On finding our lost beauty

Housemate Eve went off to the hairdresser’s one day this week (you might remember a previous mention of our mate Trent from the salon in Taree) and came back looking exceptionally glam. Her stylish appearance generated some discussion at the dinner Glorious hairtable that night, among seven of us in the 55+ age bracket, about youth and beauty. We wandered into what-is-beauty and a wide-ranging analysis of how beautiful hair – and youth – fit into the scheme of things.

The conversation got me thinking about a hairdresser’s world, which is built around young and beauty. Picture the fashion magazines at each station, the product posters, the shows that salons enter into. Every salon offers up tribute to the gods of looking good, where “looking good” equals smooth faces haloed by perfect hair.

I have yet to hear anyone sit in the chair and say, “Make me look every bit my age, please, and give me an appearance that reflects my strength of character and the hard knocks I’ve been through.” To the contrary, one says, “Get rid of the grey quick, and make me look sleek and elegant even if it’s just for 15 minutes until I hit the first breath of wind.” I had a hairdresser some years ago, who, when I speculated that perhaps I should let the grey grow in, said flatly, “Well, you’ll be finding another hairdresser in that case.” It was enough to deflect me from that suicidal path and I’ve yet to wander back to such wicked notions.

On a different planet from me lives my good friend Linda, who has a thick mass of salt and pepper curls. “I don’t lay a finger on it,” she says stoutly. “And I cut it myself. Hairdressers always want to do something with it that’s impossible to keep going and doesn’t look like me.” The thing is, Linda looks great. I mean, Linda IS great. She’s a well-regarded occupational therapist; she has a spectacular garden; she’s created sculptures and pottery that make your heart sing. She is adored by her grandchildren and has one of the best voices in our choir. Her hair frames her fabulous face and she looks exactly like who she is. She’s a walking advertisement for her fabulous self.

Twinkle in her eyeThis is a face I found on Pinterest and was considering for a post a few weeks ago. She’s haunted me since, this woman. I could look at her all day. I’d been reading “What Are Old People For?” and grappling with a paradigm that repositions elders in today’s world. Youth, with its particular flavour of beauty, gets dethroned and people like this charmer on the left have room to take their rightful place. I ask you: who would you rather spend time with? – this rollicking woman with her thick accent and mischievous stories, or a skinny stick of a 16-year-old who’s, like, rolling her eyes at you while she texts on her phone. I know how even Trent would answer, though there’s not much business for him with Babba and her red scarf.

So I’ve been imagining a new world. (I’m going to lose a few of you here, but hang on as long as you can.)

I started off thinking about a universe with no hairdressers. There’d be no silken-tressed dewy-eyed models hanging about on salon walls to make us yearn and feel inadequate and unlovable. We’d all have our own version of wash-and-wear hair. We’d pull it out of our eyes into playful ponytails or perhaps give it a buzz cut every now and then. It would curl when it wanted and we wouldn’t be overly stressed about bed-head or humidity.

….But no, I can see that’s not the whole answer. I’m taking a lesson from a charming novel I read a while ago, “The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul“, written by a real-life hairdresser who set up a salon in Afghanistan to help give women a sense of freedom, fun and self-respect. There’s no doubt that that salon, and Trent’s, and all the others, do make a contribution.

But what if Trent gave away trying to outfox Father Time and camouflage all the signs of elderhood? Instead, his objective would be to have us look like who we really are. Deeply trained in psychology and philosophy, the Trents of this new world would take our measure in a different way as we came in. They might chat with us about our ideals, hobbies, kids (and great-grandkids) – all with a view to figuring out the look that brings out our own particular self. After it was over, you’d look in the mirror and smile in total recognition. “There I am!” you’d say with delight.

The essentials would still be in place. You could still sit in the chair and pick up community gossip. You could get a cup of tea and you wouldn’t miss out on your deep scalp massage. Trent would still know how to do a scissor cut and create a Marie Antoinette hairdo for weddings or other costume parties. But the whole beauty charade! – THAT would fall by the wayside. No dazzling posters, no beauty magazines, no stands full of must-have products. No struggle to be someone you weren’t, aren’t and never will be. No more addiction to Vogue and Redken.

And when you left the salon, you’d be in the arms of a different kind of beauty, not a temporary fix based on illusion. You’d be more of who you are and would head into the wind with a new spring in your step.

...Now we're just beautiful

Remember these two? They’re another pair of favourites.




6 thoughts on “On finding our lost beauty

  1. Hi Heather, Wow, you really know how to make a girl feel great! I love this post. I too have thought long & hard about the “beauty” myth that is perpetrated on us all, pathologising aging, & brain washing us all into shelling out billions of dollars to cure, or at least hide the shameful “symptoms”. I have long railed against this, from refusing to shave my teenage legs & pits to embracing the inexorable onset of “salt & pepper” locks. Many times I have allowed the beauty industry progaganda to seep into my consciousness making me feel like an out sider, unlovely, unlovable, unacceptable……BUT despite the occasional acti of conformity, I cling to the tiny light of truth that I hold in my heart, that is personified in the photos of the exquisitely beautiful women in your post, that beauty is so much more than the ephemeral radiance of youthful appearance. I am the personification of my lived experience, I am a survivor, I have loved, laughed, cried, sung, given birth, cradled death. I am soooo much more than how I look, as are we all.

    The beauty myth is tied up with judgement. I think that in our western capatilist, consumerist society, we are encouraged to make shallow judgements… e.g. how things look, how much stuff do we have, which distracts us from thinking deeply about how we live, how we as a society care for each other, what our social values are. Not only do we need to re think the place or value of older people, but more so, how we perceive, & value all of the diverse individuals that make up our society.

    Loads of love from

    Linda of the salt & pepper locks

    • I’m glad you loved it, Linda – and also love how you took the opportunity to show us how MUCH more you are than a person with hair and a face! Beautifully spoken.

  2. Yes Heather,it is a loss isn’t it?we can replace it with something else,but its still a loss.I kind of believe life is a series of losses or perhaps challengers

    and it’s about how we process these issues ,hmm on second thoughts our losses are often offset by gains in other areas and that helps, though in the long term !

    Not happy about growing older,have a sense of loss,but will continue to reinvent myself in an effort to stay relevant.

    cheers Ian

  3. Heather, hmmm… that’s an interesting limb you’ve just walked out onto (if you can untangle the prepositions). Do you now walk the walk, or perhaps cut the cut??

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