Tag Archives: gray hair

Aging: Gray Hair Is Still Out, but Sex Is In

Debbie says:

Karen Kay at the Observer has a fine long article on gray hair in women.

Judi_Dench_at_the_BAFTAs_2007Kay starts out discussing the way Hillary Clinton and other women in politics and public life are expected to spend inordinate time on their looks:

Let’s transport ourselves back to 2001 and Yale, one of the world’s pre-eminent universities. New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton has returned to her alma mater to deliver words of wisdom to graduating law students. She takes to the podium and begins: “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters. Your hair will send significant messages to those around you: what hopes and dreams you have for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair. Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.”

When we speak in public, Laurie and I often mention the multi-billion-dollar diet industry (which is now somewhere in the high $60 billion range), but hair is an even bigger business, forecast to be $83.1 billion in 2016.  I don’t even know how to think about these numbers, except to imagine them spent on oh, education, agriculture, facing climate change, controlling police violence. Those issues pale before the terror that women might actually show signs of aging …

Only last week the Duchess of Cambridge, a mother to two infant children, whose husband has just started a stressful new job, was publicly rebuked by celebrity crimper Nicky Clarke for allowing a few grey hairs to appear in her hitherto lustrous brunette mane. “Kate is such a style icon that even a few strands of grey would be a disaster,” he commented, rather ungallantly. …

Professor Nichola Rumsey, co-director of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, says society places enormous pressure on women to conform to youthful ideals. “I’m in my late 50s and feel tremendous pressure to cover the grey,” she admits. “You need to have huge self-confidence to stand up to that and deflect it and know that you are still good at your job and will be loved by your family if you don’t fit a certain youthful stereotype.”

This fits my own experience; going gray definitely changed how people react to me (though because I have always been a fat woman, it didn’t take away my experience of being a sex symbol). I also have very clear memories of a friend being upset a couple of decades ago when her therapist dyed the gray out of her hair, explaining “It’s the only way I can get men to take me seriously as a possible romantic partner.”

***

On the romantic partner front, however, Marie Lodi at Jezebel has good news, though I can’t say it surprises me …

A new study, published in the latest issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, shows that nearly six in 10 women over the age of 60 and in committed relationships are actively boning down. “People assume as women get older, they automatically become sexually inactive and sex is not as important to them, which isn’t necessarily the case,” Dr. Holly Thomas, author of the study, told Health Day.

More than 2,100 U.S. women between the ages of 28 to 84 were asked a series of questions pertaining to physical and mental health, medical problems, use of medication, relationship factors, sexual activity and sexual satisfaction. A majority of the women surveyed were in their 50s and 60s. The results showed that women in their 60s and 70s experienced sexual satisfaction comparable to women in their 30s and 40s.

Lodi doesn’t say anything (and neither did the study designers) about whether or not these women have gray hair. Clearly, we need a follow-up, including:

  • Do gray-haired women have better or worse sex lives than women who dye their hair? How about women whose hair naturally isn’t gray? (I’ll provide another piece of anecdotal experience; my sexual pleasure seems to be completely unchanged despite my gray hair.)
  • Do women who dye their head hair dye their pubic hair? Does that choice affect their sex lives?
  • Finally, gray head hair changes texture and quality (because it is caused by the death of the cells that color your hair naturally). Mine has gotten curlier and springier; many people’s hair gets coarser. Are these changes reflected in pubic hair?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Intersections: Age and Fat/Race and Gender

Debbie says:

Ampersand is making a point about intersectionality, referring to the areas in which so many of us cross from one marginalized group into another. The article he quotes from is here.

Trans people of color are finding that they have an extremely different relationship to gender transition than white people. London Dexter Ward, an LAPD cop who transitioned in 2004, sums it up this way: a white person who transitions to a male body “just became a man.” By contrast, he says, “I became a Black man. I became the enemy.”

As you would expect, because I’m white and female, my own experience with intersectionality is far more benign, and yet it also speaks to the experiences in this article.

Over the last few years, without having lost one of my 275 or so pounds, in some contexts I’ve stopped being fat … because my hair has gotten gray enough to make me look old. I notice this most on public transit–people who five years ago would have glared at me for seeking out a seat (because I was fat) now get up for me (because I’m old). People who would have really minded sitting next to me, even though the BART seats are plenty big enough for two people my size not to touch each others’ hips (because I was fat) now sit down blithely next to me (because I’m old). People who showed clear disdain for me if I was using the escalator instead of the stairs, or holding on to a railing (because I was fat) now show sympathy and patience (because I’m old). In those contexts, age trumps fat, and being old replaces being fat.

In the doctor’s office, however, I’m still fat. In a cafe or restaurant where all the chairs have arms, I’m fat. On an airplane, I’m still more fat than old, though that one might be changing.

If a black woman transitions to being male, she stays black and becomes male. In some contexts, I’ve stayed fat and also become old, but in others I’ve ceased to be fat, because I’m old. I’m just starting to think about other examples of intersectionality and how they work; watch this space for more pondering.