WHEN I hear the term "nanny state," I picture Penelope Wilton, the rabbity British actor who appears in TV's Downton Abbey as the interfering do-gooder Cousin Isobel.
Downton Abbey is set in Britain just before, during, and after World War I - in other words, ages ago. But as the character Isobel, Wilton's constantly furrowed brow and air of bossy concern seem to characterize the modern approach to all sorts of issues. Interfering in matters that, however disturbing, aren't actually your concern, is strangely popular all over the Western World.
That trend persists, whether you're New York mayor Michael Bloomberg fighting obesity by banning giant servings of pop, or Britain's Department of Health weighing schoolchildren and sending a finger-wagging note home to the parents of those deemed too fat. There are some things that may bother you as a leader or as a ruling body, but they really aren't any of your business.
Perhaps you recall the European Union's great banana debate of 1995 through 2008. According to Wikipedia, that began when Commission Regulation (EC) No. 2257/94 decreed that all bananas must be "free of abnormal curvature" and no less than 14 cm. long.
Outcry from warped banana enthusiasts in France, Italy, Spain and Greece saved the day, and 14 years later these yellow misfits were finally allowed to reappear on produce stands with the rest of the herd. One can only imagine the celebrations among European fans of wonky banana splits.
Class 1 cucumbers also had to abide by strict rules that demanded they be "practically straight . . . bent by a gradient of no more than 1/10," according to a 2008 Guardian article. You could see the issue there, though - traditional cucumber sandwich proportions might have been decimated. The Queen and her cronies could hardly have been expected to eat such hideously deformed tea offerings.
Eventually, the EU saw the light, realizing that it was wrong to encourage food waste. Europe's fruits and vegetables once again became figures of fun, and the Queen probably switched to watercress.
Anyhoo, the latest astonishing move is that, under new proposals being drawn up in Brussels, European hairdressers will be forced to toss aside their chic footwear in favour of flats with non-slip soles. These masters and mistresses of style will also have to curtail the number of haircuts they do in a day to steer clear of "emotional collapse," and will be told to participate in "social dialogue" to ensure a workplace that's emotionally well vented.
Britain's Mail Online reports that EU Coiffure, an assembly of European salon bosses, and UNI Europe Hair & Beauty, a union for European hairdressers, will sign the decrees.
Implementing these rules will apparently cost the UK industry alone three million pounds in "wasted time and red tape."
This news, of course, set off alarm bells. Not only is it bizarre for strangers to decide what a woman puts on her feet, surely this sets a broader precedent. What next - will the Association of Flat-chested Designers insist that even buxom women wear tops with ruffles? Will the International Union of Tattoo Artists decree that its motley members pass spelling tests?
If umbrella organizations are trying to force trendsetting hairstylists to wear sensible shoes, they might as well go one step further and ban the blondification of matrons. "You're not fooling anybody; we totally know you're grey," EU and UNI might announce.
When I was younger and more concerned with fashion, I'd go to stylists who seemed au courant. While they may not have been teetering about in stilettos, they certainly never looked as though they'd dressed to work the midnight shift in an ER. Yet that's what our poor European friends will have to endure: the snip of scissors on their Brigitte Bardot bangs perhaps accompanied by the grandmotherly squeak of Keds on linoleum. Can mandated Engelbert Humperdinck on the sound system be far behind?
I beg international arbiters of workplace safety to back off. Where else do we go for ideas other than to fashionista hairdressers?
We have an hour or two per appointment to look them over and then, if possible, copy them. Otherwise, over40s who don't subscribe to In Style are stuck aping Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, or Madonna. Do you want the blame for that on your heads?
The aesthetic meddling is bad enough. But I predict a tidal wave of rebellion when customers learn that beauticians are suddenly supposed to guard themselves against stress.
"A friseur should not be entitled to her own feelings," the European ladies will scoff. "Is she not merely a receptacle for my angst?"
I'm with them. I've always thought of stylists as spiritual air purifiers: They take in whatever we feel like spewing, process it, and return it to us, making it sound as reasonable as possible.
"You're upset that you can only spend two nights in Whistler because you have to come back to town for your doggy's meditation class? That blows," says perpetually agreeable stylist Tantrelle, or whoever.
God love her - and I tip her. Why should she ever be forced
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