The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Some people are getting hotter during the pandemic. How dare they.

Russ Green has been working on his Michael B. Jordan muscles. We’re very happy for him. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The one blessed relief of this pandemic is that appearances don’t matter. Working from home? Sweatpants all day. Bags under your eyes? Turn off your video camera. Hair out of control? We’re all in this together.

Except we’re not. Did you know that during this pandemic some people are actually getting more attractive? That after six months of anxiety and sleeplessness and terrible home haircuts and no manicures and waxes and gyms being closed — somehow, somewhere, some people are living their best quarantine lives with calm minds, clear skin and toned muscles?

Yes, they exist. We checked.

Look at Russ Green. The 41-year-old Silver Spring resident has spent the past few months doing yoga and high-intensity interval training, playing golf and lifting weights.

“I was focused on primarily the vanity muscles,” he said, laughing. “The scene in ‘Black Panther’ where Michael B. Jordan, like, strips his shirt off — I want to have that effect.”

Fair enough, Russ Green.

But also, what the hell?

The idea of getting hot during quarantine raises practical questions, but also philosophical ones. If a person gets hot during quarantine and no one’s around to see it, are they actually hot? Or does it create Schrödinger’s Thirst Trap, where a person is simultaneously Hot and Not?

Isn’t all of his hotness wasted on 2020?

Absolutely not, says Green.

“If anything, it’s building exponentially,” he explains. “So, when I’m actually released into society again, I’ll be at elite status.”

Besides, people can see it — on Instagram, where Green has posted some shirtless pics that were met with approving comments comparing him to the rapper Childish Gambino, or calling him “Zaddy.”

Getting hot in quarantine is not only about stockpiling Instagram likes and building buzz for an eventual butterfly-like reemergence, says Green. It’s also about getting through the interminable days and weeks between now and then.

We are sorry to report that Green is not the only one getting hotter in these (ahem) un-shirt-ain times.

“He was already superhot before, but now he looks like a lumberjack,” says Sarah Vreugdenhil, 34, of her 39-year-old fiance, Jonathan Adessa.

The pair set a goal to work out more once they were confined to their Seattle home last spring. The results are apparent to Vreugdenhil, although Adessa insists that it’s more about getting fit than getting hot.

Amanda Pittman is focused on the fitness part, too — in a survival-of-the-fittest way. She and her friends “used to joke about getting into shape, and the pending end of the world, and how we all needed to work on our doomsday bodies,” she says.

“We thought we had a little bit more time,” Pittman says. “Now we’re working on our doomsday bodies during doomsday.”

What does that involve: Stripping logs? Spear fishing? Endurance running?

“My sister and I started doing Beachbody together,” she says.


Hotness and fitness are not interchangeable. Indeed, the "quarantine glow-up" can take many forms.

Kristen Oduca, 24, of West Covina, Calif., has a new hobby: skin care.

“I decided to read up more, and take care of my skin instead of layering acids on acids,” she says. “I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos from aestheticians.” That led to a foray into the Curly Girl Method, a regimen for curly hair.

(For the record, Oduca is also working out more. She and her friends are all trying to get quarantine-hot. “We all decided, once this is over, we’re all going to go to Vegas and get matching swimsuits,” she says.)

Hotness takes time, and that’s something many people have in abundance now. Anne Pellegrino, 26, of Monterey, Calif, quit a stressful job in arms control a few weeks before the pandemic began and has reinvested her time into a more elaborate beauty routine.

“I can take the time to put on four different lotions after a shower. I can take the time to paint my nails and get really into it and do a really good job,” says Pellegrino. “I like giving time to things that matter and that make me feel good, because I never really did that before.”

Feeling good is as much a part of this as looking good. If the social distancing era has caused an endorphin shortage, and the state of the world has created an anxiety surplus, exercise and self-glamorization may be a way of rebalancing our minds.

