Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Mores of Hair

I've been thinking about the mores of hair for a few weeks. So much so that I decided maybe I'd just blog about it, to get those thoughts out of my head so I can go back to thinking of more important things, such as what's next for Walter White in "Breaking Bad." Although I could write a lot about the use of his hair or lack of it to convey character development, as well. But I won't.

See, I guess I've been thinking about hair because I'm aging. My once gloriously thick hair is thinning. I discover loose strands on my person all the time. And I find myself thinking more and more I should just cut it short. "Older women seem to always go for the short cut," I've been telling myself, "so maybe it's time to bite the bullet." Only I'm not ready to cut it that short again, even though I had the trendy short hair of the late 80's and 90's, because now in 2012, my face is much fatter and I hold on to the belief that my shoulder-length hair somehow helps detract from my double chin. (C'mon, people, let me keep believing that, will you?)

I've kept my hair this length for a few years now. I've been inching it up a little bit closer to chin level in the past few months to try to keep it short enough that I can't pull it back into a ponytail (because not only is that not the least bit flattering to my big face, but also I noticed that it was contributing to the hair loss, based on the huge number of hairs I would pull out daily after removing the pony tail holder), but long enough to still ameliorate said chin.

Some time ago, while looking through old Facebook photos, I found a snapshot of me when I had longer hair (yes, it's up there on the right). Granted, it's never been truly long - no Crystal Gayle floor-length locks, or even mid-back tresses for me. But in my early thirties I had let it grow down a few inches beyond the shoulders - mostly because I was so busy and exhausted by my challenging first-born that I had neither the time nor the energy to go a salon, so I just let it grow, let it grow, let it grow. And in the snapshot, I looked gorgeous. I tried to convince myself it was the hair. If I just let my hair grow longer like that, I would look like that again, right? Never mind that the photo was 7 years and 30 pounds ago. It's all about the hair.

So I mentioned this pic to my mom and said, "Maybe I'll grow my hair longer again." Her response was a quick and vehement "No!" She continued in a somewhat disgusted tone, "Long hair doesn't look good on women of a certain age!" It was a visceral reaction on her part, and it cracked me up, in part because I've always had that same belief and in part because when did I become a woman of a certain age?

But still, where did this belief come from? Apparently for me it came from my mom. My step dad was quick to say I should wear my hair however I want to and what other people think be damned (his common response to most questions or debates on social standards)! One other person to whom I mentioned this gut feeling that older women ought to have shorter hair quirked her eyebrow at me quizzically and said, "Really?" Clearly not everyone agrees with mom and me.

I'm sure there are academic treatises written on the mores of hair. Well, maybe - when I googled it, surprisingly I came up with no strong hits (beyond one blog in which a woman was speculating on how the length of a woman's hair often is seen as determining sexiness, which does actually kind of go to my point). Were I working here with my scholarly cap on, maybe I'd spend more time researching this question about "hair rules for women" in different societies throughout different historical periods. I actually like the idea of doing that, but I'm blogging, not professorializing - which is basically my excuse for being lazy and not investigating this beyond my own thoughts and experiences today. Sue me.

But it does seem the case, loosely said, that for much of western history, longer hair on women has been associated with youth, with vitality, with sexuality. As women age, we seem to be expected to put our hair up, as they did in the "olden days" in buns or braids around the head, what have you, or, in more modern times, to cut it off. To wear it more closely cropped to the head. Of course there are exceptions - I think immediately of flapper hairstyles of the 1920's and the short perms of the 1980's that many young women wore, but those seem to also be a statement, a representation of rebellion against social norms, and of times when women, in striving for more rights, often resorted to fashion which made them appear more masculine (straight-lined flapper dresses, the 80's pin-striped suits).

Longer hair on older woman is often perceived as not as attractive. I've heard some women say long hair on older females makes them look even older, not younger, because our faces have started to sag and the hair just emphasizes that. Maybe. Maybe older women are tired of dealing with longer hair and keeping it short is just easier, regardless of what pop culture may say? As we lose our high estrogen levels going through perimenopause and menopause itself, I know brain research has shown we tend, as women, to become a lot less concerned at a biochemical level (read The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine) about what people think about us. Which I guess means we probably become less concerned about social expectations in general, although we still seem to follow the hair one. But is that because it's an expected custom for us to cut our hair off, or has it become one because we decided it was just easier to have it short?

I don't know. It seems a rite of passage, this permanent cutting off of the hair. Like admitting, I'm really older now. I'm done trying to be a sexy young thing. I'm past child-bearing age and don't need to project my sexuality in that way anymore. Is that true? Or is that just one more example of my warped thinking? You do still see some older Hollywood actresses holding on to their long manes, but then again, they're also trying to hold on to their youth because being an older woman apparently is the kiss of death in terms of desirability in Hollywood (yes, in both sexual and professional terms). To most of them I just want to say, "You're not fooling anyone! Madonna, we all KNOW you're in your 50's - stop trying to convince us you're not by dressing like a 20 year old and wearing gloves to cover up the old lady veins you now sport." (Um, no, I'm not always kind in my thoughts toward others. Something else to work on, I guess.)

I'm not ready to do it yet. I'm not ready to cut it off and step over into that post-estrogen phase. And that's O.K. I'm 40. Not 80. Many, many 40+ women look gorgeous with medium to long hair. They really do. They look younger than women of the same age from generations past - in part because life is generally physically easier, probably, but we're also armed with more knowledge on better nutrition, the importance of exercising, and a vast arsenal of chemicals we slather on our faces in hopes that they will minimize wrinkles and mitigate the reality that we are no longer the 20-somethings we still feel like on the inside. Women also wait longer to go grey now, meaning of course that they color their hair, and this seems socially acceptable right up through senior citizenship.

So I guess since I'm still standing on the threshhold of this new post-fertility stage of life, I can keep mine at shoulder length for a while longer yet. I just don't dare grow it longer, or mom will be after me with scissors.

Whew. Now I can move on to more important things. Like playing CastleVille.

(And as a last side note, when I was musing about this out loud to my husband, I asked him whether 'mores' was always plural, or if one could have a singular 'more'? I went on to say I thought hair length on women was an example of a social 'more', to which he replied, "No. When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, THAT's amore...")

1 comment:

  1. I, obviously, think the whole cut your hair thing is total BS...I have NO desire to go to the more high maintenance short hair styles...and I have to say, I like your hair at a Shoulder length to just above length! If you want to try something different, I think a long bang with some light layering may succeed in lightening/thinning your face a I TOTALLY understand the double chin abhorring! :-)