Friday, August 9, 2013

Going Grey: Some decisions are more than simply "environmental"

EcoYogini takes a look at the connection between Feminism and the Environmental Movement...

We often try to write about topics here  that are connected with environmental living. What's interesting, and as you surely know, often our environmental choices and challenges aren't simply the result of trying to make the planet or our health better, but implicate other social movements, paradigms and even the political reality of our country (wherever that may be).
(Susan Hersh, Ford model, celebrating grey hair. Photo credit: Suzanne DeChillo NYTimes)

A really great example is the Queen Composter's recent post: "To Dye or Not to Dye" about her (and many women's) difficulty with dyeing grey hair.

It's a fantastic and honest post on a topic where double standards remain glaringly obvious. Take a second to go check it out and come back here to comment and share.

The first time I realized that despite my youthful and passionate claims of feminism and celebrating the wisdom of aging that I would find greying challenging was when I was completing a placement mid-Master's at a Montreal rehab hospital (Speech-Language Pathology dept). One of my supervisors had the most gorgeous, shiny bob... all grey. I automatically assumed she was in her late forties early fifties.

She was in her early thirties. Once I got beyond her hair, it was obvious. She was pretty and the rest of her features were late twenties, early thirties- but the grey hair aged her. At that moment I knew I would struggle with letting my hair go grey... and this was years before I became a full-fledged eco-warrior.

Unlike other difficult eco-choices, the challenge in deciding to go grey doesn't have to do with debating the eco-health benefits of going grey or not (hair dye is toxic), an (in)convenience (it's easier NOT to dye your hair) or cost (cheaper to go natural) but has to do implicitly with the social and cultural pressures inherent in our Western society for women to remain youthful looking in order to be a) considered a valuable part of society and b) attractive and worthy.

And yes, men do have some pressures with regards to remaining youthful, with increasing numbers dyeing their hair and wearing makeup- but like all aspects of body image and objectification of women, pressures on men are considerably less and the double standard remains. I'd also go so far as to say that we shouldn't celebrate the creeping 'equality' of youth-pressure between the sexes, but be alarmed that our society continues to move towards venerating external youth over wisdom.

Interestingly, in the past year there has been a wave of famous women and even some murmurs of a "fashion trend" towards long grey locks. For some more interesting reads check out:
"Grey Hair as Fleeting Trend or Social Statement" at Huffpo
"Not Selling Gray Hair Short" at NYTimes
"Face it, Going Gray is a Fierce Act of Bravery" at Jezebel

Overall I see this "trend" as a positive thing, and recognizing that our want to dye our hair is more social conditioning and less a true "choice" (like makeup, thinness and wrinkles) is the first step in moving towards change.

This post, and Queen Composter's post has helped me take an honest look at my own perceptions around grey hair, body image and aging. My Intention: once those grey and white hairs peek through, I am going to actively work at NOT dyeing my hair. I'm fully aware this is going to be difficult and I am allowing myself the grace of caving, but I am going to try.


Christy said...

Spot on!

I linked my post on my Facebook page and it has by far the most comments of anything i've linked before. Sadly most of the comments are in the "it will age you so keep dyeing your hair" category. To many of them I responded that it really bothers me that it bothers me. I have worked so hard to counter a lifetime of body image issues and to accept my body, past, present and future. My own mother, at almost 70 years old, still dyes her hair because she doesn't want to look her age. She thinks that having grey hair will age her beyond what her facial appearance is now (she is proud that people have always said that she looks younger than she is).

I had no problem when I turned 40. In fact, being in my 40s has been the best age for me so far. I am more confident, more settled, more content than I have ever been. I have been really pushing myself to see the greying as a natural part of my life cycle, and to see the grey as a symbol of my hard-earned wisdom.

Just as social media is pushing society to normalize images of breastfeeding, rather than sexualizing breast when they nourish a baby, I hope that social media can normalize images of women ageing gracefully and to see beauty in women regardless of their age. It is so unfortunate that we are bombarded with images of young women as the representative of beauty, but also images of women in their 40s and 50s who have had cosmetic work on their hair and faces to give them a smooth, wrinkle-free appearance, thereby reinforcing the idea that grey and wrinkles are to be avoided at all cost.

My husband has said repeatedly that we wants me to stop dyeing my hair and I am grateful for his support with this (I have many friends whose husbands remind them to get a touch up the second a grey becomes visible).

In deciding to go longer without colouring my hair, and hopefully deciding to go grey naturally, I will be going against how my larger family sees ageing. I can't stress how challenging this is for me, as I was raised with people saying, "I will fight going grey / ageing with everything I have."

I hope to change my own paradigm about this and instead see how I can maintain a "youthful" approach to life (easy now as I have very young children) rather than a youthful appearance with toxic chemicals and cosmetics. I hope to be an example to my daughters so that their thinking about their bodies will not be toxic as mine was growing up.

Eco Yogini said...

@Christy: " I hope to be an example to my daughters so that their thinking about their bodies will not be toxic as mine was growing up." LOVE LOVE LOVE this statement.

And my family would also have a hard time understanding this decision. Thankfully, like your husband, mine is very supportive and your post (and my continuation) sparked an (important) discussion on how we both felt about the topic.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

Well, one little consideration is how good you look gray. Most of us look good with our natural hair color -- it suits our coloring. Not always the case I think with gray hair. Looks better with some skin tones than others. Just saying. My own grandmother had gorgeous silver gray hair that I believe she was quite proud of. But if you have wiry dark gray or white hair that doesn't seem to suit you well -- I can see that the choice could be even tougher.

I have, through the course of my life, noted many younger women (30s) who let themselves go gray and did so gracefully. I'm happy to have been exposed to those examples.

Mitty said...

I think that the perception that gray or white hair is aging is really a product of social conditioning. Take a good look around the next time you are in a public place. Do those wrinkled women with ginger hair *really* look younger? Or does the dye look harsh and just plain silly? I know several women in their sixties who took ten years off their appearance by reverting to their natural gray or white. For the record, I have salt and pepper hair. It doesn't look or feel the same as the hair I had when I was younger, but it is shiny and healthy, and I feel the style I wear is attractive on me.


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