Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What do you think?

I saw a photo of a women about my age with beautiful flowing gray hair this morning, and I felt validated for choosing to keep my hair long. As a matter of fact, I plan to tell my hair stylist to trim "just a little" at my haircut appointment this week.

Seeing the picture this morning reminded me of the New York Times article by Dominique Browning that appeared on October 21, 2010.

By the way, here's my latest photo - long flowing gray hair and all.

Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?

MY mother hates it. My sister worries about it. My agent thinks I’m hiding behind it. A concerned friend suggests that it undermines my professional credibility. But in the middle of my life, I’m happy with it. Which is saying a lot about anything happening to my 55-year-old body.
I feel great about my hair.
I have long hair. I’m not talking about long enough to brush gently on my shoulder — when I tilt my head. I’m not talking about being a couple of weeks late to the hairdresser. I’m talking long. Long enough for a ponytail with swing to it. Long enough to sit against when I’m in a chair. Long enough to have to lift it up out of the sweater I’m pulling over my head. Long enough to braid.
What’s worse (to my critics) is that my hair is graying. Of course it is. Everyone’s hair is graying. But some of us aren’t ready to go there. That’s fine with me — I’m not judgmental about dyes. In fact, I find the range and variety of synthetic hair color to be an impressive testament to our unending chemical creativity. I’m particularly fascinated by that streaky kaleidoscopic thing some blondes do that looks kind of like Hair of Fawn. For my own head, I’m a tad paranoid about smelly, itchy potions.
No one seems to have any problems when a woman of a certain age cuts her hair off. It is considered the appropriate thing to do, as if being shorn is a way of releasing oneself from the locks of the past. I can see the appeal, and have, at times in my life, gone that route. Some women want to wash the men (or jobs) right out of their hair. Others of us have to have at them with scissors. Again, I do not judge. Go right ahead, be a 60-year-old pixie.
So why do people judge middle-aged long hair so harshly? I’ve heard enough, by now, to catalog the multitudinous complaints into several broad categories.
YOU’RE ACTING OUT. Long hair is not the appropriate choice of grown-ups. It says rebellion. Hillary Rodham Clinton softens her do, and sets off a bizarre Howl of Angry Inches, as if she had betrayed some social compact. Well, my long hair is indeed a declaration of independence. I am rebelling, variously, against Procter & Gamble, my mother, Condé Nast and, undoubtedly, corporate America in general. Whereas it used to be short hair that was a hallmark of being a liberated woman — remember the feminist chop? I do; I did it — these days, long hair is a mark of liberation.
My mother has a lot to say about my looks: Where did you find that shirt? Did you forget your makeup? She recently suggested, fluttering her hands in the vicinity of her ears, that I get just a very little trim. As if she thought she could still trick me into the barber’s chair to re-enact one of the central traumas of my childhood, when I was marched into a hair salon (so that’s where mothers went?) with hair to my waist and came out an outraged, stunned, ravaged 7-year-old with a stylish, hateful pageboy.
My mother’s favorite expression to me is “Make an Effort.” What she doesn’t understand, of course, is that just because things don’t turn out the way she thinks they should doesn’t mean an effort wasn’t made. It is incredible how parents and children never let go of old habits of relating. My mother still makes me feel like a 15-year-old. However, that no longer feels like a bad thing, if you see what I mean.
YOU’RE STILL LIVING IN THE ’70S. And why not? I like being 55 going on 15. As far as I’m concerned, we never did get better role models than that gang of girls who sang their hearts out for us through lusty days and yearning nights: Bonnie RaittJoni MitchellLinda Ronstadt, Cher. Emmylou Harris is still a goddess in my book, with that nimbus of silver hair floating past her shoulders. Next thing you know, we’ll take to wearing beaded leather headbands across our foreheads. And, I might add, that was a good look.
If you want to throw Princess Grace, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Pussy Galore, Sophia LorenCharlotte RamplingIsabelle Huppert, Julie Christie and Catherine Deneuve into the mix, who am I to complain? While those sexy sisters are hovering, I might note, with a sense of wonder, that Europeans are much more comfortable with long hair on women of a certain age. But then again, they’re more comfortable with women of a certain age in general. Perhaps I should move to Paris. Come to think of it, this would be making the kind of effort that would make my mother happy.
LONG HAIR IS HIGH MAINTENANCE. Yes, I’ll admit that it is a look that requires tender loving care. It is impossible to body surf without getting seaweed tangled up in it. It is impossible to get it completely dry when one is in a rush to get to a job interview or a blind date. It is impossible to forget one’s hairbrush when one travels. It is impossible to garden or farm or weave or cook without one’s hair getting in the way. I have knitted many a gray strand into many a scarf. Which, by the way, I consider a nice touch. Anyone who disagrees can send me back his Christmas present. It is impossible to let the vacuuming go for too long, lest the bezoars (new vocabulary word) become large enough to choke a tiger.
You would think that having long hair means you are spending a lot of money on hair products. I won’t even tell you what my Madison Avenue hairdresser, Joseph — the consummate high-end hair professional! — told me about how we shouldn’t even be using all those chemically laden shampoos. O.K., I will tell you: Those shampoos strip out the hair’s protective oils, and then you have to replace them with other chemical brews. He recommends regular hot water rinses and massaging of the scalp with fingertips. A little patience is required while the scalp’s natural oils rebalance themselves and — voilà — glossy, thick tresses, for free.
Is it not wonderfully sexy the way our grandmothers, those women of the prairie, or concrete canyons, would braid their hair up in the morning and let their cowboys unravel them at night? Is there not a variety of excellent looks for taming long hair in high winds? What is cooler than stopping to wrap a silk scarf around your mane before you step into a zippy convertible?
MEN LIKE LONG HAIR. Wait. You say that like it’s a bad thing? Long hair is archetypal. And everyone knows that archetypes are all tangled up with desire. There’s a reason mermaids, Selkies and witches have long hair. Ballerinas, too. We all know Rapunzel’s tale, how she sat at the top of her lonely tower, her long hair hanging out the window, until finally, a prince climbed its ropy length to rescue her. Or impregnate her, depending on which version you read. Either way, it worked.
Men like to play with women’s long hair. They like to run their fingers through heavy tresses. They like to loosen tight braids. They like it when long hair tents over their faces during soulful kisses. The long of it is that long hair is sexy. (So is short hair, of course, but in a different way, and we’re not making that case — yet.) The short of it is that long hair means there is always, at least, hope.

