Ladies Who Lotion
An inescapable TV trope, and an Instagram account dedicated to following it.
When do you moisturize? Or more importantly, how? Do you lube up vigorously, after a romantic dispute, venting your problems into the rough patches on your elbow? Or maybe you hydrate during quiet moments of introspection, staring at the mirror before tucking in for the night?
I don’t know anyone who does this. Yet Hollywood, especially TV shows, seems to think we hop into bed dewy — and has some specific rules about females and lotion application.
For almost a decade Beth Wawerna, front woman of the band Bird of Youth, has been bemused by this trope, which she refers to as “night lotion.” After encouragement from friends and a few drinks one night, she decided to make an Instagram account dedicated to these subtle occurrences on TV.
According to her there are two ways Hollywood keeps these women so well oiled. Here’s a primer (pun absolutely intended): This moonlit ritual is either a woman alone having a moment before bed. Or a woman tearing her hubby a new one.
“I’m not saying I never put on lotion,” Wawerna says to me over Cokes at a cafe. “But right before I slip into bed, the last thing I want to be is covered in a greasy film.” Wawerna did some research, asking all the women around her, “Do you talk to your husband before bed while applying lotion for about five minutes?” The answer was always, unequivocally, no.
Within these portrayals, there are slight variations. “I often find that if it’s coming from a place of anger it’s mostly this (vigorously rubs arm) on the elbows,” notes Wawerna. “If it’s like loneliness, or depression, it’s a face lotion. If it’s a pre-sex lotion,” she whispers, “it’s the leg.” Sometimes it’s even totally earnest lotion, like Connie Britton’s Rayna in “Nashville.”
In speaking with Wawerna, I can tell she has a sixth sense for night lotion — it isn’t something you can go looking for. It has to come to you.
“It’s obviously some sort of crutch,” says Wawerna. “I don’t know if it’s true and I need to do actual research to figure this out, but are most of those scenes written by men?” That would explain the prevalence of the “big ugly-ass bottle of Jergens.”
This is neither death wish on buying Jergens in bulk, nor a critique on moisturizing; we all need a bit of softness in our lives. The problem here is that the lotion, whether sensually applied or rubbed vigorously, is a visual distraction during moments of potential character development and depth. “Is there anything else a woman can do?” Wawerna asks me in giddy exasperation. “Can we just sit with this woman, who’s clearly having a moment with herself, or going through something?”
Perhaps as a medium, TV demands some physicality on screen at all times, especially so if it can help convey a basic emotion. This isn’t some Lars Von Trier movie where we’re expecting long gazes to let us know the words unspoken between partners. This is prime time, baby. Leftovers from dinner have been begrudgingly put in the fridge, teeth are brushed, and tomorrow is too soon. It’s our time to consume unthinkingly.
I wonder aloud if “This is Us” has any night lotion. A happy-go-lucky family drama with an array of couples’ fights and domestic scenes, it seems ripe for one. “Oh there’s going to be a lot of night lotion in that,” she assures me. She’s only seen six episodes, but has an instinct for it by now. “Mandy Moore is so going to put on night lotion, like please.”
Wawerna’s instinct is right. By and large, night lotioners are “bougie white women,” though not exclusively. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them basic (even Buffy, a literal slayer of Vampires, is guilty of Victoria’s Secret’s Pear lotion in one episode).
There is, however, is a touch of sadness that comes from knowing some of our favorite TV heroines sat down with their script, and while flipping through, saw those dreaded directions: “she sits down slowly. Pumping bottle of lotion while she yells, applies.”
What if Carmela Soprano, the best female character on TV (in my humble, New Jersey opinion), night lotions between screaming matches with Tony? Dear God, what about Rhonda Pearlman from “The Wire?” Please, please spare wire-tapping, legal liaising, Rhonda from this fate.
“Rhonda would totally apply lotion,” says Wawerna, meeting me in my solemnity.
Sketch comedy shows like “Broad City” and “Inside Amy Schumer” are working to deconstruct some of TV’s norms about femininity, offering up a new way to watch women that doesn’t feel forced. Think what you will about Lena Dunham and her “GIRLS,” but there’s probably no night lotion in there. Spunk, booze, and vomit yes, but that show’s interest is far less about the ways women make themselves supple than it is about their raw, and sometimes cracked selves.
Wawerna believes that she’s not the only one hip to this phenomenon. Her very first @nightlotion post in July, 2015 is Kristen Schaal as Carol in “The Last Man on Earth.” Here, Carol is literally living in a post-apocalyptic world, wearing what looks like little boy pajamas, while lubing up her feet. It’s the antithesis of sexy, or even manic pixie sexy. “They’re totally fucking with that trope here!” says Wawerna.
Her greatest fear about starting the account was that people just wouldn’t get it, or would think it was weird. As her small but loyal followers can attest, she’s struck a chord: “When I find a like-minded night lotion person, it’s a really special thing.”
@Nightlotion is precisely that: a special thing. Like a favorite TV show to be gobbled up with girlfriends in the hopes that a new season, or post, comes soon. Isn’t it reaffirming to know that no one actually looks like this when they’re arguing with their partner? We may be doing something else physical, like peeing with the door open, or standing in your underwear, arms crossed over your hometown Little League. Whatever you’re doing, you’re probably not putting on lotion.
So stay dry ladies, and one day we’ll get the tropes we deserve.
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