I’m wrapped up in another one of those what-kind-of-feminist-are-you debates with myself, and it’s making me more neurotic than usual. My hair, my dark brown hair, is salt and pepper, heavy on the salt. Sometimes when I look at it, I think it looks pretty cool, especially with the bright white streak up in front. Other times I wonder what has possessed me to go ahead and look so old. I mean, I’m not old-old. I’m still in my forties.
For a little while longer.
And I have always been a fan of hair color, the weirder the better. I’ve had purple hair, and once I even had a streak that was blue, purple, and magenta. I’ve had “orchid” hair. I’ve used reds, too. But it’s not the same when you’re covering something. When you get roots you have to deal with, and the roots are white.
I know I want to look younger for reasons that haven’t won my approval. I will feel more attractive. That’s because despite knowing better, I have bought into our younger-is-better culture. This is especially true for women. All I have to do to prove it is try to get service in a store when a younger woman is trying too. I have become invisible. I’ve fallen off people’s I-might-like-to-do-her radar. Men and women. It’s sad.
But I should be happy!
For many years I could not walk down a street without being verbally harassed by men who thought it was their right to comment on my appearance, who imagined I was there simply for them to look at. “Smile!” they’d say. “Hey, baby, why don’t you back that up over here?” And then some guys who liked to cut right to the chase: “Sit on my face, angel.” Mostly I ignored it, and sometimes I went after them, verbally. When a guy actually grabbed my ass, I chased him for two blocks. He said, “Jeez–sorry.” Like I was out of line or perhaps overly sensitive to molestation. A bicyclist actually once got in an accident because he was so busy staring at me. These are not boasts. It was disgusting and a constant source of stress. You don’t have to be gorgeous to get this kind of attention. But you do have to be younger.
So now this doesn’t happen. Partly it’s because of where I live, but mostly it’s because I have white hair and a mom butt. How wonderful! No more rapey compliments, no more being forced to interact with creepy strangers or turn down drinks at the bar. So why am I sad?
I have learned, as most of us have, to need affirmation from all people everywhere all the time. As a woman, I feel it is required that I am attractive. I know that’s not true, of course, but I still feel that way. I want people I don’t know to think I’m beautiful. The Claudia that sees this as pathetic has let the white hair come in, in all its glory. The other Claudia, the one who shaves her armpits, gets her legs waxed, and puts on makeup (though not in the picture above, for some foolish reason) is looking at hair color on Pinterest.
Fight the Power! That’s what I tell myself. And that works, for a little while. Maybe it’s having a beautiful daughter who is growing up in obvious ways that brings this to light more starkly. She is at an age when she is ridiculously self-conscious and also completely lacking in self-consciousness. It is very easy for us to embarrass her–we just act the way we always do–but she’s oblivious to many things that surprise me. She does not shave her armpits or her legs. And she doesn’t seem to care. And no other kids have commented on it. And it didn’t stop the boys at summer camp for digging her in a big way. I respect this tremendously. I hope she always feels that she can do what she likes with her body, that she needn’t let others dictate her appearance.
Ultimately, it’s up to me what I do with my hair, and if I choose to color it, I need to own that choice and not beat myself up for giving in to ageism and sexism. As long as I choose what I want, as opposed to what I imagine I need, I’ll be fine. I will follow my daughter’s example, and try to move blissfully through the world with my self intact.