When we came out of lockdown, I broke an Olympic record for the speed with which I booked my colour at my hairdressers, so it was reassuring to see Melburnians bang down the doors of theirs when their Premier released them from one of the longest lockdowns around 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. Truth be told, living in lounge wear day and night was a dream come true 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.
I was thankful that hats were in vogue, although I do remember one low point (at the Mare Sheehan stage of rootage) when I succumbed to smudging my roots with mascara – not recommended.
In retrospect, though, I handled the ever-widening salt and pepper line down the centre of my scalp stoically, 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 up our salons – inspired by all those stunning, mature celebrities who have embraced the grey, Andie MacDowell being an obvious stand-out – I began to seriously toy with the idea of ageing naturally.
Which makes my midnight vigil outside my hairdressers the night before freedom day all the more perplexing. Because, as a feminist, it goes against every follicle on my body to surrender to the blatant gender inequality around beauty standards. And each time I agree to pay through the nose to highlight my hair, I know I’m giving into the narrative that youth trumps pretty much everything, and for any chance of staying visible, I mustn’t look my age.
So why do I do it? Why can’t I give up on this last bastion of my youth?
It’s not like I enjoy the experience of sitting still, staring at myself for two hours, having to pretend that I’m not 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 can’t be certain if our unspoken rule around engagement has made our two hours together more honest or more awkward.
I can’t chit-chat confidently about the mundanities of life with a woman whose biggest daily conflict is the straightness of her hair
Other women my age seem able to chit-chat confidently about Netflix shows and their next holiday, but I can’t do it. I have tried, 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. And this visit, my hell was ramped up a notch because of the amount of rehabilitation my hair required after its four months in the wilderness. Sea water turns turns it into a tangled, untameable frizz, so this time I set another world record for time spent at the sink with a junior who couldn’t adjust the temperature of the water or stop talking.
Evidently, she hadn’t read the memo about my verbal reticence, so while I spent most of the time worrying whether she had removed the top layer of my scalp, the cost of the toner (ka-ching!), and some other special treatment I needed… apparently (ka-ching, ka-ching!), she had talked me through her guide to the best online stores for crop tops. And by the time we reached the only enjoyable part of my hairdressing experience – the head massage – I couldn’t get out of my chair fast enough.
The sad truth is, I can’t control what happens to my face, but I can still control the colour of my hair
I could buy a lot of new lounge wear with that extra $200+, but sadly I like being blonde and I’m not grown up enough yet to come out as an old person. Perhaps, if I was a good feminist or had more confidence, I would feel proud of this ageing body of mine and what it has achieved, see it more like a precious piece of antique furniture that should be valued, rather than a pimped, second-hand car.
But as I left the house, prior to my appointment, and the old man told me how beautiful I looked with my new, natural waves, I knew he was lying and that the comment came from the accountant in him rather than any real desire for me to turn into his mother.