The musician and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams has announced the release of Humanrace, his long-awaited skincare line. Significantly, it is gender neutral.
The products – a powder cleanser, lotus enzyme exfoliator and humidifying cream – are described on the website as being for “every individual”, subtly avoiding any pronoun definition.
Williams told Allure magazine: “We want to democratise the experience of achieving wellness.”
For all the subtle biological differences between male and female skin, such as levels of testosterone and collagen, fundamentally “male and female skin has the same anatomy, with the same epidermal and dermal layers and cell types”, said the dermatologist Dr Anita Sturnham, despite skincare products being marketed in a gendered way for decades.
The beauty industry has embraced inclusivity in recent years, with brands such as Asos merging its male and female grooming sections into a face and body section. Bloggers such as James Charles (5.1 million followers on Instagram), Patrick Starrr (4.5 million) and Jake James have redefined the face of gender-neutral glamour for Generation Z.
“The evolution of beauty ideals from primary cis, white, thin and hetero has been a long time in the making,” said Laura Kraber, the founder of Fluide, a gender-neutral makeup brand. “Only recently have underrepresented groups been truly included by mainstream media and fashion and beauty companies,” she says.
“We focus on skin types as opposed to gender,” said Elsie Rutterford from BYBI, which reported an increase in male customers in the past 12 months. “This could be down to skincare generally becoming a more gender neutral concept,” said the brand’s co-founder, Dominika Minarovic.
One third of male/female couples share beauty products, according to research from the Natural Spa Company, while the male beauty market in the UK will be worth £1.62m by 2021, according to Euromonitor. It marks a shift that suggests a move away from patriarchy-led beauty ideals. “It’s created a space to be an empowering means of self-expression for all,” Kraber said.
The issue of gender neutrality is crucial to the younger customers brands are targeting. According to a Pew Research Centre report last year, 35% of Generation Z-ers (roughly those born in the late 90s and early 2000s) polled knew someone who preferred to use gender-neutral pronouns (compared with a quarter of millennials).
“Generation Z is playing an essential role in society developing a broader understanding of gender,” said Jessica Blackler, the founder of the gender-neutral makeup brand Jecca Blac.
Those shoppers expect brands to recognise and reflect their identities. “Gen Z consumers prioritise brands that share their values of inclusivity and sustainability,” said Kraber. “They are the most racially and ethnically diverse in history.”
Into this 47-year-old Williams, with his Dorian Gray features, fits perfectly. Last year speaking about Williams’ luminous skin, Frank Ocean told GQ: “It’s been all these years and Pharrell still hasn’t given us the keys just yet, he just says ‘exfoliate’ but it’s not just ‘exfoliate’ – we need more keys.”
The “keys” in Humanrace include the ingredients of rice powder cleanser, lotus enzyme exfoliator and humidifying cream.
For Kraber this is just the beginning. “The future of beauty is gender expansive,” she said. “It will be less prescriptive and more individualistic, less constrictive and more enjoyable.”
Before March 2020, few of us had heard the terms “self-isolation”, “lockdown” and “social-distancing” – but they have now become ubiquitous as we adjust to living through a global pandemic. So it’s not surprising that lockdown has left a third of children feeling more worried or stressed, according to a recent poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of Barnardo’s.
Another survey by YouGov, for Public Health England (PHE), found that more than half of parents with children aged five to 18 said that their primary concern for their children was their mental wellbeing. Almost a quarter of parents said that not knowing what action to take had prevented them supporting their children’s mental wellbeing. PHE recommends establishing a routine and encouraging children to indulge in their interests and hobbies to help counteract this.
Laura Maher, an education lecturer from Warwickshire, says play is central in developing the holistic wellbeing of the child and that it can help assuage anxiety during stressful times. “With an ever-increasing focus on formal learning, it’s more important than ever for adults to see the educational value in play,” she says.
Playing not only provides a welcome distraction but also helps build resilience and coping mechanisms, says Dr Genevieve von Lob, a clinical psychologist and author. “Play is like breathing to children. It’s essential for processing emotions, building resilience and to give them a sense of control,” she says. “Playtime offers ideal opportunities for children to express natural emotion such as anger, sadness or happiness in a safe environment and explore their identities in relation to their peers, their family and the world.”
