Remember when celebrities defined the way we wanted to look, live and even decorate our homes? Throughout much of lockdown, the rich and famous have categorically not risen to the challenge, seemingly unable to refrain from posting pictures of their 15-acre lockdown prisons and sharing their grooming hells, while still looking suspiciously perfect in front of painstakingly curated poolscapes and artdens.
Madonna, for reasons best known to herself, ran a bath of rose petals. JLo, ostensibly unveiling her true self without hair extensions, posted a photo of herself in a pool that looked as though it had taken seven hours to light.
It’s fair to say, most of this has not gone down well with a hitherto fawning public. #guillotine2020, one popular hashtag, gives you an idea of the general sentiment. From Ariana Grande’s heavily airbrushed “natural” curls to Sharon Stone – normally quite judicious in her deployment of social media – appearing wild of eye, but very toned of jaw, to discuss how she’d been talking to her pillow and not in a good, Basic Instinct way, the new #realme posts have looked like a pitiless torrent of fake humble brags.
And yet, over time – essentially once their grey roots and facial hair began properly revealing themselves – celebrities have found a common cause around which to regroup: namely the idea that sometimes celebrities really do look like us.
We have had Eva Longoria demonstrating how she’s resorted to spraying her grey roots dark, the actress and producer Hilarie Burton showing us how she’s not spraying hers but wearing them with pride (Grey Power!), the comedian, actor and daughter of Diana Ross, Tracee Ellis Ross, looking rather magnificent with grey hair, and my personal favourite, Teri Hatcher, the former star of Desperate Housewives, getting herself into Deep Grey Hair Water.
This is what Teri says in her grey roots video: “It [the grey] doesn’t really bother me. I’ve actually been considering growing it out and just letting it be what it is.”
But then, just when you’re feeling inspired to shake off the dye shackles in solidarity, Teri changes tack. Because she mentioned this terrible shackles thought to a hairdresser friend, and guess what? The hairdresser was not OK with the prospect.
“They went through my hair [how Teri, how?] and said ‘you know you’re not even 50 per cent grey. You’re too young to go grey.’ “
Remembering her demographic, Teri then attempts to rescue this line of discourse, adding that even though she is way too youthful to contemplate it, “I think grey is so cool on lots of women.”
Given that she is clutching a box of hair dye throughout, I think we know, without watching to the end, where this Going Grey moment is leading. Teri is not going grey.
The other great weapons in the celebrity fight to regain some relevance are just having averagely bad hair (Portia de Rossi, although frankly, her bad hair looks quite like good hair) and not wearing any make-up. At all. Not even foundation. Or mascara, although maybe using an amazing filter setting.
Julianne Moore did this to best effect (the no make-up bit, I can’t possibly speak for the filter), perhaps because she was raising awareness for a charitable T-shirt, or because she is Julianne Moore and best effect is what she does, or because her skin looks exquisite.
Michelle Pfeiffer did it to terrible effect because she was dancing on her treadmill and looked frighteningly self-involved even by Hollywood standards.
Another of my favourite no make-up lockdown pics is Dame Helen Mirren (and not just because I’m struck by her bed’s rustic headboard, which wasn’t what I expected). Dame Helen sans make-up actually looks how you’d want her to – not mad and Mrs Rochestery, but not fake and filtered either.
Actually she looks a bit how many women her age (74) probably do. “Wow, so beautiful” coos one post, because that’s what happens on Insta. The thing is though, she is – although it’s a different kind of beauty from the glazed, airbrushed face she presents on the red carpet.
I’ve also enjoyed seeing Drew Barrymore and Demi Moore unmade-up and unfiltered. Barrymore even snaps herself from underneath, which can lead those of us with less self-belief into a double-chin vortex of self-hatred.
Both women look less glossy than we’re used to seeing them (Barrymore’s straggly eyebrows get their own star billing in one post) but still beautiful. And check out their homes. Drew’s looks chintzy but not that fancy (are those some Ikea handles?) while Demi’s looks surprisingly homey.
Perhaps if celebrities still have any purpose, it is for the first time in their history, to lower the beauty bar from the unsustainable pitch of artifice it had reached pre-Covid, to something less punishing. (To see how our make-up application has been ramped up in the past 10 years, watch Becoming, the Netflix documentary that follows Michelle Obama’s book tour. In 2008 the putative First Lady was relatively make-up free. By 2018 she had embraced false eyelashes and high maintenance hair and nails.)
It’s too early to say whether their candid cameras will have lasting impact. Right now, many women seem to be embracing their grey roots as a badge of lockdown honour – the white-stripe effect could become the Covid equivalent of the Victory Roll, that emblematic hairdo of the Second World War.
Specs (what celebrities in lockdown wear when they want to look extra empathetic) are another prop that is now everywhere, giving earrings a run for their money.
Some cultural pundits have posited that celebrities may have become redundant now that we have real frontline heroes. Wishful thinking, probably.
The global fascination with Adele’s weight loss, which she would once have unveiled on the cover of US Vogue but chose to do via a “spontaneous” Instagram selfie, suggests their influence isn’t entirely dimmed.
If they can widen our horizons and fast forward us away from tortured, airbrushed perfection, their last two months won’t have been entirely wasted.
The Daily Telegraph