21 August 2013
I can’t stop thinking about the hair of Michaella McCollum, one of the British drug ‘mules’ arrested in Peru. It is extravagant, absurd, a swollen cushion drawing unflattering attention to her long face and neck. As is that weren’t enough, she is wearing a tee shirt bearing the legend ‘La Vie est Belle’. She is doing everything she can to appear to be ‘living the dream’of youth. Fame is one necessary component of that dream, of course, and now she has that too. Perhaps she will find that consoling in the years ahead. It is all unbearably pathetic
But I can’t help wondering: how did she arrive at that hairdo? It is not casual; constructing the cushion and ensuring the strands below are tightened to uniformity must occupy a good deal of her time. It is, I am told, fashionable, though I have never seen one quite like it. I know the beehive had a resurgence in recent years, but this is not a beehive as I understand it. The style evokes, perhaps, the extravagances of some earlier age, a time when women were constructed primarily to be seen and were obliged to pursue ever more ‘unnatural’ methods. In fact, I now see why Michaella’s look rang a bell in my mind. She has some distant resemblance to John Singer Sargent’s Madame X and, indeed, perhaps Madame X would have looked just as pathetic as Michaella in the hands of the Peruvian police.
I cannot explain why the young should ape the fashions of the Edwardian baroque other than to say that, bound, as they are, to a competitive wheel, they are statistically certain to recycle every look over time. That, probably, is why this picture resonates. It advertises the ignorance of youth, its failure to grasp the narrowness of its own world, the littleness of its concerns. This ignorance is usually touching, but, left to its own devices, it can, in an instant, become as pathetic as Michaella. La vie est belle, children, except when it isn’t.