Monday, October 25, 2010
Reponse to NYT article: Why can't middle-age women have long hair.
Dominique Browning's piece is first, my comments follow. Please note that the accompanying photo of Kristen MacMenamy has her recent photo at age 45 when it caused some brou-ha-ha on HP. The author of the story says she is 55 years old. I guess both ages could be considered "midlle-age."
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 Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda 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 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 Loren, Charlotte Rampling, Isabelle 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.
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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.
What she is talking about is loss of her sexuality. Her hair represents her sexulity, thus her womanhood and femininity. She doesn't want to feel the pain of that loss completely. Her Mother like many others feels that you must put your sexuality behind you at a certain age. Your sexuality at the very least if not most of your femininity and womanliness. On one level the author is rebelling against that.
The other component is the" looks thing" and the "aging thing." A Woman's hair can look "aging" if it is not healthy and shiny and youthful etc. That is why in most of the make-overs you see--the women (who are the usual subjects) have 10 years taken off their face just by the haircut alone.
What the author means when she says "there is hope" is: her hair allows her; enables her to feel that her outward youthful beauty and inward sexuality some of it at least remains.
This is something that can define a whole woman's life, or just be a part of it. That is why it is an issue for an aging woman. But I have noticed that no one really wants to talk about it.
On another note: The old days she speaks could be confining, time-consuming and difficult dealing with really long, thick heavy hair. The ease of shampoo, conditioner, hot running water from a shower, blow dryers and array of brushes, have made long hair much easier to care for now than it was a during our grandmother and great grandmothers time. esp. if they had that super-long super heavy hair that had to be piled on top of their head during the day.
Another note is that it is connected with fashion and culture. A short bob haircut was a symbol of sexual freedom and assertion for women. Because they threw the shackles off of the long hair described in my previous paragraph. There is an excellent description of this in a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Berenice Bobs her hair."
Posted by Aitch at 12:01 PM