When we came out of lockdown, I broke an Olympic record for the speed with which I booked my colour at my hairdressers, hence it was reassuring to see Melburnians bang down the doors of their salons when their Premier released them from the longest lockdown in the world.
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. That may be why I transitioned so smoothly into living like a slob during our restrictions. Living in lounge wear day and night was a dream come true for me, and that extra layer of hair 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, 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, though, I handled the ever-widening salt and pepper line down the centre of my scalp with stoicism, and the return to my mousey roots didn’t bother me 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.
Which makes my midnight vigil outside my hairdressers all the more perplexing. Not to mentiion that as a feminist, dying my hair is a surrender to the blatant gender inequality around beauty expectations, and 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.
The sad fact is, for any chance of staying visible, I am not allowed to look my age
That is why so many women cannot give up on the last bastion of their youth.
It’s not like I enjoy the experience of sitting still in the hairdressers for two hours, staring at myself whilst I pretend not to be appalled by the cost of my foils and the special shampoos and treatments required to maintain my hair in some vaguely manageable condition. Not to mention the social anxiety I experience each visit a propos of my hairdresser, a lovely Millennial who has quietly surrendered to my refusal to talk to her – although, I’m still not sure if that unspoken rule has made our two hours together more honest or more awkward.
It’s just that 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 can, but I cannot pretend to have anything in common with a twenty-something who goes out for the night at the same time I’m going to bed. Perhaps, if she had something to add about vaginal atrophy or grumpy, middle-aged husbands, we might have something work with, but I’m just not that bothered about Tik Tok and online dating at this stage of my life.
I realise I could buy a lot of new lounge wear with that extra $200 every eight weeks, but I like being blonde and evidently, I’m not grown up enough yet to come out as an old person. Perhaps, if I was a good feminist, I would feel proud of this ageing body of mine and what it has achieved, but the shame of it is that though I can’t control what happens to my face, 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” look. But the comment came from the accountant in him rather a man who has any real desire for his wife to turn into his mother.