Saturday, January 5, 2008

It's All in the Hair

A year or so ago, Vanity Fair had an article, complete with group photo, of our nation's legislators. There they stood, our elected leaders in all of their glory, with most of the men quite clearly grey eminences and most of the women resolutely blonde. It was an interesting moment for me, seeing women my age and older who were definitely figures of political power proclaiming with their hair that they were worth it.
Now that Hillary Clinton has set off on the highest campaign trail, the hair issue becomes even more clearly delineated. Bill, the Elder Statesman, is beautifully, radiantly silver. Hillary, poised to pick up where her husband left off, is grimly blonde. Not for her the gravitas conferred upon the male gender by going grey, and the question becomes even more insistent: Why not?
Then Christmas came and went and one of my sons showed me photos from the year before in which I was walking beside my grown children, dressed in my usual quirky dressed for excess fashion, looking like Whistler's Mother in 21rst century drag. It was a weird awakening to how I looked to the rest of the world, and it was unsettling.
The next time I bought necessities of life I picked up a box of cheap, semipermanent, brown hair color, and ruined two towels when I applied it that evening. The next morning I looked at my reflection and burst into tears.
Having color again, after seven years of looking like an old photographic negative, was that much of a shock. It was also a wake-up call. My new hair color made me realize that my grey hair was incongruent to the way I think and dress and live. I am a woman who is not yet ready for gravitas.
Nor am I ready for invisibility. Going grey sends a message to the world that says "I'm fading; I'm not totally present. Pay attention when you have the time." It's a sign of surrender to age which confers the protection of camouflage and a sort of obligatory respect. It is the Western world's equivalent to the Islamic headscarf.
It's ridiculous, but I have a feeling of enhanced energy since I colored my hair. I feel revitalized and more of the person I believe myself to be. No, it's not the first step down the slippery slope toward cosmetic surgery--it's makeup, just like the color I apply to my eyes, cheeks and mouth every morning without fail before presenting myself to the world. And it may become more than semipermanent.


Alison said...

You know, I love your hair - it is the hair that I envy. Send me a picture so I can love the new look too, okay? I colored my hair last summer and am still having it cut out. It looked good at the time, but now looks too much like "hardwater red".

I love your writing.


Janet Brown said...

Oh mine's a bit brassy too but I figure that fits my personality.

Eugene Latt said...

You always talk about old age.Old age is also something you can take pride as being an experienced person.

Janet Brown said...

Dear dear Eugene--
Your comment is a perfect example of why I want to move back to SE Asia. It's a spot in the world where age and experience are valued more than they are in the place that I was born in.