America has got roots. And they are showing.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the U.S. in about February 2020 and has stretched on for two and a half years so far, some hidden truths about countless Americans have become apparent. Most apparent of them, their natural hair colors.

Full disclosure: I dyed my hair and beard for many years. I doubt if it fooled anyone. Heck, former coworkers and I even joked about it on occasion. But I kept it up for appearances anyway, or at least until 2020. I now proudly wear what hair I have left in its natural silver hue.

When we started “sheltering in place” in San Francisco in March 2020, all meetings and even most church services switched to Zoom and other online platforms where multiple people from almost anywhere in the world could gather together on a computer screen to discuss agendas and make group decisions, just as they would in a boardroom. In fact, many men who would ordinarily wear a business suit, white button-down shirt and a silk necktie found that, working from home on their computers, they could skip the pants and leather shoes because others in their Zoom meetings would only see them from the chest up.

After a time, attitudes relaxed on some aspects of the onscreen appearances. Many male TV newscasters made a habit of openly wearing tennis shoes with their business suits. And the white rubber soles on their sneakers beneath a sharp Armani three-piece suit at first sparked a few giggles among home viewers, but we got used to it. 

Hair coloring became a much more obvious sign of the times. It was already obvious that many female TV newscasters were dyeing their hair blonde. How else would one explain that while blondes make up less than 25 percent of the female population worldwide, they nevertheless seem to account for more than 75 percent of the women working in TV news? During the pandemic, as an increasing number of TV reporters did their on-air appearances from their home computers rather than in the TV studio, more of them kept a less rigid regimen of applying dye. The sight of dark roots became so prevalent that soon it became the fashion. I suspect (but have absolutely no proof, and it’s probably a silly idea anyway) that some natural blondes started dyeing some of their roots dark just to keep up with the competition. 

Not just women. Many men have long used store-bought remedies to achieve their distinguished “salt-and-pepper” hair color. As the pandemic progressed, we witnessed a growing dominance of salt over pepper. In the cases of some men who wore beards, the results could elicit chuckles because they did not apply the coloring to both their hair and beards. There was often a sharp dividing line between dark and light just in front of the ears.

Of course, hair coloring can be seen as just a symbol of much deeper conflicts in the souls of men and women. Hair coloring is, in the end, an attempt to put forward the best possible façade on a body that has perhaps aged past its prime. This is similar to the sparkling and congenial personalities we have historically tried to present to the world. We want others to think the best of us, so we pretend to have a completely collegial outlook, a witty response for every situation, and to have a winning persona that nearly everyone finds adorable. In other words, we pretend to have no flaws.

But compared to the pre-COVID days, many of us have let the pretense of perfection fade just like an alluring auburn shading on a head of naturally plain brown hair. After spending less time in close social situations for two years, it would seem that many people have grown less tolerant of others’ faults and have become more blunt in saying so. Sometimes such utterances appear rude, but other times they sound like a refreshing bit of honesty.

As workers gradually return to their physical places of employment, will the bluntness continue? Or will we return to the polite language of congeniality at the cost of our newfound honest exchanges of views? We have seen many people incorporating their black or gray roots into their hairstyles, just as some men continue to wear casual pants and sneakers under their suit coats. We will monitor these fashion trends, as they may give a hint of the near future of social discourse.


About pwandersen

Patrick W. Andersen's debut novel, Second Born, won critical acclaim for its reimagining of the life of Jesus as he grew up with his brothers and sisters in Sepphoris. His new novel, Acts of the Women, tells stories of how women, in the decades after the crucifixion, helped give birth to what eventually became Christianity.
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