Lady Grey

I am about to make a courageous statement. I am about to disclose something that might possibly change your opinion of me, or at least divert you away from apathy and towards something approaching mild pity. I am 31 years old. I have had grey hair since I was 17. I dye it. It looks better. It looks less like I have threadworms bursting, David Cronenburg style, from my scalp. And all of this, despite the fact that gendered perceptions of grey hair rankle (silver fox versus wiry spinster,  distinguished, debonair and Clooneyesque versus invisible and absent from the boardroom) and that admitting to concealing my grey feels akin to betraying the sisterhood, or the spinsterhood. Or something.

It certainly seems as if prematurely greying women are, for one reason or another, coerced into concealment. And when I say ‘prematurely’ I don’t, of course, mean pre-20s or 30s or whatever arbitrary cut off point people want to use. I mean, as I have been conditioned to, anyone who could still conceivably pass society’s test as a functioning, capable and dynamic woman. Fiona Bruce provides a salient example. She recently ‘admitted’ to dying her hair because ‘age is still an issue’ in the media. Although I’m not sure whether this argument holds weight: three of her sidelined BBC colleagues Moira Stuart, Arlene Phillips and Miriam Reilly all sported (dyed or not) shiny dark manes. Maybe it is the case that visible signifyers of age are still an ‘issue’for women, but not for purveyors of early stage male greydom such as Georges Lamb and Clooney. Nor for Charlie from Casualty who has, I believe, been grey since forever. Unfortunately George Entwhistle, the still bedding-in director general of the BBC, who expressed his desire to see more grey haired women on TV only succeded in sounding like a fetishist.

I firmly ahdere to the view that great pressure is placed upon women of all ages to conform to a ludicrous conception of beauty centred around a photoshopped ideal of absence; the absence of flesh, of wrinkles and yes, maybe of grey hairs. But women dying their grey hair is perhaps about more than an attempt to make time recede, to hold onto that promotion or to compete with a nubile set of hungry young things.  I went grey at an early age for several reasons: genetics, a long term eating disorder and a rarely known but lingeringly destructive condition called trichotillomania (look it up, it’ll make you wince). For me, exposing my greys would be like having my own little confessional memoir atop my head and a constant and visible reminder of an early life not well lived.

Ageism and sexism is about a lot more than grey hair and whether women choose concealment or celebration (and I’m talking about you, Caitlin Moran with your beautiful bold stripes of ‘look at me’ grey). The lack of visibility of successful grey haired women is, of course, detrimental to feminine self perception. The lack of flesh and wrinkles on most modern celebrities is to my mind infinitely worse.

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