Do we really need pants? And other lessons from a pandemic year

Mar 7, 2021, 9:11 AM
Closeup image of a female customer picking green apples to buy....
Closeup image of a female customer picking green apples to buy.

We’ve missed loved ones and weddings and funerals, dance recitals and baseball playoffs, more “firsts” and simple pleasures than we can even count at this point.

We’ve learned how to laugh with our eyes, through masks, from 6 feet away.

We’ve learned how to work and sleep and play and exercise and relax — all in the same room. We’ve learned to value human worth by the size of their toilet paper stockpile.

As I sit here wearing holey sweats, I know there are lessons from the past year I’ll likely carry for the rest of my life. Here are my favorites.

There are very few instances in life in which pants are required

By now, most of us have shown up to a video conference call looking sharp from the waist up and ready for bed or worse from the waist down. We’ve neglected our facial cosmetics when going out — masks will cover that chin hair or blemish — and debated about whether it’s time to actually, literally burn all the bras. Covid-19 has introduced new beauty norms that are likely to impact a post-pandemic world.

“There’s almost been an equal split down the middle of Covid-19 era beauty/fashion from minimalist and bare-faced to anything goes to full-out glam,” said Rachel Weingarten, a pop culture and trends expert and former celebrity makeup artist.

“On the one hand, you have those who believe bras and pants have become irrelevant and don’t see the purpose of even putting on a pair of shoes anymore,” Weingarten said. “The opposing view often includes those who have a lot of Zooming going on and feel either the pressure or relief of an opportunity to dress up — at least from the waist up — and spend time on their makeup and hair.”

Weingarten believes we’ll eventually strike a balance between the extremes we’re seeing play out now. “As we move forward, we’ll find a comfortable middle ground,” she said.

“Painfully high heels never should have been the norm, nor should have we aspired to the unrealistic proportions dictated by the fashion gods. My hope is that as we move out of the pandemic, we’ll want to feel cute again without feeling pressured to chase perfection.”

Whoever can open produce bags in under 30 seconds without licking a finger deserves an Olympic medal

With overseas spectators at the Tokyo Olympic games likely canceled and fewer sports to watch on TV, produce bag competitions are not a bad idea. Over the past year of living with Covid-19, we have had to adapt in so many strange ways.

Who ever thought they’d greet their mother with a spray bottle of disinfectant? Or find entertainment in watching the neighbor take out the trash?

“Oh, it must be Wednesday again,” I find myself saying, impressed by her 90-degree bag toss into the can.

We have adapted to a bizarre, new normal that is indeed starting to feel frighteningly normal. My 3-year-old kid gets concerned when people talk about not wearing masks indoors because he doesn’t remember life before the pandemic. We look to copious amounts of digital entertainment — including oversubscribing to apocalyptic-themed media in a cruel act of psychological warfare on ourselves. I hear there was this place called a movie theater where you could watch movies on a big screen and eat popcorn to your heart’s content.

Touch is not overrated. Unless it’s from your spouse

The well of loneliness deepened during the pandemic as we were told to stay at home and not socialize.

Some 80% of young adults were feeling lonely and depressed during the pandemic, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Social distancing has put a damper on our ability to love freely, whether that means hugging a friend or random hookups. We’ve come to appreciate just how meaningful human physical contact is and how much we miss it. Unless, of course, you are married and have been stuck at home 24/7 with your significant other. Then you have experienced the opposite problem — too much contact. (I love you, spouse! Also, get away!)

“Human beings are social creatures by evolution. It is embedded in our programming to feel safe in groups,” said Alexandra Lo Re, a New York-based clinical social worker. “Suddenly we are exposed to 24/7 media coverage telling us that close contact with loved ones will kill us, and celebrating Thanksgiving is akin to murder. It is impossible for us to fully synthesize what is happening; currently our rational brain is at war with our primitive brain,” she said.

“For many couples and families, the pandemic has had a different affect. Suddenly everyone is quarantined to their homes. Families that used to spend their days at school or work may now find themselves fighting for work space at the kitchen table. Couples will find themselves more irritated by their partners,” Lo Re said.

It’s not all terrible, though. Acknowledge the strain, Lo Re suggested, as a way to work through your feelings of being either deprived of company or completely overwhelmed by too much of it. Communicate your needs and work as a team in your home or seek out professional help to talk through your feelings.

In my unprofessional opinion, a handy pint of banana ice cream with fudge chunks solves nearly any problem in the short-term (save for glucose levels).

You can’t really predict anything, ever

That spring break to Cancun you had planned for April 2020 now feels like a laughable distant memory of all the nice things you can no longer have.

If we’ve learned anything from Covid-19, it’s that no matter how much we anticipate things may go a certain way, we can never predict the future. The best we can do is prepare for the unknown or worst-case scenario and reset our expectations so we can weather whatever global contagion, social or political unrest — or Zombie apocalypse that comes our way.

“Uncertainty is not something humans do well with, which again goes back to an evolutionary trait when uncertainty could be fatal,” Lo Re said. “The secret is to focus on what we can control rather than fixating on what we cannot. We do not have control over the pandemic, but we can control how we respond to it. We need to recognize and cultivate the strengths we do have, and use them to get us through rough patches

We’re all hypochondriacs

That tickle in your throat? That slightly stuffy left nostril? Is it Covid-19? So many of us who never gave a second thought to minor ailments are now worried ALL THE TIME. And we’re not all wrong. People are still getting sick and dying. In addition to becoming intense hypochondriacs, we can all add depressed and anxious to the list of things we’ve accumulated this past year.

“If two things got their time to shine in 2020, it’s the importance of handwashing and the importance of mental health care,” Lo Re said.

“We are constantly worrying about our own health, the health of our families, our futures and the future of the world. We have been living in a state of trauma-response for a year, the effects of which will continue long after the pandemic itself ends,” she said.

As more of us get vaccinated and infection rates continue to decline, we can start to heal our inner hypochondriac a bit. It’s not all bad, though. I have a healthier supply of herbs and supplements than ever before and I’m considering actually going to the doctor to get that thing checked out instead of dismissing it. It may also be time to admit I have been suffering from allergies for the past year.

Given the uncertainty and worry and lack of concern about pants, where do we go from here? If we’ve learned anything worth remembering, it’s that there is so much we don’t know. The future is uncertain. We miss people, but also, we’re sick of people. We like elastic-waist pants, and tweezing is an existential drag and maybe not necessary.

We’ve also learned that we are resilient. We can live through a real-life horror movie and still find moments of joy and compassion. A recent Pew study showed the majority of Americans believe the pandemic provides lessons for humanity.

What truly matters has come into greater focus. We love more authentically. And, if all else fails, there is always ice cream.

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Do we really need pants? And other lessons from a pandemic year