Our columnist on why you’re never too old to wear what you want
In general, I like to think of myself as quite a relaxed person. I keep affirmations around my house to help me maintain my sense of balance and I work hard to keep a cool head, even under pressure. Very little really makes me cross – except for prejudice of any kind; in particular, ageism.
As an actress, I’ve been fortunate to avoid this. I still get offered great roles and enjoy the more challenging parts age has afforded me. But as a woman in society, it’s a very different matter. I’m not chasing being 20 again but I don’t want to be forced to stick to some prescribed set of rules around how I look based on my age either.
The strangest things seem to trigger other people’s need to put me in a box, but how I look is right up at the top. Too many lines, not enough lines; too much make-up, not enough make-up. It seems a woman over 40 becomes fodder for public opinion, and the opinions about how a woman should look or feel are defined by how willing she is to fit into a mould that is set around being age appropriate.
One such area that should be appropriate is our hair. As women, our hair often means a great deal to us. That’s why society calls it our ‘crowning glory’. A full, glossy head of hair screams ‘youth and vitality’ and, throughout the ages, we’ve found a multitude of ways to add volume, length and gloss to our tresses, even as fashions and styles have changed.
For the longest time, women in their 40s and beyond have been told to make sure their hair isn’t too long, and a cursory search for ‘mature hairstyles’ turns up a multitude of choppy crops and layered, chin-length bobs. Don’t get me wrong, I think that short-haired women such as Judi Dench look amazing, but I don’t believe that one look is the ubiquitous choice for those who hit middle age.
I’m a ‘hair person’. Whether I’m going with long and flowing or my early 90s swishy bob, my hair is a critical part of my identity – and that’s something that hasn’t changed at all as I’ve gotten older. As the years have passed though, attitudes towards my hair have changed considerably.
I first noticed it during a hair appointment a couple of years ago. I asked my stylist for an edgy cut with some blunter edges. I was flat-out told I was too old and it wasn’t right for me, which frankly floored me. My hair was still in great condition and the cut was what I was paying for – so why not do as I asked?
The point was driven home when I came across an advert for a shampoo made for women aged 40 plus. Promising to tackle age-related hair loss and breakage, it showed a pretty, mature woman brushing her hair. So far, so good – right up until the moment she turns to the camera and whispers ‘it even works if you’re over 40’.
I re-wound the advert and played it again. She definitely had whispered ‘being over 40’. This was an advert targeted at women over 40, shaming them and acting like being over 40 was something we should be hiding. I don’t mind telling you that all the affirmations in the world didn’t stop me from feeling furious that day.
Journalist Hannah Banks-Walker felt the same way. Writing for The Pool, she suggested that sexism was at play. She highlighted that the same brand approached their men’s equivalent product completely differently, merely highlighting how popular the product was. I’m inclined to agree with her, but what worried me more is that the people behind this advert still think this is what we want – to hide our age, to cheat time and to feel ashamed that we’re in the second half of our lives.
That simply isn’t the case – not only for me but all the fantastic women I met on my recent tour of Marks and Spencer’s with Studio10 Beauty. All the women I met still loved beauty, fashion and style and were thrilled to get beauty advice targeted to them. We don’t stop wanting to look and feel beautiful the day after our 40th birthday, and we don’t all want to pretend age isn’t happening. I say challenge the old stereotypes – grow your hair long, dye it pink and wear sparkles to work if it makes you happy – but never allow anyone to tell you that you’re too old to look, feel and do whatever you want.
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