“Focusing on the things that are in our control is a really healthy response,” says psychologist Vaile Wright, senior director of health-care innovation for the American Psychological Association. “And so the things that are in our control, of course, are our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors.”

Fine. Great. Good for them.

“I think individuals who thrive with adversity view it as an opportunity,” Wright says. “Even those who are struggling more than others right now, I think there’s still the possibility to come out of this with improved resilience.”

But these pandemic hotties — these thirsty survivalists who are turning lemons into six packs of lemonade — they’re at least rare, right?

“I think honestly, it’s probably more common than we think.”


Also more common than you’d think: plastic surgery. Herluf Lund, a St. Louis plastic surgeon and president of the the Aesthetic Society, says that he expected his business to suffer during the pandemic, but has been doing more facelifts than ever.

“When you’re out and about, you’re in a mask,” he says, and that can hide the healing process. “Who’s going to know? It’s the perfect cover.”

What comes first, hotness or self-confidence? Here's a theory: The reason so many people are getting hot during quarantine is because the freedom from being seen by others has made them eager to try new things.

Jaclyn McGarry, 29, had always wanted to dye her hair a wild color but had never taken the plunge until now.

“There was always a reason not to, like I was going to be in a friend’s wedding, or I had to give a presentation,” she says. With all of those excuses gone, she went to her Kensington, Md., salon once it reopened this summer and got a hunter-green dye job. When her stylist was finished, McGarry was taken aback: “It was like seeing a version of myself I had always known was there, but maybe wasn’t apparent.”

Same for Jennifer Jumper, 38, who had a big realization, thanks to the pandemic, “about me worrying what others thought,” she says. She started wearing bold red lipstick. She bought a hot pink watch.

Meanwhile, Edna Zhou, 31, of Chicago, taught herself the art of home manicures during lockdown and managed to kick a lifelong nail-biting habit.

“I feel like a brand-new person,” she says. “It’s just my nails, but they’ve been a source of embarrassment for so long.”

And Amanda Bennett, 29, of Boston, gave herself a great DIY undercut, and has started wearing more flannel.

“Before quarantine I wore dresses constantly,” she says, but she culminated a two-year process of coming out as a lesbian this June. “That actually made something click, too, where I was like, ‘Oh, I want to look more visibly queer.’ ”

She’s comfortable with her appearance now. “I don’t feel the same criticism of myself that I’ve felt in the past,” she says.

Some of these people didn’t even try to get hot. It just happened.

Laurel Taylor, 39, a school librarian in Alexandria, Va., started her quarantine with grand plans of productivity, and quickly abandoned them all. “Some days you wake up and the weight of everything that’s going on is just so much that you have to be like, ‘I’m just going to get through the day.’ ”

But doing less has been its own reward.

“My hair is in much better shape because I’m not constantly straight-ironing it or curling it or blow-drying it,” she says. When she logs in on Zoom without any makeup, Taylor says, she’s often impressed by her reflection in the corner of the screen. “I’m like, oh, my eyes look nice.”

Quarantine hotness is, as ever, in the eye of the beholder. And with the other side of pandemic life not yet in sight, the quarantine-hot are short on the beholder front. So perhaps you — who are doing great, by the way! — should pity them.

Cody Wimmer, a 28-year-old New Yorker, has great abs now, thanks to a steady regimen of burpees and planks. (“If I can plank my way through a pandemic, I can plank my way through anything,” he says.) Wimmer plans to debut those abs, plus a new hairstyle, post-covid-19.

Whenever that is. Until then, he’s in planking purgatory.

“It’s very funny to me that this is the hottest I’ve ever been — maybe ever will be — and the joke’s truly on me,” he says.

“It’s like I made a wish on a monkey’s paw. I spent so much time in college wanting to be hot, and now it’s all happening, and the only person who can see it is my roommate — who, as far as I can tell, doesn’t care.”

(Corrections: Earlier versions of this story referred to the Aesthetic Society by its previous name, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and misstated Edna Zhou’s name. This version has been updated.)