There are certain cultural mores in American society. Every person in every age grouping is expected to perform certain tasks or talk about and act a certain way about things. This is particularly true of womxn* of a certain age, yes, those of us who identify as womxn have some extra things to take care of. Yes, I am talking about any femme over the age of 29. The problem with this is that these cultural mores require us to be untruthful and unauthentic to ourselves and others.
29 is around the time in our lives that we are expected to begin lying about our ages. In a culture that values youth, or at least the appearance of youth. (You have probably noticed when one is actually young, everyone older than one acts like one does not have any sense, and one continuously hear things like, “when you are older you will understand”, or “you will change your mind when you are older”. Sometimes, these things ring true, but many times they are simply a way of discounting your ideas or opinions.) We have all seen this countless times. The womxn who have 30 29th birthdays. My own mother was 32 for at least a decade. If one decides not to lie about one’s age, then one is expected to refuse to answer at all and find it bad manners that anyone ever asked at all.
Our culture tells us it rude or offensive to be asked one’s age, when one is a womxn, in normal conversation (I use “normal conversation” to refer to subjects that come up organically in everyday conversations with people of various levels of relationships. It should go without saying that to ask in order to criticize, oppress, or degrade, or discriminate against someone in anyway should never occur) if the subject of age comes up, or they say, it is undiplomatic to ask a woman her age.
There are countless blogs and articles about how to respond to someone when they ask your age, mostly it is a matter of deflecting, changing the subject, or blaming the other person for asking at all. In addition, to this there are numerous articles on how to ask someone’s age without asking them, like asking about childhood experience etc. this is a sneakier way to ask someone without asking someone. Some call this old fashion; however, it is very much alive today.
As we grow older, many womxn, like me begin to find more and more gray hair. Some earlier than others, but for most of us, who are lucky enough to make it to an older age, will have it happen at some point. Hair turning gray or white with aging goes against the cultural mores that the appearance of youth is much more valuable than the appearance of age. When this happens, usually in our 30’s or 40’s we are expected to eradicate the gray/white hair so that our illusion about it being our 29th birthday for 20 years, and the illusion that youth should be more important and valuable than age is more palatable.
We are expected to spend countless hours and dollars on chemicals and treatments in order to keep the gray/white out and our roots their “natural” color.
All these cultural mores or unwritten rules, lead us to deny our experiences and the number of experiences we have in order to keep up the colonial idea that womxn should appear to be young forever. In doing this womxn are encouraged to be inauthentic and discourages our own authenticity. Being allowed to be authentic, means we are able to be ourselves, no matter what age that self may be or the color of that self’s hair. It means we not only accept our ages, but we enjoy them as well and all the perks that come with them.
My personal solution: Because I am not one to challenge social mores (wink wink), I continue to lie about my age. On my 30th birthday, I began telling people I was 42 years old. Now, that I am 40, I am telling people I am 58. This means that society will get its lie and be given a chance to think about it if it is willing.
The reactions I get to this get more and more extreme the older I get. Firstly, because most people think I look much younger than my age (I do not see it), and secondly, because people are not sure how to respond. Sometimes, they will just laugh it off as a joke, others tell me, “hey you can’t do that!” and sometimes, people get a bit angry with me for telling them an older age.
But as we have seen, just lying about our ages is not enough. We must hide the gray/white in our hair to mask our age and make sure we are really working toward the illusion of youth.**
My personal solution: When I was a teenager, I would dye my hair pretty regularly. It was something fun to do. As I grew up, I found with the pressure from peers, work, professors etc. I pretty much stopped dying my hair. So, for a long time, my hair stayed pretty much my natural dark brown color with the exception of dying it “acceptable colors” from time to time like red or black. Until, pretty recently, a couple of years ago, when I noticed quite a bit of gray growing in. To be clear, I am not opposed to gray or white hair, I believe it is beautiful! However, it was then that I had some decisions to make. Do I let these salt and pepper locks grow out? Do I do what is laid out for me and cover my roots so no one can see my gray hairs? Or do I do something a little different. I chose the latter. Since I noticed those gray hairs multiplying more and more, I have decided society is right, I should dye my hair. So, I have had shamrock green hair, blue hair, turquois hair, and I currently have “orchid” hair (it is a very vibrant purple) in the past few years. This way society gets what it wants, and I get what I want.
Except, now they tell me that such colors are not suitable for a womxn my age. And I just laugh. When people ask me about my hair color, and they very often do, I usually explain why, in pretty much the same way I have here and add that these colors have really made me happy. Some take it as a joke, others start thinking a little more about such things, and others get angry because I am challenging their perceptions and values. This is how I work towards authenticity and the decolonization of my own mind and views of beauty, something I find to be a continuous process.
You my friend, should work toward your own authenticity and decolonization in whatever way that gives you joy and peace. We do not have to stay within the colonial cultural mores and norms. We are beautiful at every age as long as we are ourselves. We do not have to value the appearance of youth, but can rather value our own authenticity.
*The use of the term “womxn” is used here to be inclusive of all of my relatives who are nonbinary (like myself) trans women relatives, and relatives who are women of color.
**Clearly, there are a lot more products that womxn are encouraged to use in order to appear younger. Everything from wrinkle creams, cosmetics, surgery etc. However, there is not enough time/space here to address all of them, since there really are too many to mention and I am sure I do not even know about all of them.