It’s through play, especially role-play, that children reveal what is going on in their inner world, says von Lob. “Children will often role-play different characters and give their dolls or teddies the voice they are unable to express themselves because their feelings are too confusing. This can help them feel powerful in a world where they often feel small and powerless.”
Sarah Bouchie, LEGO Foundation’s vice president of global programmes, says play also helps children strengthen their relationships with the people around them and reinforces bonding. “I have friends who say it can be hard to find the time to sit down and play with their child, but we can incorporate play into day-to-day life, such as counting the steps or singing a song on the way to school. Little things like this can make a real difference,” she says.
Von Lob believes unstructured, free play is one of the most effective ways children can learn to socialise and interact with others. “Playing creates a sense of belonging to the group and feeling part of a community,” she says. “Children learn to communicate, negotiate, share and cooperate through play. As they mature, they learn teamwork, collaboration, and taking the perspectives of others.”
Maher believes that grownups can promote a love of play by encouraging indoor and outdoor exploration. “Finding loose parts – crates, cardboard tubes, plastic bottles etc – and natural objects [such as] shells, sticks and stones to create something will not only help develop a child’s imagination and creativity, but also provides them the opportunity to develop problem solving, cooperation and negotiation skills,” she says. Creating a story from household objects, which helps bring the outside inespecially on rainy days, can reinforce these skills.
It’s clear that children recognise how play can help calm them. Sophie Clark-Venner, an early years specialist and founder of MontiSensory, says her nine-year-old son, Sebastian, realises how beneficial playing can be.
“I discussed what playing teaches us with Sebastian and he said ‘resilience’. He said: ‘You can spend a long time building something amazing and then put the final piece on and it gets knocked down by your brother and you have to start again, but that’s OK because the second time you build it, it will be even better!’”
Clark-Venner says play is crucial to a child’s physical development. “As adults we know the benefits of exercise both for our bodies and our minds,” she explains. “Children have an innate drive to get up and move their bodies. They love to move. Dancing or playing at the park are fun and natural for them but what’s underneath all that is their bodies saying ‘get up, move about, strengthen your muscles, fine tune your balance and coordination’.”
Bouchie says it’s never been more important for parents to play with their children. “Children pick up on more than we think they do about what’s going on in the world, so now, while we’re going through such change, is the time for us to connect and engage with them,” she says. “We know that playing with children helps them to develop their social and emotional skills, which are key to reducing stress in difficult situations. If we can help them increase these executive functions, we can help give them a sense of control and joy during this time of uncertainty.”
Bess Truman, US first lady from 1945 until 1953, has not become the sort of historical figure people quote on Instagram. “A woman’s public role is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight,” she said, even though, behind the scenes, she was nicknamed “the Boss” and wrote many of President Truman’s speeches.
Such anecdotes permeate Every Eye Is on Me, a new exhibition of first lady portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, which tracks the development of the role from the early 19th century to the present. The portraits, which range from Martha Washington’s detached stare and stiff white bonnet to Melania Trump’s soft-focus smise, aim to examine “the way these women were framed”. The show is also part of an effort “to help rectify the absences of women in US history,” according to its curator, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw.
Louisa Adams by Charles Robert Leslie, 1816, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Boris Chaliapin, 1960-61
Ideally, we would be talking about first spouses, of course, but so far, alas, the US president has always been a man, with a first lady beside him. The position was born of what we might now describe as emotional labour, too. In the early 19th century, says DuBois Shaw, “propriety dictated that a woman be present, as a hostess, if it was a mixed gathering of people”. If no wife was available first daughters, and first female friends were roped in.
These early first ladies were often very ambitious. “I was struck by how many of these women were smarter than their husbands,” says DuBois Shaw, “but, because of women’s secondary position, had to attach themselves to a man who could take them where they wanted from to go.” Mary Lincoln, for example, “was very interested in politics. But she can’t run so she finds a guy who also wants to go places and tries to partner with him.” This was no easy ride, of course. Being opinionated and outspoken, says DuBois Shaw “she was constantly thwarted by sexism. She develops a reputation as being a difficult woman.”
