(This is a reprint of a column I wrote several years ago, but it is just as relevant today as when I first wrote it and for my first post, I wanted to put this out there again – please let me know your thoughts)
Do you remember the days when people actually looked their age? When we think back to our grandparents, memories include family dinners, rounded figures and…gray hair. Gasp! Yes, women of a certain age actually had gray or even white hair. Sometimes blue hair as well. But back then, seeing a woman in her sixties with dark hair was as rare as, well, seeing a 60-year-old woman today with gray hair.
Where did all the gray-haired ladies go? They went the way of record players, black and white TV and using baby oil as suntan lotion. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a woman who had gray hair? Men have it so much easier. As they age, they become more distinguished. When their hair starts turning gray, they become silver foxes. When our hair grays, we become invisible.
Look at the TV and movie landscapes. Actresses past the age of 30 are terrified of disappearing off the map completely or being relegated to doting mother or catty mother-in-law roles. They firm up, tone up, slim down, spray on tans and secretly meet with their plastic surgeons in the hope that no one will be able to discover their true age. Think of the actresses in their sixties and seventies with jet-black hair or peroxide blond hair that you have recently seen in the media. Now, try to come up with one actress of the same generation who you have seen with gray hair. Several months ago, one of the morning talk shows had a short discussion on this subject and the name of the late Jessica Tandy came up as an example of a lovely actress who was unafraid to show her true age. She was a beautiful and talented lady, and also, it seems, the last of her kind.
The baby boomers and subsequent generations are fixated on youth. It’s as if we can fool ourselves and everyone else into believing that we are eternally young. Hence, we refuse to age, both physically and emotionally. Look on the shelves of any bookstore and, along with half the shelves bulging with diet books, you will find multitudes of books on the subject of staying younger, looking younger and feeling younger. There is nothing inherently wrong in wanting to be healthy and strong for as long as possible. But, let’s face reality. Once you’ve hit your forties, you can no longer be considered young (unless you are running for president). For a harsh dose of reality, hang out with real teenagers and see what they think of your feeble attempts to pass as ‘with it.’ (I just dated myself with that expression, didn’t I?)
Why do we punish women for daring to get old? Once we are past child-bearing age, our societal worth plummets along with our own self-esteem. We try to convince ourselves that we are happy this way; that we no longer have to worry about being perfect or stylish or beautiful. I get humorous emails almost daily from various friends reminding me of how lucky we are to be the age we are now because we are liberated and free to let it all just hang out. That we can speak our minds without the fear of repercussions. But if no one is paying attention to us, who is actually listening when we spout off?
I admit that I am caught up in the grip of the youth obsession as much as anyone else. I panic when gray hairs reappear in the salon-created hair color of my youth. I groan when I am shopping at the department store and realize that in order to retain any shred of dignity, I cannot even think of trying on the styles that I find cute and stylish as they are only suited for my teenage daughter. I cringe every time I look in the mirror and wonder whose face is staring back at me, as it most certainly clashes with my own much-younger perception of myself.
We are a society where image is king. When it is discovered that the emperor has no clothes, the spin doctors frantically go to work to convince us that wearing no clothes is the newest thing. Unfortunately, the newest thing gets old very quickly. Unless they manage to hide the gray.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved