Aged and Long-Haired

11 Apr

Last fall, the Style section of the NYTimes published a nicely personal essay entitled: “Why Can’t Middle-Aged Women Have Long Hair?”

The article immediately became enormously popular and provocative, generating over 1200 readers’ comments.

I thought of the article this morning, as I was thinking about a woman I’d seen yesterday working  at a shop I frequent. She was wearing a sleeveless black knee-length dress, was barefooted, possessed a very sinewy body and had long wavy hair. The hair was grayish, and the woman was most likely in her early 50’s. She was beautiful, in a stunning, unique way, and it was difficult not to stare at her. (She also chewed her gum like a cowpoke chews a toothpick, but this did not detract from her charms.)

One of the reasons this woman stood out to me is because she looked different from anyone else in the shop: no shoes, long hair, and older. The first 2 things are generally not accompanied by the latter, at least not in mainstream circles or environments. But why is that? I remembered the NYTimes essay, rereading it today. For the author Dominique Browning, there are a couple concise reasons she believes are generally proffered to the rapunzeled rebel: “you’re acting out;” “you’re still living in the 70’s.” I think she omits an important one however–“you are not acting your age.” But how, in any way, does aging have anything to do with hair length?

Possessing long hair, wearing it in inventive braids and buns, draws attention to oneself. Waving behind her head like a flag, the long-haired woman is definitely not fading into the background.
Herein lies the problem: it is because of her refusal to hide herself, that the long-haired aging woman is somehow serving as a kind of affront to cultural presumptions and pigeonholes. Refusing to recede into the woodwork, and persisting in celebrating herself and her choices, the long-haired aging woman demands that she be seen according to her own standards of beauty. And that is a beautiful thing.


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