The question of whether the first lady should verbalise her opinions has reverberated through the ages. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, had a newspaper column, a weekly radio address and published more than 40 books over her lifetime. Her portrait, in which she is theatrically lit like a screwball heroine, and symbolically holds a pencil, brings this to life. She was “an amazing writer, a woman who found her voice in middle age, and was very active, travelling places her husband couldn’t after contracting polio”, says DuBois Shaw. As a tireless social justice activist, often expressing more radical political views than her husband, her outspokenness made her a polarising figure.
If Eleanor Roosevelt represents the years, during her tenure of 1933 until 1945, when many women’s lives changed dramatically as they entered the workforce as part of the war effort, Mamie Eisenhower’s portrait expresses a thousand words about the 1950s backlash.
In a candyfloss-coloured dress with matching opera gloves and a clutch bag, Mrs Eisenhower, “is an example of the homemaker in chief”, says DuBois Shaw. “She is all about wearing the Dior New Look, with cinched waists and full skirts, and putting pink doilies all over the White House. She is kind of a regressive antidote to the liberated work-empowered women that had come out of the war years; it’s a way to get women back in the kitchen. She models that for working-class and middle-class white women. A shade called Mamie pink became really popular in fashion in the 1950s.”
All the portraits illustrate something unique about each of the sitters and their approach to the role. Jacqueline Kennedy’s Time magazine cover, for example, speaks of the growing prominence of the role as a political celebrity. She stands in front of the White House portico, with a baby’s pram on the balcony. “It’s a really poignant image because it speaks to the young family she brought to the White House. She is the future.” It also foreshadows the unimaginable tragedy she would soon face when her third baby died two days after he was born, just months before her husband was assassinated.
Betty Ford’s steadfast bouffant, meanwhile, is represented in oils. During the course of her research, DuBois Shaw says Ford became “my new favourite”. During her time as first lady, she spoke openly about many taboo issues, notably breast cancer and mastectomy. After leaving the White House, she talked about her addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol, and then memorably launched the Betty Ford clinic. “She initiated a national acceptance of addiction as a disease that is treatable, not shameful, not a moral failing,” says DuBois Shaw. “We have Betty Ford to thank for that.”
But while many first ladies have achieved extraordinary things, within the confines of this unpaid and unelected role, many more have been unsure how to use their power and prominence. Even Mrs Washington, says DuBois Shaw, had a “complicated” relationship with the position. “She was very unhappy about being put into this role because it confined her; she complained to her friends in letters that she hadn’t been able to go anywhere or do anything since her husband had been president.”
This was before the role was, to some extent, regularised by Edith Roosevelt, who established offices in the East Wing and hired a social secretary in 1902. Over the ensuing decades, a retinue of staff sprung up, “helping the first lady to meet the expectations of the public”. Still, over 250 years, there is no satisfactory answer to the question of exactly what a first lady should be. And perhaps that is appropriate: until there are more women in office, and there are routinely first gentlemen too, the role of first lady, and its assumed continuation of a gendered division of power, must remain uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable is certainly the sense you get from Mrs Trump, who publicly wears the perma-peeved expression of a person stuck in a gilded cage with an orange narcissist. A secret recording of her frustrations with the role was recently leaked, in which she complained about the public perception of her as “complicit” in her husband’s cruel immigration policies and the thankless months she had spent on the White House’s festive decorations with the immortal line: “Who gives a fuck about Christmas stuff?”
At least later first ladies have had the chance to create their own images. Since 2006, first lady portraits have been actively commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, along with its long-running collection of presidential portraits. Hillary Clinton was the first, captured in side-profile, by Ginny Stanford, looking composed and regal, like the head of a coin, flanked by gold leaf panels, and wearing a hopeful shade of buttercup yellow. It is a rather poignant image, given what happened later of which, DuBois Shaw believes, the role of first lady played its part. “Much of the animosity towards her begins when she does not inhabit that role of first lady in the way that the sexist powers-that-be would have it.”
