Is grey hair the ultimate Western image taboo for women?
So instead of banging on about global Armageddon as usual on BGOTR let’s untangle the ultimate aesthetic western issue for women. Lighten up a bit. But even this apparently trivial topic has an uncomfortable subtext. In the developing world too often people don’t go grey because – frankly - they don’t get the chance. At the other end of the where-you-were-born lottery we kid ourselves that because we have everything else money can buy – we can buy youth. Or an approximation.
I’m not dying out my grey hair because frankly I can’t be arsed. But as I look around me I wonder if going grey IN PUBLIC is the equivalent of walking round with your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers. Are people sniggering at me – pointing behind my back? Do they expect me to start picking up litter in the middle of the road while muttering to myself?
And grey is so IN. Look at Jeremy Corbyn. On the other hand – you are right – he’s a bloke and generally it’s still us women (even the sensible ones who have decided not to bother with extreme dieting or face lifts or botox or boob jobs or any of that oppressive crap) who still will not let grey hair show.
It’s a novel contradiction because grey is a colour we just adore in public life. There are huge grey areas in morality for example. Look at the army of politicians and other public figures who seem not to realise when they should resign. Should I refer to the bankers who did not end up in jail? Or is that - as one journalist put it - just too boring to be bothered with. ‘So yesterday’.
But today I want to stick with a more work-a-day but in some ways telling greyness. Grey hair. Or lack of evidence of its existence.
I don’t especially enjoy seeing the creeping greyness on my own pate (you can see some in my new blog profile pic though the shot isn’t clear enough to show just how much there now is). I am beginning to get that out-of-step sensation that is never far away from me. However, I also realise, because as I said I spend a lot of time scribbling about the unfairnesses of the world, that I am bloody lucky to get the chance to go grey.
The oddness of NOT dying out grey hair came home to me a few months ago when working with a school writing group. Week 1. I’d worn a headscarf. Week 2. I wore my hair down – which meant a lot of the grey didn’t show. Week 3. I wore my hair up without a headscarf. As we sat down to say our hellos a boy shrieked,
“Miiiiiss – you’ve got GREY HAIR.”
He said it like you might say, ‘you’ve got a tarantula on your shoulder’ or ‘Miss you’ve just trodden on my ingrown toenail’ or ‘Seriously Miss - you’re related to the Bay City Rollers?’ (which I sort of, kind of am – very indirectly).
There are some insightful quotes about aging which suggest we have acknowledged for generations just how ridiculous our attitude to the issue is -
‘I have everything I had twenty years ago – it’s just all a bit lower’
Gipsy Rose Lee
‘I prefer old age to the alternative’
(Variations of this have been attributed to many people over the years but most know it from Maurice)
‘One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that would tell one anything’
However, Mr Wilde also said
‘Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit’ – so I will stop there.
Surely the one we ought to pay most attention to is the one attributed to Maurice. Grey hair should be some sort of status symbol; far more impressive than a yacht or expensive car or designer handbag.
Shouldn’t a woman with grey hair be more likely to be listened to, respected, attributed with a modicum of understanding of the strangeness of this world? Instead it seems to denote some indolent slattern who can’t be bothered to get herself along to the hairdresser once a fortnight for chemical alteration. Maybe if she lets her grey hair show she also has dirty skirting boards or out of date food in the fridge?
On the other hand – when the cosmic time register is totted up – you know the one – x amount of hours spent watching TV at home (since 1999), x amount of time stacking a dishwasher (ever), x amount of time dying grey hair – I am glad there will be a big fat zero next to my name.
Let’s be honest, even if you are lucky enough not to have been born in a country where the world thinks it’s ok for you to die before your 5th birthday LIFE’s TOO SHORT.