Monday, September 24, 2007

To age gracefully or dye happy?

23 Sep 2007, ST

By Tan Hsueh Yun

YOU know that idle lunch-time conversation stops being idle when it stretches over two days and there's physical violence involved.

That's what happened recently, when one colleague thwacked another on the head for daring to suggest that people who colour their grey hair are being dishonest.

Who knew hair colour could ignite such controversy?

Nobody could remember how we got to talking about it but a heated debate ensued.

The pro-dye camp talked about how hair colour was an expression of individual style, a fashion statement that can perk up a person's looks.

There was also a practical reason for heading to the hair salon: We live in an ageist society and grey hair marks you out as old, faded and invisible.

Hair colour, frivolous as it sounds, might just help you hang on to that job longer and make it less easy for employers to turf you out of the job in favour of someone younger.

But the anti-dye activists went on and on about ageing gracefully. Get real, they said - nobody is going to believe you're young just because you have a head of black or brown hair at age 60 or older. Who are you trying to kid?

They have an ally in writer Anne Kreamer, who wrote a book called Going Gray recently about how she gave up dyeing her hair because she realised it looked artificial. Au naturel, she says, spells candour, authenticity. Oh please, I think she just needed a better colourist.

Still, if you look at those magazine advertisements for American design label Eileen Fisher, some of the older women look sharp and stylish with their short, sassy, salt-and-pepper crops, or soft and feminine with long, snow white hair.

Nobody cares that the actor George Clooney, 46, is greying. Certainly nobody thinks he's less sexy. In fact, the white hair just adds to his foxiness. Nobody thinks that CNN broadcast journalist Anderson Cooper is an old fogey (he's 40) either, just because he has a headful of grey hair.

But they choose not to colour their hair, just as some of us choose to do so.

Someone else at lunch brought up the fact that there are double standards for men and women. Nobody questions it when older women colour their hair. It's part of the beauty regime, he said, something a well-groomed woman would continue doing as part of maintenance.

But men, well, that was another matter altogether. He seemed to think that it would be a terrible faux pas for a guy to be walking around with coloured hair in his dotage.

'Mutton desperately trying to be lamb,' he said.

Then, he added: 'But when do you stop?'

I know what my answer is but we'll get to that later.

Our discussions over those two days made me question why I colour my hair.

The short answer is that I think it's cool. My mother always had highlights in her hair and when school rules no longer held me back, I got some, too.

There were some restless years, when her stylist would slip me vials of temporary hair colour applied with mascara-wands. I could then have wild red or purple streaks in my hair, colour I would wash out when it was time to go back to school on Monday.

So colouring my hair became a routine, like getting regular haircuts and pedicures.

I didn't freak out when I started greying in my 20s. There was no need to because I never had to see the white unless I was tardy with the hair appointments.

Now, I would not dream of stopping.

Am I being dishonest? I don't think so. I don't think I look old enough to have grey hair. Will I be dishonest 20 years from now when I'm still colouring my hair? The answer's No, again.

We are all living longer, taking better care of ourselves by eating better and exercising more. The payoff is that we are feeling younger, longer. If the hair can't get with the programme, I don't see why we can't help it along with some colour.

The anti-dye brigade should also remember that they'll probably still be working well into their 60s, and ask themselves if they can really afford to be the silver head in a sea of brown and black locks.

As for when I'll stop, well, let's just say I've got my colourist on speed dial permanently.

No comments: