
Celebrities aren’t immune to the call of an electric razor or boxed dye. Anthony Rapp buzzed his hair this week, Jim Carrey continues to document his beard growth, Elle Fanning’s strands are now a coral pink, and Jennifer Love Hewitt put fuchsia highlights in her hair (courtesy the brand Lime Crime).
“It just felt like a silly fun thing to do,” she explained in an Instagram story, adding that the hue will probably fade out of her hair fast. Next week, the actress promised to test out oVertone, the same color-depositing conditioner I used at home.
“Our focus at oVertone has always been to provide people with accessible, easy-to-use hair color that they can apply by themselves in just a few minutes,” Maegan Scarlett, a co-founder of the brand, told me. “Right now more than ever, people are experimenting with their hair color.”
A representative for the company was unable to give exact sales figures for this past month, but said that “the personal care industry, and the hair color category specifically, has seen an overall significant lift in sales. As a brand, oVertone is exceeding the sales trends in the hair color category.”
Hair is the rare body part humans have total control over; I’ve spent years tormenting mine with bleach and hot tools to remind myself I have some kind of autonomy over my unpredictable twenties. Now as I field commands from my governor and finger-wagging friends to stay home and take up as little space as possible, what color goo I smear over my head remains a rare personal liberty. For as long as I have to isolate, I will do so wearing a crown of shocking pastel.
Bella Aron, 20, is a student at James Madison University. The school has pivoted to online classes, so she’s riding out quarantine with her mother in Maryland. “I was going a little stir crazy, stuck in the house, and I just wanted to change something,” she said. “I got hair dye right before the lockdown, and my best friend Carly and I sat together outside to do it, because my mom said ‘You’re not going to dye the bathroom pink.’”
Aron used a semi-permanent dye from L'Oreal that she purchased at Target. “I just needed something to keep me spiced up,” she said. “Some excitement.” Since then, a couple of her friends have colored their hair as well.
“Who knows if I’ll keep it up?” she said. “Maybe. I have to pick another color. Something like purple next. My mom was like, ‘What’s the point of doing it if no one’s going to see it?’ That’s the point—in case it goes wrong, no one will see it. It’s a security blanket and a confidence boost. It’s fun to wake up and see that your hair is still pink.”
Joe Wallace, who is 29 and lives in Nashville, has never been able to grow a beard. The hair comes in long, but it’s too patchy to look consistent. “It just doesn’t look right,” he said. “But [quarantine] was a huge opportunity to really push the limits. I thought, if there’s ever an opportunity I’ll have to look absolutely terrible, this is it.”
Wallace gave the grizzled life a shot for three weeks. He learned it is not for him. “Some of my pores don’t actually grow hair,” he said. “But the ones that do grow it really long. I looked like I had public hair on my face, more or less.”
This week, Wallace decided to shave his attempted beard. But he doesn’t regret his decision. “Whether or not I can grow one is a question I’ve wondered for a long time that I finally got answered,” he said. “So this quarantine has been good to me.”
While in quarantine Brielle Colby, 31, has hunkered down in an apartment behind her parent’s house in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Every morning she wakes up, takes a shower, and hollers out the window, alerting her mother to “get ready” for their daily blowouts.
“I’ll get all the supplies out, and she’ll come in with her coffee,” Teri Colby, her mom, said. “We’ll watch BradBucks [where the stylist Brad Goreski makes his husband’s Starbucks order on Instagram every morning] as we’re blow drying. She tells me what’s going on in the day, and I proceed to do her hair. Which, at this point, probably doesn’t need to be done, but we do it anyway.”
“I pretend that my mom is my blowout bar,” Brielle said. “From start to finish, it takes about an hour and a half. We take our time. Sometimes she’ll get rushed and I tell her she’s not getting any tips.”
Though she’s staying at home, Brielle still regularly shaves her legs, purely to pass the hours. Shaving used to be “an annoyance,” something she would speed through, but now it’s part of her “weekend routine.”
“It’s so I can waste time,” she said. “It breaks up the monotony of my day and takes an hour out of my weekend. It’s one of those things where I take my time doing it. I kind of enjoy doing it now. I know it’s like doomsday [right now], but I just need to be doing this.”
Waxing salons are closed, but estheticians report customers are inquiring how to do the same service as home. “They’re emailing us saying, ‘Help, I miss my waxer!’ What can I do?!’” said Stalina Glot, who works at New York’s Haven Spa and sees over 1000 clients a month. “We actually don’t recommend waxing at home, it’s potentially dangerous and the results will probably be disappointing. Why not go natural? It’s one less thing to deal with.”
Courtney Claghorn is the co-founder of Sugar + Bronzed, a national chain of tanning and hair removal salons. She’s also been asked for advice from wannabe DIY-ers. “I’ve gotten some deep questions where I’m like, ‘That is a very personal question,’” Claghorn said. “I feel somewhat flattered that people feel so comfortable asking. We’ve had them reach out via email, Instagram DM, my personal Instagram, any way they can get ahold of us. I put up an Instagram post to answer the general questions that I was getting from people.”
Claghorn’s advice to those who regularly wax or sugar their body hair: let things grow out as much as possible. If things get too uncomfortable, trim with scissors, rather than tweezers or a razor. “Allowing hair to reach its full length will make the next waxing experience more effective, [because] there won’t be any little hairs trying to get through,” Beata Chyla, the lead esthetician at Bliss Spa, explained.
Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to shave or snip or pluck as they see fit, but Juliet A. Williams, a gender studies professor at UCLA, hopes social distancing will empower more people to reevaluate just how much they go through to make themselves feel presentable.
“For many people the crisis is the first time they’ve ever seriously considered [the question] ‘How would I choose to look if I didn’t have to worry about what other people think?” Williams said. “You see a much wider spectrum of self-presentation. You see a rejection of gender stereotypes: long hair, short hair, gray hair. All of the things that we do to create the illusion that there is such a big difference in the way men and women look are being taken apart.”
Still, there is a comfort to these getting-ready rituals, a reminder in them of past days—and hopefully future ones, eventually—when we did have somewhere to go. A few nights ago I curled my hair for the first time in weeks, just because I could. There was something reassuring in this performance of femininity. I felt an instant gratification at seeing my curls appear with just the flick of a wand. If only the rest of all this could be so easy.