Michelle Obama’s 2018 portrait, by Amy Sherald, reflects her openness and interest in contemporary art as well as her understanding of the power of her endorsements. Sherald and Kehinde Wiley, who painted Barack Obama’s portrait around at the same time, were the first black recipients of commissions from the National Portrait Gallery. There was some controversy when the portrait was released because Obama’s skin was represented in greyscale, which Sherald has used, she has said, “to exclude the idea of colour as race”. Obama was open to working with an artist with her own very strong ideas about how the finished portrait would look, says DuBois Shaw. The dress she wears, designed by Michelle Smith, was also thoughtfully chosen. Its patterns are reminiscent of “patterns and designs commonly found in American quilting, particularly African American quilting traditions, and references the history of women’s needlework and American folk art, and that was something Mrs Obama was drawn to,” says DuBois Shaw.
It will be the Trumps’ turn to be captured next for their exit portraits if, please God, they concede and vacate office (a process on which, sadly, DuBois Shaw would not comment). Until then, the White House provided Mrs Trump’s official photograph, for the exhibition. The current first lady’s razor-sharp jawline, tonged hair and HD eyebrows present a level of grooming that would have been alien to first ladies of yore. It is a highly structured portrait. “Mrs Trump was a model, so she really understands the camera and knows exactly how she wants to look. I think it reflects the desire she may have had – going into the White House back in 2017 – to present a composed and straightforward image of herself,” says DuBois Shaw.
Given that Mrs Trump has played close to a nonspeaking role over the past four years, the choices she makes for her official portrait, when it is released, will be worth a thousand words, and everyone will be listening.
An online version of the exhibition can be accessed here.
Dorchester is at the heart of what the National Trust calls “Hardy Country” – and he is everywhere. Not that I mind. I’m a big fan of his Wessex novels. And I was pretty excited to be spending the night in a newly reopened hostelry that gets a mention in at least one of them. Thomas Hardy was a regular at the King’s Arms. He is said to have devised, or even written The Mayor of Casterbridge in a room upstairs. Casterbridge is a fictionalised Dorchester, but he refers to the town’s “chief hotel” by name, describing a “spacious bow-window, projected into the street over the main portico” – exactly as it is now.
I was there with my husband before England’s second lockdown. We’d come for a quiet, small-town break not too far from home. There is, of course, no total escape from coronavirus. On Dorchester High Street – a hill of mostly listed buildings – shop windows were papered with shouty offers (from discounts to the more desperate “everything must go”). While some of Dorchester’s odd collection of museums remained open, several, including the Tutankhamun Experience, were temporarily closed (it has yet to open).
My spirits lifted when we stepped over the threshold of the King’s Arms Hotel. To borrow a line from Hardy’s Casterbridge novel, the place was alive with “the babble of voices, the jingle of glasses and the drawing of corks”. Staff were wearing masks, and there was hand sanitiser on offer, but the atmosphere was so upbeat, we almost felt we like we’d left the pandemic at the front door.
The King’s Arms is typical of the grand coaching inns found in most market towns in the 18th and 19th centuries. Queen Victoria stayed here. So did the Beatles. Closed in 2015, the former Best Western was looking very sorry for itself when it was bought by Somerset-based hospitality company Stay Original a year later. Four years and roughly £5m down the line, the hotel reopened in September – six months behind schedule. Lockdown two in England meant that it was forced to close three weeks later, just days after our visit.
“It was heart-breaking – and utterly soul destroying,” general manager Kirsty Schmidt later told me. “We were on such a roll and then all of a sudden we were closed.” She is, however, taking a positive view. “The break has given us a chance to take stock and refine what we offer. Of course, we’ve lost income but if we can pick up where we left off and survive on a reduced occupancy, we’re happy. ” She added that they were working hard to attract local, “bread and butter” custom. “In some ways, launching during a pandemic was brilliant for us,” she said. “Local people had started to wonder what on earth was happening to their town. So when we opened, it gave them a bit of hope.”
The hotel reopened yesterday, 2 December, under tier 2 regulations, meaning it can accept guests, unless they live in tier 3. The bar is open to anyone – as long as they order one of those “substantial” meals.
