Aging, Grey Hair and Personal Appeal

We live in a society infatuated with catchphrases and sound bites, which quickly makes truisms over-familiar. So the line about us all being obsessed with youth slides past our brains without consideration. But a few recent articles in the youth-fixated media got me thinking about the subject.

In 2011, TIME magazine published the findings of a large study on people’s perception of their own age. The headline conclusion was memorable for its mathematical neatness. They found that the average woman decides she’s getting old when she finds her first grey hair – at about the age of 29. Men on average start to believe they might not be young anymore at exactly twice that age – 58. When they notice decreasing performance in the bedroom department. And those are the reasons so much money is made from selling hair dye and little blue pills.

So why this inconsistency? The old adage that men are attracted to women who can potentially bear them children and women look for a successful mate who’ll be a good provider would have made sense for our distant ancestors and could well survive as a remnant from those days. And it’s so true. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the sight of firm young beefcake as much as the next gal – but there’s a lot to be said for a nicely-matured steak as well. If you want to know more, buy me a pint someday and start talking about favourite actors.

But are we really so polarised? And so unchanging? If we ladies are allowed to appreciate fit, twenty-year-old men and the concept of a puma (older woman who preys on young men) has entered the vocabulary, why can’t men admit to fancying a confident woman who is openly older than thirty? A male actor can expect to move from leading man into character roles as his looks mature and there are many who continue to find work throughout their adulthood. But their female counterparts vanish from our screens as soon as their first wrinkle can’t be hidden – apart from the occasional matriarchal role. Of course, there are always exceptions to any sweeping statement. There’s Helen Mirren and, um, Helen Mirren.

Women who try to break the ageist mould are targeted by press and public alike. Look at the furore over model Kristen McMenamy openly sporting her beautiful grey locks. And the latest brouhaha over classics scholar Mary Beard, routinely described as a witch for her long, grey tresses. I sport my few grey hairs without shame – I’ve earned them and I see no reason to try to hide them. Frankly, I’d love to see what my waist-length mane would look like in silver but the rest of it stays resolutely blond and I think I’m stuck with just that Mallen streak at the front.

Meanwhile the media lambasts women who dare to be proud of their maturer looks while pushing hair dyes and botox in the hope we’ll all become regular users and need ever-increasing doses. We are then meant to move on to the hard stuff of elective surgery and eventually become recluses, only venturing out with bags over our faces so we witches don’t scare the children.

After all, what’s so bad about getting old? It’s better than the alternative.

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