I got my hair cut yesterday, which is something I do about 2.5 times a year, and always at the last minute. Eddie, who has put up with this for over ten years, was able to work me into the late afternoon, and I spent my lunch hour looking at pictures of hairstyles on the internet, pretending I might get something more drastic than a trim.
By the time I break down and decide to do something about my hair, I am always so sick of it that I feel like I could just chop it all off. But I never do. I haven't had really short hair since I was nineteen, the year Linda Evangelista cut hers and became a supermodel. I had the same cut. Alas, not the same cheekbones.
In my early twenties I sported a chin-length bob, which I guess I thought made me look chic and mature. It made my face look incredibly, perfectly round, and if you saw a picture of it, you would probably want to pinch my widdle cheeks. I grew it out so I could wear my hair up for my first wedding, and it's never been shorter than shoulder-length since. When I sat down in Eddie's chair yesterday, the ends fell over my chest.
Throughout history, most cultures have decreed that long, unbound hair is the privilege of an unmarried maiden. Once a woman is married or has children, she has been expected to veil or pin or cut it. In contemporary North America we call it the "mom cut". We say it's more practical once the baby's here, but at an unconscious level even secular culture still subscribes to fear of unbridled womanhood. Can't have all that mature feminine sexuality just hanging all out around the children, can we?
My great aunt Nell wore her waist-length hair in a girlish braid down her back her whole life. It was lovingly regarded by most everyone in the family as eccentric. Nell's hair ranks in family lore near 'Staish-in-the-Bed, my great-great aunt Anastasia, who took to her bed one afternoon as a girl of sixteen, and never walked again (it was rumored she'd fallen in love with the village priest and was cursed).
I'm sure Nell's sister, my grandmother Mary, disapproved. She was a beautiful woman herself, and by no means immune to vanity, but was always very appropriate, whether kneading bread in the privacy of her own kitchen with a pair of clean underwear on her head to keep her own hair back, or entertaining ladies for tea from her Royal Albert "Old Country Roses" china. Many of my ideas about aging gracefully come from observing her.
My ideas about aging joyfully all come from this fabulous woman:
Her name was Ferne, and she was my mother's mother. Even in her eighties, she rode bareback, and went dancing, and had gentlemen friends, and if she'd ever had any use for long hair (which I doubt she did even as a young girl), you can bet she'd have worn it to her ankles if she damn well felt like it.
It's a marvelous legacy; the line that runs through the middle of those two great, and opposite ladies, guiding me toward the second half of my own life. Sometimes it seems to runs straight down the center; other times, it zigs and zags.
I will turn 38 on the 23rd of this month. Grey hairs are growing as fast as I can pluck them. There are fine lines around my eyes and deeper ones on my neck. In the past year, an extra ten pounds have settled in all over, and I honestly don't know that I am unhappy enough about it to resist the next slice of warm apple pie that comes my way. I'm not a girl anymore.
"You'll tell me, won't you, if I can't pull off the length anymore?" I asked Eddie in the mirror, as he ran his hands through my hair. He smiled. "You can. And I will."
I was relieved. I love some of those shorter, piece-y styles. On other women. But long hair feels like me.
I've heard older woman say that they look in the mirror sometimes, and they don't feel like themselves anymore. The reflection no longer reflects the person they feel like inside. One of these friends recently confided to me that she intends to have plastic surgery. Although we are close, there was a note of hesitation in telling me. I think she was afraid I would judge.
When I was younger, I would have. There are all kinds of objections to excising age this way, as if it were malignant. As a woman this side of forty, I still feel betrayed when I discover that someone who is older and beautiful has had "work" done. Because until I've learned the truth, I think perhaps it's possible for me. Look at her, I think. Fifty, and still so sexy. Well, why not? Maybe I could be too. Who's afraid of fifty? Not me. And then I find out they've "cheated," and I despair a little.
My friend is as smart and as strong and as deep as anyone I know. I can't judge her decision. If ridding myself of ten pounds or neck wrinkles were as easy as plucking grey hairs, what would the difference be? If I can have my hair cut or colored so that I feel my best, why not my face or my breasts? I use a face cream that removes old skin cells. Could I use a laser to remove more? A scalpel? Where is the line? I thought I knew it when I was thirty. Now I'm less sure.
It's hard for a woman to talk openly and honestly about beauty and body image. I keep trying, and I'm certain each time, people walk away in disgust. We're supposed to pretend it doesn't matter. But if you landed here on earth from Mars, and even took a short look around, you'd suppose it's all that does matter. It's especially tricky to speak to these issues as a woman to whom genetics or environment has been kind. Who wants to be the skinny girl complaining about her weight, or the pretty girl moaning about her nose? Not me. At the blogher conference in Chicago last summer, there was a closed session on body image that I was passionately interested in, but I got the distinct feeling that a participant without obvious body challenges would be met with hostility. I would have liked to have pointed out that we are all swimming in the same polluted water, whatever our shape or size, but I didn't think I would be taken seriously.
Sheryl, at Paper Napkin wrote a wonderful piece recently on explaining to her daughters what a crap shoot beauty is, how the standards change through the ages, and how it's just dumb luck whether or not you are born with whatever features happen to be valued at any given time. I absolutely loved how she framed it, and if I could add anything to it, it would be that there really are no winners in that game. Even the most beautiful girl will wrinkle. All the lasers in the world can only buy time, not stop it. Even the size four woman is bombarded constantly with the same message: thinner is better. Look at all the "perfect" girls in Hollywood, falling apart. Because even Lindsay Lohan can't live up to Lindsay Lohan.
Physical beauty is a lot like material wealth. Some people inherit it, some people work hard for it. It can be used for good or bad, and it isn't inherently either. It can be won or lost, and if you don't possess the inner kind, there is never enough of the outer.
And at the end of the day, not a single one of us gets to keep it.
Labels: soul and spirit