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Why That Winona Ryder Shampoo Commercial Stirred Up Such a Frenzy

After a fall in which long-secret sexual harassment and abuse charges came to light, taking up more Hollywood oxygen than any single movie or show, this year’s Golden Globes were supposed to be a different kind of awards show: namely, one that took women seriously. Amid the black dresses, activist plus ones, and Time’s Up speeches, a commercial that compared Winona Ryder’s comeback to the restoration of damaged hair struck a very strange note.

In the commercial, for L’Oreal Elvive hair products, an actress in a black gown fidgets and paces around a dressing room, only her shiny, healthy hair in focus. Then a handler gives her the cue to come onstage, and once she’s in the wings, her face is revealed: It’s Ryder. And then these words flash on the screen: “Everyone loves a comeback. Damaged hair deserves one too.” After a reprieve in the form of an ad for the movie The Post, a different variation of the L’Oreal ad played, repeating the comeback slogan, just to reinforce the message.

You’d be forgiven if the commercial’s high production value and main character’s star power initially reeled you in: What a reveal! Winona Ryder! Reaction on social media was similarly split, between those who found the ad striking and those who, well, didn’t.

Appealing and even beguiling though the ad was, it only takes a moment of thought to identify the flaw in likening a starlet’s career to the state of some undernourished dead skin cells: Is the ad saying that Ryder’s career is desiccated and damaged? That Hollywood legend Winona Ryder and a head full of limp hair are both equally deserving of a comeback?

It’s arguably true that Ryder’s career stalled after her 2001 arrest for shoplifting, and it’s also true that it’s been a joy to see her enjoy some recent success as one of the stars of the smash-hit Stranger Things. But she was also great in Black Swan, Star Trek, Show Me a Hero … no need to call it a comeback; she’s been here for years.

Many a beauty product commercial has stumbled when trying to put forth this kind of inspiring message. It’s the Dove dilemma: You want to show women how beautiful they are, but in order to sell them something, apparently you have to also convince them that they’re damaged in some way.

Then there’s the larger problem of how Hollywood treats women who age out of ingenue roles. Ryder’s shoplifting scandal coincided with her entrance into her 30s, a time when roles dry up for many actresses, scandal-ridden or not. Ultimately this ad felt weirdly tone-deaf on a night when Hollywood was at last trying to make a concerted effort toward equity for women. Time’s Up is supposed to be a slogan aimed at perpetrators of violence and harassment, but for a long time, it’s been the message Hollywood has sent to women it no longer deems desirable. So which is it: Time’s up, 46-year-old actress, on daring to still have a career, or time’s up, Hollywood, on spreading the message that beauty and talent have an expiration date?

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