Saturday, 4 February 2017

Pearly white

There's a cluster of reasons why older women tend to have shorter hair, among them the sheer convenience of having hair that isn't a nuisance for daily tasks - mundane, caring and creative - that need to be done. Long hair, like fancy painted fingernails, gets in the way of practical effort.

But there's more to it than that. Short hair can be low-maintenance and therefore welcome: it doesn't matter nearly so much if it gets ruffled or windblown. Indeed, a spiky, gelled look can lend an urban trendiness to hair deliberately cut short. That might be important, if professional standing and credibility depends on appearance.

Very short hair is in any case the trademark of a woman who wants to be different - most notably a feminist, who may need to signal her point of view. Short hair, untidy or styled, is giving the finger to the conventional pretty norms required by the patriarchy. And it works whatever the age of the woman concerned.

This does not exhaust the possible reasons for preferring shorter hair. For instance, a wish for dignity - long hair flopping over the face, or whipping in the wind, can make anyone look ridiculous. There may be an obvious job requirement, to do with safety. Or the hair itself may be weak or sparse, and not be up the task of supporting a long hair style.

My own hair isn't especially weak or sparse, but it grows unevenly, being thicker on my left-hand side. That might be fine for an unsymmetrical hair style. But I favour symmetry, with a fringe, and I can have this only if I limit the length of my hair to just off my shoulders, and no longer. This is a cause for mild grief, but my stylist Morgan has persuaded me that there is nothing else to be done, if using my natural hair alone. For a long time, I wouldn't have that; but I now see what she means. Shorter hair gives the illusion of thicker hair on the problematic right side of my head. And she has the skill to make the most of it.

So although I envy women of my acquaintance - indeed women everywhere - who have long, thick hair in cascades, I do see the necessity to adopt a style that makes the best of what nature has endowed me with. It is a consolation that close women friends, whose opinion I trust, have universally said that shorter hair suits me.

But there's also the colour of the hair to consider.

I don't colour my hair, and never have done. I saw how Mum - over the decades - damaged her hair, and made it thin out, with her home perms every few days. In fairness, old age would have made her hair thinner anyway. But it was always my opinion, based on general observation and not just of Mum, that chemicals and fine-textured hair did not mix. Like Mum's, my hair is notably fine-textured. So, down the years, I have been consistently resistant to any chemical processes suggested to me by friends or stylists. That has preserved my hair from any coloration. And I don't think it has been to my detriment, either. Letting nature colour my hair has always seemed the best thing. I stand by that even now.

And what has nature done? As a child I was golden-haired. In young adulthood, fair or light brown. In my forties, there was the first suggestion of grey - salt-and-pepper really - which rapidly intensified from my early fifties. And then, once I went onto HRT eight years ago, this grey look developed into a lighter, paler shade that changed in accordance with the light source. I thought 'ash blonde' or 'platinum blonde' were the best descriptions. The actual colour of individual hairs varied from grey to honey to white, with the odd darker hair still in there.

While at the salon two days ago, I asked Morgan what colour she would say my hair was. 'I'd say pearly white,' she replied. She added that it was a very nice natural colour indeed, that I was lucky to have.

Hmm. 'Pearly white'. It sounded like a shade from a colour chart.

But white?

I saw what she meant. In good, neutral light my hair was definitely a very light shade. I'd never have said 'white' myself, because I associated white hair with really old people in their eighties. But I had to admit it now that it was a kind of white. But redeemed by being 'pearly' - which implied a hue that would make my hair interesting and attractive, and not simply hair drained of all colour by old age.

It was hard not to feel freaky though. Anyone looks strange if they have a young face but white hair. I hasten to say that I don't have a young face - but it's not old and wizened. My naturally 'pearly white' hair must therefore seem unusual. And possibly contrived - making other women wonder (a) what hair-colour product I've been using, and (b) whether I am making a statement by having my hair like this, and if so, what it is. Whereas there is no product, and no statement.

Until now, I've been mostly concerned with the length and style of my hair, and not its colour. Now I'm thinking more seriously about that too.

Is it too white? Do I really want people's attention? Is that why I sometimes catch people looking at me? Should I care?

Women experiment with hair colour as a matter of course, even if it's just highlights to add distinction to something ordinary. A great many women adopt an all-over colour quite different from whatever nature has given them. It's a form of personal expression. Blonde hair must still be the most popular shade. But deep red has always been a close second, and nowadays blue and green and purple, with perhaps yellow or orange highlights, are nothing extraordinary, not among young women anyway. Any more than tattoos are. The effect isn't always happy; but hey, if it's done well and individually satisfying, then who needs to judge or comment? And in that spirit, I hope nobody is going to purse their lips at my own pearly-white hair.


  1. I do see the necessity to adopt a style that makes the best of what nature has endowed me with

    So do I understand that you will be adopting a shorter style? I have long felt that your present style suits you very well indeed, but I don't have to live with it.

    I wish you well, whatever you choose.

  2. No, no! I'm not having my hair cut short. I will stay looking much the same. But I've given up on having it cascading over my shoulders.



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