We love to go a wandering
I sing with an acapella band called ‘Henwen’ ‘Henwen’ is a Celtic goddess, and the name derives from Hen/hinny, meaning ‘woman’ and Wen/wan meaning pale; the implication is of a white-haired woman, who is aged, and thus wise, a significant tribal elder. Henwen is the wise crone form of Caridwen, and also appears in the Mabinogion (and Disney’s ‘Black Cauldron’) as a magic pig, although we tend to gloss over that when introducing the band.
"Better to look dyed than dying…."
I was a blonde child, who went mousey at puberty (leading to a lifetime of pouring chemicals onto my head), and who has gone white-haired in later life. My peerless hairdresser is able to turn this into something a bit like platinum, thus giving me a pleasingly Scand-wegian, slightly peroxided look. Well, I hope so: anything other than ‘white’, as in coach parties of cauliflowers, bingo parlours of nanas, bewildered targets of cold callers, customers for comfy reclining chairs. Better to look dyed than dying….
But how can I be sure what I look like, what impression I’m giving?
Well, of course I can’t. I try to judge my own appearance, but that’s not easy; what I need is a statement from an unbiased witness, saying either, ‘it was a blonde woman, m’lud’ or ‘it was a white-haired lady’ so that I can calibrate my physical/visual effect in the world. We all know what it is to look at yourself in a known and well-lit mirror, but then to catch sight of yourself unexpectedly, and to see the undefended truth. For many years I have had very upswept hair, occasionally prompting complete strangers to compliment me in the street, and that has given me peace of mind. But recently I had my hair cut short for a visit to a tropical and humid country, and now I fear I may have entered cauliflower territory.
Close friends age alongside you, and unless you don’t see them for a couple of years, you generally don’t clock their changing appearance. However, I have had the experience of waiting for a friend in a supermarket, and then realising with a jolt, that the elderly person my glance had swept past, was actually the friend in question. Something in her whole bearing had briefly altered at the checkout, and in that second, she looked ‘aged’.
"Ageing is inevitable, and better than the alternative.."
So, does it matter? Ageing is inevitable, and better than the alternative, and I deplore any article which tells older (or any age) women ‘you shouldn’t wear this’ or ‘don’t do your hair like that’. I also know that many women agonise over their hair as they age: it’s too thin, it’s too frizzy, it’s lost colour or condition, I’m dyeing it dark but my parting’s white, I look like a witch, I can’t find a good style anymore etc. I also know infuriating older women who break all the ‘hair rules’ and still manage to look amazing: confidence and style are definitely key to that.
Whatever happens to your hair as you age, it will, undoubtedly, change, so hair styles that suited you once may not continue to work. Is it your business and no-one else’s? Yes, absolutely. Should we all be revered as white-haired and wise tribal elders? Yes, of course. Does such a trivial thing really matter in this world of pain and joy? No, not a jot. And yet, we can see the power of the ‘dtmh’ movement (black women – Don’t Touch My Hair), most recently in the Solange Knowles incident . Hair, particularly women’s hair, is patrolled by all religions, including the commercial patriarchy. My hair, and how it looks, actually does matter to me, and I’m aware that most of the women I know care and worry about theirs as well, so it’s not nothing.
My advice is to check out the women whose looks you like and consider what’s working for them, then find a peerless hairdresser. Your personal taste may be natural and under-stated, or Vivienne Westwood, or comfy cauliflower, that’s for you to decide. Work it, own it and don’t be silenced. It’s all about the hair, hinny!