Article by Ceri Wheeldon
I have just been listening to Mary Beard’s BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Glad to be Grey’ where the subject of grey hair and the associated perceptions were discussed. ( here is a link to the programme ).
It was interesting that the consensus of those interviewed by Mary all thought of grey hair for women as something negative – seeing it as a sign of ageing – of walking with a cloak of invisibility – but is there another way of looking at it? I have met many women who look fabulous and stylish with grey hair- they love their grey hair, and wear it with pride and confidence.
Why is it that for men with grey hair they are considered to be distinguished, while certainly amongst Mary Beard’s guests the view was that grey hair on women suggested ‘elderly’, invisible and even ‘like a mad witch’!
It was suggested that grey hair in the workplace was a barrier to opportunity and future training – at least for women. Although personally I do not think that hair colour specifically is a barrier – but I have covered ageism in the workplace, and ways in which to use age and experience to your advantage in many other posts n this website!
Why isn’t grey hair seen as a positive thing?
Any colour hair can look terrific if conditioned and styled properly – I know several women with fabulous silver or grey bobs that women decades younger would love to have!
At the first 50plus London Fashion Week event 2 weeks ago, the models were stunning and their grey hair was far from boring – with a variety of styles – and dare I say ‘shades’ of grey !
It was suggested in the programme, that with 65% of women colouring their hair, there was also potentially commercial pressure on women to colour their hair to cover the grey – its big business – both the home use market, and also salons. It was suggested that most salons would not be able to survive without offering colour. Perhaps the beauty industry cannot afford for women choosing to go grey en masse!
I asked organic hairdresser Tabitha James-Kraan , and champion for the #gladtobegrey campaign what her thoughts were:
“As a hairdresser and organic colourist who’s expertise spans the last 18 years I wear my own hair grey because I’m walking the walk and I am not afraid of it. I feel very confident looking the way I do. I am 46 years old – I don’t look or feel older because I’m grey. I want women to feel confident and liberate them from their fear of grey hair and colour only if they want to not because they feel they have too.”
Mary Beard was keen to stress that she wore her long grey hair with pride, she also stressed that she felt she was criticised for doing so. I think it is was unfortunate that Mary only selected guests who shared the view that grey hair was ageing and negative. I would have liked to have heard from women , like Tabitha, who wear their hair grey and do not receive a negative reaction. Also I think it is not really the colour of Mary’s hair that generates the criticism, and I hate to say this, but it is more the fact that she chooses to place herself in the public eye, and onto our TV screens, while not investing in her personal appearance. I think a TV presenter in her 30s who chose not to wear makeup, have their hair styled, or invest in their clothes would be similarly criticised. I think it is more to do with personal presentation than the age factor. Daphne Selfe at 87 has fabulous long grey hair and gets booked as a model – but she also takes pride in her personal appearance.
I believe that mindset is a far more likely to create the illusion of being invisible than grey hair. Confidence and vitality , a love of life and a twinkle in the eye can create visibility at any age.
I would love your thoughts and comments on this one!