Going Gray: It’s Not Just for Old Folks Any More

Laurie and Debbie say:

Stefanie sent us two related links, one to a blog called Going Gray and one to a discussion on Pandagon about gray-haired young women.

Going Gray is a celebration of women who don’t dye their hair, liberally illustrated with pictures of women spanning a range of ages. Amanda at Pandagon is discussing how she feels about graying at 30, and citing some experiences of others, with a long and fruitful comment thread.

Amanda’s post spins off of this article by Anne Kreamer, who has written a book about women who go gray. Just the article title, “Women Who Go Gray and Stay Sexy” tips the reader off about what’s going on here.

… having gray hair when you’re merely middle-aged instead of elderly says that you’re a hippie and willing to question cultural norms. Being a bit rebellious helps you in the sexual marketplace for sure – most people like the idea of sleeping with a free-spirited sort – but what about in a work environment? Not dyeing can be as alarming as having visible tattoos. On the other hand, having gray hair does convey a certain authority, which could offset the fears that the gray-haired woman is a dangerous rebel. I would probably trust a woman with gray hair more than not to be competent at her job, figuring she’s been around long enough to have made herself an expert, but I’ve long learned to understand that my gut instincts are not necessarily shared with others.

The struggle here can be recast as “how can I go gray without losing anything?” The ideal is to 1) not dye your graying hair; 2) not lose your sex appeal; and 3) not lose your working power.

The anonymous blogger at Going Gray says about herself:

This blog is dedicated to all the powerful women who have made the choice to honor their authenticity, joyfully embrace the aging process and simply go gray. This blog is also written for women, like me, who will some day be confronted with a similar choice. Perhaps this blog will make the decision to go gray a little easier.

We applaud her sentiments, and appreciate her activism! The articles on her blog are generally about successful gray-haired women: the governor of Kansas, for one; a 65-year-old woman who dyed her hair on and off, observed the trade-offs, and then let it go gray and stay gray. The pictures are … a little idealized? Almost defensive?

Aging gets mentioned here and there, and yet somehow the reader comes away with the conclusion that going gray is somehow not about aging. It’s about bravery, it’s about self-expression, it’s about being genuine.

The two of us had to talk for a long time before we could figure out what was bothering us: 1) going gray is not something that happens in a vacuum, 2) aging is not something that happens suddenly toward the end of your life. At 19, you are aging. At 28, you are aging, and your first gray hairs might be showing. At 42, you are aging, and maybe there’s more gray in your hair than its original color, or maybe not. At 63, you are aging. And if you’re fortunate enough to be alive at 90, guess what? You’re still aging.

The worst thing about the cultural norm of dyeing out gray (as Amanda points out) is that we don’t see the range. We don’t know that some people are gray at 30 and others are not gray at 75. The worst thing about turning aging into something between an affliction and a sin is that we fight its visible manifestations everywhere, and we are encouraged not to talk about its actual course. Culturally, we have defined aging as “falling apart,” and gray hair as a sign of falling apart.

And the current celebration of going gray, wonderful as it is, runs the risk of separating going gray from aging, because of the underlying belief that aging is bad, even when gray is beautiful.

aging body image going gray gray hair feminism women, Body Impolitic

Meditations on the Body: A Documentary

Laurie says:

In 2001, when I had my exhibition “Meditations on the Body” at the National Museum of Art in Osaka, John Wells, a Kyoto filmmaker, did a short documentary film with an interview of me by Professor Rebecca Jennison from Kyoto Seika University. The film includes lots of conversation and photos, and some shots of the exhibition. John has just put it up on You-Tube and Google.

I just watched it. It’s always little odd to watch myself talking. Becky (Professor Jennison) is a good friend with whom I’ve worked with for years on Women of Japan. She asks really good questions.

The exhibition was all of Familiar Men (for the first time) and a good grouping of the images from Women En Large. It also included the first 8 images from Women of Japan.

That museum the largest space I’ve ever shown my work in. It was about 200 feet long. The way I install the work and the text is part of the art, and it’s different in every space. So hanging the show was a real challenge. The professional “crew” that hangs the work for museums there had never experienced someone planning installation hanging as she went along. At first they were very unconvinced, but by the end, they had picked up my method so well that they were making suggestions. This was the first time I had seen all 3 projects hung together and could see the links between them.

Working with the curator Akiko Kasuya was wonderful from beginning to end.

The exhibition was in August. August is children’s month in Japan, so 20 children were selected from various schools to have the honor of hearing the artist talk about her work and doing a workshop with her. The kids were from 6 to about 12. Many of them came with their parents.

I was very surprised when they told me about the kids and the workshop – clearly inviting children to an exhibit of nudes is not something that would happen here. For the workshop, I decided to have them trace their bodies, and then draw inside their outlines some things that were important to them. One 8-year old made a galaxy, another drew her pets and her books. And of course, some kids included food. They were all fabulous and really different from each other. The kids loved it, in part, because they got to work big and with free expression – something they don’t get to do a lot.

When I showed them the exhibition, some of them were shy, but some of them came right up to the photos and really examined them. I told them stories about the people and the photo shoots.

The reaction from museumgoers during the show was very positive. Mostly they found the images “comfortable” and were very glad to see nudes of real people. And the aesthetics of the work were really appreciated.

The documentary was made for Japan, so it has Japanese subtitles and conversational attitudes. Check it out.

Japan, art, photography, Body Impolitic