When we came out of lockdown, I broke an Olympic record for the speed with which I booked the recolouring of my hair with my hairdresser. Ageism has a lot to answer for, proven by a recent study by Australian Seniors that showed the drastic lengths middle-aged women and men go to – from hair colouring to plastic surgery – to remain visible, relevant, and employable.
Ageism has a lot to answer for
I’m lucky, apart from basic body hygiene, I don’t have to maintain any particular beauty standards for my job, and neither am I high maintenance when it comes to my appearance. Which may be why I transitioned so smoothly into slob-dom during our restrictions. For me, living in lounge wear day and night was a dream come true, and that extra layer of fuzz on my legs made the switch from autumn to winter much less painful.
But it was a different story with the hair on my head. Like many middle-aged women, I went through the seven stages of grief as the visible signs of my age crept through my parting.
Hats and scarves helped me hide them, but my biggest low point – at the Mare Sheehan stage of rootage – was when I succumbed to smudging my roots with mascara.
I wouldn’t recommend it.
In retrospect, I handled the ever-widening salt and pepper line down the centre of my scalp with a level of grace and stoicism, and the return to my mousey roots didn’t bother me quite as much as I thought it would. So much so, the closer we got to the magical seventy percent vaccination rate required to open our salons, I began to seriously toy with the idea of ageing naturally.
So what was my midnight vigil outside my hairdressers all about? I am a feminist after all and dying my hair is a surrender to the blatant gender inequality around beauty expectations. Each time I agree to pay through the nose to highlight my hair, I’m giving into the narrative that youth trumps pretty much everything.
If I want to stay visible, I cannot look my age
It’s not like I’m one of those women who enjoy the experience of sitting still in the hairdressers for two hours, staring at myself either. I struggle to hide my disdain for the cost of my foils and the special shampoos and treatments required to maintain my hair in some vaguely manageable condition. My hairdresser is a lovely Millennial who has surrendered to my refusal to talk to her, but I’m still not sure if that unspoken rule has made our two hours together more honest or more awkward.
I can’t chit-chat inanely about the mundanities of life with a woman whose biggest daily conflict is the straightness of her hair
I know other women my age who can, but I cannot pretend to have anything in common with a twenty-something who goes out for the night around the same time I’m going to bed. Perhaps, if she had some understanding of vaginal atrophy or grumpy, middle-aged men, we might have something to work with, but I’m just not that bothered about Tik Tok and online dating at this stage of my life.
The sad fact is I like being blonde and evidently, I’m not grown up enough yet to come out as an old person. I know I should feel proud of this ageing body of mine and what it has achieved, but though I can’t control what happens to my fact is I can still control the colour of my hair
As I left the house for my appointment, my husband told me how beautiful I looked with my new “natural” hair. But I suspect the comment came from the accountant in him rather a man who has any real desire for his wife to turn into his mother.