Oct 4, 2009

On Gray Hair, the Cult of Juvenescence, and Continued Relevance

I started going gray in my mid-thirties, and I have to admit that the first few years I used some of that "Just for Men" beard coloring. This had less to do with me wishing to avoid looking my age than the fact that my gray hair tends to come in distinct splotches as opposed to a balanced salt-and-pepper look.

Still, this was vanity, and this could be interpreted as a cardinal sin, should I be so judged in the hereafter.

These days I let the gray appear where it may, and I view the acquisition of gray hair as I would badges of honor. I should add that I work in a field (academia) where gray hair is not necessarily seen as a detriment, and in some cases being gray- or white-haired might be viewed as a sign of scholarly authenticity.

Or doddering senility, but that is another story.

Yet for much of the world - especially the youth-obsessed business world - gray and/or thinning hair increasingly means personal irrelevance, declining energy, and outmoded thinking. The problem is even more acute for women, as women face significant stigma by having gray hair. Many folks will spend thousands of dollars fighting the natural and inevitable changes to their hair, and with good reason: there is a perception that having gray hair is equivalent to career suicide.

Perhaps in the next few decades gray will become more fashionable, especially as the American population continues to age. We may also see the pendulum swing back to respect for the wisdom that our elders have acquired, instead of our absurd obsession with the cult of juvenescence.

Anyways, I hope to live long enough to be relevant for another four decades. Provided I do not succumb to Alzheimer's disease or some equally destructive condition, I plan to write and teach as long as my body permits.


Anonymous said...

That's Nice!!!

Jess said...

When my gray hair started to become fairly noticeable, I opted to the rescue of hair dyes. The problem with it is that you have to maintain it regularly lest your hair will have an unwanted color especially when hit by the sun.
Better allow the natural ways of your hair than to put chemicals on it.

mikeb302000 said...

Nice thoughts. What happens with me is my mental image of myself never catches up with the reality. I'm often shocked at photos or glimpses in a passing mirror or store front reflection. Somehow the bathroom mirror doesn't enter into this.

Overall though, the older I get the less concerned I am about my looks and what others might think.

microdot said...

Frankly, I get better as I get older.
I started to go grey in my early 40's and one day I was visiting my sister and she said in a perversly gleeful tone..."Oh my god...are you going bald?"
My advice is to let it happen and make the best of it, because if you try to mess with it, you just end up looking like another alien who dipped their head in acrylic goo...just look at any woman on FOX or your typical Republican Senator or congressman...there is something quite remimescent of the stylized denial of reality that permeated the pre revolutionary esthetic of the nobility of France. Everyone wore wigs, they used the same whitening powders and rouge to affect a uniform look... tht covered up the evidnece of aging and personality as well.

On the other hand, I have never seen my wifes real hair color and I have known her for 30 years, unless, ultra- violet is a natural genetic mutation.....