It felt like a breakthrough.
At least for now, the covid-19 lockdown has put an end to the over-polished look of television news. Most anchors and talking heads are Skyping in, and even those who come into the studio cannot use the social-distance-defying services of a makeup artist or hairstylist. The result? The glamorous commentators and their guests suddenly look like real people — and it’s wonderful.
Sachs may have stood out on Wednesday, but the change is especially noticeable for women. For regular anchors, heavy foundation, eye contouring and lipstick have been replaced by muted, do-it-yourself looks. And the guests — why, they look like you or me! There are blondes with dark roots showing through. There are women with curly, flyaway hair. Lipstick is on, but sometimes there are smudges.
And while you can find the occasional carping tweet online — “With everyone reporting from home, the need to appreciate studio lighting, hair and make-up is obvious,” wrote one viewer — most are more supportive. “Good on ya Nic u look fab,” someone recently told MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace.
I agree. While standards for women in television have always been high, the issue has become even worse in recent years. Many blame Fox News, where the late Roger Ailes created a “Pageant queen” look for both female anchors and guests, complete with tight dresses and multiple leg shots. But changes in technology played a role, too. Large-screen televisions magnify everything, while HDTV makes minor imperfections easier to detect. The result? Men on networks may be tidied up, but they are still free to appear rumpled or middle-aged. Women, on the other hand, are so perfectly done up that they don’t look quite real.
This new level of scrutiny paralleled a rise in female beauty standards in the real world. For the past several years, cosmetic and skin-care product sales have soared, a phenomenon attributed to everything from Instagram videos to YouTube tutorials to the popularity of the (very made-up) Kardashian sisters. One result? Women spend 30 percent more time getting ready in the morning than men, and spend more money on everything from haircuts to manicures. The combined opportunity and financial cost, dubbed “the grooming gap,” is an ongoing drag on their productivity, income, sleep and free time.
But in the past year, beauty industry analysts have noticed some pushback. In day-to-day life, a more natural look is regaining ground. Makeup sales are declining and now the coronavirus crisis is forcing the news shows to catch up to the real world.
Will that easing up stick? Maybe not. “For now, the casual look is a connection between the journalist and viewer. It says, ‘Hey, I am just like you, working from home,’ ” said Al Tompkins, a former broadcaster and current senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute. “But in the full light of a studio, with a studio camera, we will notice every flaw again.”
In other words, nothing changes. We will return to judging women -- and the occasional man -- more harshly for their beauty and other appearance missteps once things go back to normal.
But before we do, here is my plea. When the makeup artists return, let’s stick with the less done-up look. It reflects our lives, and isn’t the news supposed to do just that?