“You know I love you, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but-“
(That’s always the point when you just know you are about to be gently insulted…)
“-wearing your hair in a bun like that puts ten years on you. You’re a beautiful woman and you don’t make the best of yourself. I only want to see you looking as pretty as I know you can, but that hairdo just makes you look old, and you’re not.”
Wearing my hair in a bun just became a political act.
She’s my best friend, and I love her. And yes, you sometimes need a best friend to tell you that that shade of pink really does nothing for you. Who else can tell you stuff like that?
But why did she have to pick my hair?
Let me explain – because there is so much back story to this one that I hardly know where to start.
I stopped colouring my hair about two years ago. I live on benefits so I can’t afford to get it coloured at the hairdresser, but it was more than that. Dyeing at home is messy, time consuming and frankly exhausting, especially when you have a chronic illness which makes holding your hands above your head pretty near impossible. And exposure to the chemicals really is ‘a bit not good’.
So I am going grey. That in itself is an act of defiance.
We went to a 60th birthday party recently, with guests who were generally aged 45 or over. Mostly well over. Of around 30 women there, I was one of only two who did not have coloured hair. The other was nearly eighty. That synthetically-hued head-count shocked me more than I can say.
When did hair colour become the new norm? (Probably about the same sick moment that pubic hair for women became impossible, but I think I’m glad I missed that, and besides, the infantilisation of women for men’s sexual purposes is a whole ‘nother blog post.)
I have to tell you that I don’t particularly rejoice in being grey – at least not the shade of it that I am at the moment. It will be better when it finally goes ice white, the way my mother and grandmother went. At the moment what I have looks a bit like an accident in a pepper factory. But it is what I am, and if the alternative is wrestling with harmful chemicals in my bathroom, then I’m more than okay with it. It feels right. Sometimes I feel old, and miss my brown locks, but it’s only a temporary feeling. Mostly, I don’t even think about it. After all, I’m only forty-seven.
The bun thing is an extension of the grey thing.
I hate hairdressers. Going into a hairdressers is to me the equivalent of walking into a room filled with all the trendy girls at school who bullied me and made me feel small because I didn’t have the right clothes or make-up, or a boyfriend. If you asked me what hell looked like, I’d tell you its eternity in a chic hairdressing joint.
Which is one reason why I don’t get my hair cut particularly often. These days, I go to a place where I can just walk in and have a cheap cut, no questions asked, not have to make any small talk, or get to know anybody, or feel inadequate, and walk out again. I go regularly to get my fringe trimmed and to keep split ends at bay. My hair is in pretty good condition as a result. I look after it. I just don’t go overboard.
I had to have a lot cut off a few years back, when it got into bad shape. I went for a bob. I really felt I looked old then. Middle-aged. Like a fat woman who had given up. It was horrible. I hated it. I cried when I got home and looked into the mirror, and swore to regrow it immediately. I’m a long hair person anyway. Short hair just isn’t me.
However, I hate having my hair in the way, so I wear it up. When I was younger, it was thicker, and I could wear it in a French plait. Now it’s so thin, it looks like a rat’s tail hanging at the nape of my neck. No more plaiting for me.
I can put my hair up in a bun, though. A small bun, but a bun nevertheless. I twirl it round my fingers and stick two pins in, and away I go. No need to spend an hour blow-drying, which I couldn’t do anyway – the holding my arms up thing again. I just fix my fringe, pin the rest up, and go.
To me, its simple, elegant, and neat; kept out of the way with the minimum of fuss. And nobody else I know wears their hair like that, so I think its pretty original. An act of defiance. A Post-Modernist statement about self-definition for women in their middle years.
But apparently, it is not.
According to BFF and Husband, I just look like Mrs Pepperpot after a week-long whisky binge.
But you know what?
I don’t care.
Neither of them have come up with a viable, easy, chic alternative.
And actually, I don’t want them to. I like my hair as it is.
I’ve finally reached that much fabled time in my life where I’m happy with my body, and pretty happy in my skin. I actually like my hair like this, and I choose to wear it in a bun because I’m a bun kind of person. It feels as much a trademark as my BFF’s blonde locks or a slash of blood red lipstick.
I was reading an excerpt from India Knight’s new book about how to be a middle aged woman in the Sunday Times the other day, and my BFF’s words echoed what I felt when I read Knight’s bitchy remarks about ‘Hampstead Woman’. I.e.: Who the Hell are you to judge?
This is who I am. I am a woman of 47 who chooses to wear her (greying) hair in a bun.
I could get my hair dyed, but I choose not to. Just because I could, it doesn’t mean I should. I wouldn’t be staying true to my authentic self if I did. And the whole point of my life right now is about being authentic. Authentically myself for the first time in my life.
And that is the core of the issue for me. I want people to love me for who I am. And this is who I am.
So actually my BFF did me a favour, because the most wonderful thing happened when she gave me her opinion.
I thought, bugger that! I like the way I am!
That, dear reader, was a first.
I have never, not once, in my entire existence, ever rejected somebody’s criticism of my appearance with such concrete assurance and self-confidence. (I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been able to reject someone’s criticism of my appearance at all!)
I can’t tell you how good that feels.
So I love my friend for telling me she doesn’t like my hair this way.
Because she has reminded me that I do.
And I know this post isn’t about writing, or creativity, but it is about being a woman. And as a middle-aged woman, I hate the way society makes me feel I must be a certain way in order to be acceptable. There are no role models for women like me that aren’t painted, surgically enhanced Barbie dollies in suited pseudo-armour.
The best role model I have at my current life stage is the celebrated artist and outspoken transsexual, Grayson Perry. And if that doesn’t say everything about the way our society treats women, I don’t know what does.