Dominique Browning, the author of “Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness,” writes a column for the Environmental Defense Fund Web site and blogs at http://www.dominiquebrowning.com/.


Anonymous said...

Loved your blog. 51 and still have the long locks!
Sarah Martin Byrd

February Grace said...

You're beautiful- and so is your lovely long hair.

When I was a teen I once wrote down everything that everyone suggested to me that I should do to my hair. The long list included: cut it, grow it out, wear bangs, no bangs, perm, no perm, bleach it blonde, dye it black...you get the picture.

The only thing no one ever suggested I do was shave my head though I'm sure that if I'd kept listening, someone would have. Now I wear it the way I want, and don't give it a second thought.

Life's too short. Be who you want to be :~)


Janice Phelps Williams said...

Madeline, I love your long hair and I think you look beautiful and elegant with it. Long hair gives a softness to one's appearance, I think, and depending on their features and body, this can be a good thing. Dark hair (through dye) as we age tends to look harsher and make us look older (I think), so maybe silver hair is nature's way of softening our look and adding to our mature beauty. Your hair is framing your face, not overpowering it.

For much of my life I had really short hair, really really short hair. I've had it dark brown (my natural color), red, and blonde. I think of coloring my hair like one more thing I can paint. But I now have it long and I like the versatility of that. I wear it in a ponytail most of the time (because I am always too hot) or up on top of my head. But when we go out, I wear it down and Mark loves that. Even my sons have an opinion on my hair, they prefer it long as well.

I'm not sure why the prejudice against long hair, but I've heard it myself, so I know some folks are very confused on this issue! Some women "run with scissors" and others "walk with long hair and carry stones." That would be us!

madeline40 said...

Thank you all for your comments and kudos.

Bob always says he fell in love with a girl with short dark hair. Unfortunately I can't be that girl for him anymore, and that, I think, the source of my conflict about whether to keep it long or to cut it.

But, one thing is certain - I won't dye it anymore. Dark hair against an old face just doesn't work - as Janice says.

So for now - hooray for long hair on aging women. I love the versatility too.


I am 36 years old and have battled to get some lenght for years. I think long hair is absolutely adorable. Especially that morning look . when you get up and just put a clip in with out combing it first .


Paula said...

I can't wait for your hair to become grow longer! My hairstylist there is only one reason why a women should cut the hair: when it's not healthy or very thin. As long as you have healthy, strong hair, you can wear it at any lenght.
I have the same discussions at home with my 3yr older sister and my mum who is your age. Besides, there is nothing more soothing than a nice hair-mask or conditioner, detangling and softening your hair.

madeline40 said...

I'm about to get a haircut again tomorrow, and I was being wishy-washy about cutting or not cutting yet again. After rereading this, I've decided to keep it long. Just a trim, please, Ma'am!