During the renovations, much of the time and money was spent on stripping back layers of 20th-century tat (suspended ceilings, fake beams, red carpet). A concrete skin had to be chipped off the lobby’s beautiful encaustic floor tiles (“probably Victorian”); a former storeroom (turned dining room/snug) now displays walls of 17th-century timbered brickwork. Panelling and ceiling plaster were restored or replaced. A conservatory at the back was removed to create an outdoor space; now a marquee furnished with gas heaters and sheepskin rugs has been added to make it more user-friendly for winter. Stay Original has capitalised on the delayed opening by ensuring that Covid protections were built into the operation from the start.
On the ground floor, there’s a big bar, an “Old Smoking Room” lounge (no smoking, obviously) and the restaurant – lots of country-green paintwork, cheery open fires, velvet upholstery and fringed lampshades. On the three floors above, there are 20 rooms (14 more are in the pipeline) of various sizes, from top-floor Snug to Super Plus. Our Super was large and light with an enormous bed. Like all the rooms, the decor mixes leafy feature wallpaper and bold colours (grey, china blue, more greens) with antiques, contemporary furniture and snazzy bathroom tiles. Only the posh Bay room (and one other) gets a roll-top tub.
During our visit, we spent the afternoon exploring what the locals call “Dorch” – a Wednesday-market kind of town with layers of history that date back to the Romans. The 18th-century Shire Hall Courthouse was still open (and is welcoming visitors again, post-lockdown). In use until 1955, this is where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried and convicted in 1834 for swearing a secret oath of allegiance to a trade union. We visited the “miserable dungeon” where the six farmhands were held, before climbing the stairs to stand where they stood in the courtroom dock. Thomas Hardy later served here as a magistrate.
A longer walk took us to Prince Charles’s Poundbury, a bolt-on, new-town village built along traditional lines on the western edge of Dorchester. There are narrow streets of flinty cottages, terraces of repro Georgian townhouses and, on Queen Mother Square (circa 2010), the Duchess of Cornwall: run by Dorset brewer Hall & Woodhouse, it’s a modern take on an old coaching inn but, bizarrely, it’s loosely based on the Ritz in Piccadilly.
Beer is big around here. Dorchester’s Eldridge Pope Brewery was once the largest employer in town, housed in a vast, Victorian redbrick brewhouse designed by a young architect called Thomas Hardy. Now it forms the bones of a Brewery Square retail complex (Wagamama, Nando’s, an Odeon cinema). Here, among a few independents, the teeny Copper Street Brewery runs a tap room with seating for just six (for now just the bottle shop is open for takeaways).
Copper Street’s Saxon Gold cask ale is one of the local tipples on sale in the King’s Arms’s freehouse bar. It also does a Dorset Bramble cocktail (the Conker Dry Gin is from a Bournemouth distillery) and sparkling wines from Furleigh Estate vineyard near Bridport, while in the restaurant head chef Steve Yates presents a Dorset-sourced menu (the sweet potato soup with goats’ cheddar and dumplings stands out).
The next day, we opted for the warm embrace of the King’s Arms in Sunday-lunch mode: generous piles of pink-roast sirloin served with giant yorkshire puddings (the vegetarian option is beetroot, mushroom and quinoa), the cheery babble of voices, a pint of Piddle (from nearby Piddlehinton). The place was packed and, according to Kirsty, many of the customers were local. “This has been hub of the community for a long time,” she said. “People are very glad to see it open again.”
Before we left we took advantage of Dorchester’s rural setting: from the hotel, it takes less than 10 minutes to access footpaths that delve into fields of sheep or follow the River Frome. Only three miles out of town we came to the nature reserve at Thorncombe Wood, where a leafy trail led to the thatched cottage where Hardy was born. It was closed then – and still is (even here, the pandemic has made its mark), but we leaned over the garden gate to get a good look at the National Trust property where he wrote Far from the Madding Crowd. I don’t suppose it’s changed much since, and in this timeless landscape (a forest of sweet chestnuts and old oaks, heathland and wild ponies), it was possible, for a moment, to leave 2020 behind.
• Accommodation was provided by The King’s Arms, which has doubles from £95B&B