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My Hair and Me: The Long and Short of It at Midlife

Why are there so many "rules" for what women should do with their hair in midlife? And where can one get a Keith Richards-style blowout?

So now that I’ve had this stay-at-home thing happening (I excel at it, PS), I’m empowered to not give a fig about something that has always stressed me out in the morning, and that is: doing my hair.               

My hair and I have a fraught relationship. And because of its somewhat weird texture (not straight but not curly), my “strurly” hair is the boss of me. 

When I turned 40, my husband and I traveled to Paris. And it was under the shadow of beautiful, sunny mornings in the Marais that opened my eyes to the glory of undone, unstyled hair. Parisian women don’t “do” their hair, and if they do, you wouldn’t know it. It’s so just-got-out-of-bed-after-some-great-sex chic it hurts. I support unkempt hair and would prefer that my hair looks more nest than neat. But the backlash to said nest can be palpable. 

Years ago, when I asked a colleague about what I should do with my hair, I remember her saying with a bit of side-eye, “Why don’t you try brushing it once in a while?” A fair response. The truth is, I could easily walk it down to my local Dry Bar and get a blowout. But they always take my shaggy Stones vibe and turn me into a senator’s wife meets pageant princess. I wish there were some version of a blow dry bar that was more Keith and less Karen. Until then, a pro blow is not for me. 

I wish there were some version of a blow dry bar that was more Keith and less Karen

Back in 2010 (the same year as Paris), I read a piece by Dominique Browning in the New York Times about her refusal to cut her hair, even though she was deep in the throes of “middle age.” It stuck with me then and even more now. Because in certain circles, it was a significant non-non to have long hair if you were past 40 and, back in the day, I would say 30 would have been the cutoff for long and lustrous locks. There are certain beauty tenets on such things — lighten your hair as you get older, cut your hair, and wear bright lipstick. I have heard all these things, and they are etched in my brain (thanks, Mom) — I had filed them away for future reference, and now I may just blow off the dust.

But the truth is: I haven’t had long hair since I was about 21. Because I believe a good chop is like a breath of fresh air. And rarely has my hair grazed my collarbone. It’s been Mia Farrow short, Louise Brooks bobbed, Oasis brothers shagged, and just about everything in between. So even though long hair isn’t a thing for me, I do applaud Ms. Browning for bringing it up. Fair warning, though: if you keep your hair long and free of color, you run the risk of looking like an art teacher from Taos; but maybe that’s your thing, so own it. 

I am pretty sure women in other countries don’t give any of these “rules” a second thought

I am pretty sure women in other countries don’t give any of these “rules” a second thought — I’m thinking of Sônia Braga here, whose hair was always long and spidery despite her age. She’s Spanish. Enough said. This whole article made me think of a friend of my mother’s, whose name was Ann. Ann was crazy cool and stylish in a chunky jewelry and Zoran basics kind of way. And her way was long and silver and curly and downright kooky. And fabulous. That was her look, and it worked for her in spades.

As for the gray thing, that’s not for me. Good for you, maybe, but not for me. I just love that darn hair dye and always have. Since I’m 15, to be precise. I guess my redhead cred is not up for negotiation. 

And pro-tip for my frizzy friends: get a keratin treatment twice a year, particularly if you want to wash and go. Best thing ever. I’m also super down with Prose, the newish custom, carbon-neutral hair brand that creates your perfect shampoo and conditioner based on a quiz you take online. It’s excellent, and I love the concept and the products. Good stuff. 

But products aside, do what works for you and makes you feel beautiful. Because the more clout we give these commandments, the more they will remain taboo. For me, it’s all about feeling confident, long, short, or meet me in the middle. XO

Main Image: Julie Christie and Warren Beatty in Shampoo

9 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting, I am 60 with grey hair. I have always had a short pixie style and a natural redhead. Now I want to have some FUN, so I am growing it out, shaved underneath (feels great) and going to dye it Irish red with a big fat natural grey stripe. If you are confident, rock it.

  2. I’m 62, and wear my silver/gray hair almost to my waist. I admire short, choppy styles very much, but they look terrible on me. To all women, I say please don’t listen to ANY of that cultural garbage that says you “have” to cut your hair at any age. Total crap! Do what you like and forget anyone else’s opinions. Do you like it? Then it’s awesome. I’m completely over the vicious, cruel, and toxic ageism thats particularly directed at women. If someone doesn’t like how you look, dress, your hair, your sexuality, how you speak or express yourself, they can bite me.

  3. During the pandemic I was saddled with a muddy mess of grey, black and brown strands of confusion. When it was safe I booked myself a hair appointment emerging with a modern rock n roll shag of black and blond chunks. At 69 I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. Just what you’d expect from the only hairdresser that Keith Richards trusts to cut his lusty locks of hair.

  4. The rules are all gone. A women can do what she wants. I’m 75, have long grey hair. I get more compliments then every in my life. Both men & women seen to love my hair. I was involved in the world of fashion until I retired.

  5. Thank you Sheri! I concur with all the women who posted before me. It’s your life and if you can’t live the life you want now when you are past the judgmental years of your teens and early adult years then when can you? When can women be who they want to be and live a life of their own choosing? I am 63 (just had my birthday) and still maintain my long hair in a beachy-blonde like colour. My hairdresser is fantastic in that she keeps my hair healthy but also stylish. She is also young, hip and a total badass 🙃. I just love that women like Sheri have the guts to say what many of us feel – it’s our life, it’s our bodies, let us live it how we choose. 💋✊🏻

  6. I stopped coloring my hair to hide the silver in my 40’s… now I am 70 and my hair is healthy enough to wear it long, so I do. So much easier than having a style that must be attended to (cut/styled)on a regular basis. I can wear it straight or let my natural curls rule; or put it up a dozen different ways. Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t comment on how pretty it is, and how much younger I look than those my age with a set ‘do’. Stopping the processing was the best thing I ever did for myself. Many of my friends have been unable to go gray with success because their hair is just plain fried to the folicals!

  7. Thanks for the point about the keratin treatments- my hair turned to fine, dry, fuzzy, shapeless yet puffy garbage with a frizz explosion over the ears when it turned grey, and that is the only thing that has kept it looking half decent, even though it also got rid of the wave. The texture change since it went grey is the bane of my existence and I can’t do the Keith shag anymore. Not even Keith or Patti Smith have their old hair now. I wish someone would come out with a texturing product to address that, that isn’t a salt spray, which destroys the keratin treatments.

  8. I am a Brazillian Blow out junkie …once a year as my hair looks really crappy unless it is straight. My waves look like the final three that hit the shore. As for gray, my Mother suggested I color my hair at 45 and she was right, although when she was 93 I talked her into the fact that the gray look was “in” as she was bankrupting herself with getting her hair dyed every two weeks. Better gray than homeless I’d say. My hair much to my consternation is on the bathroom floor every day and unfortunately my floor is white so the contrast is upsetting! Estrogen come back and bring my long thick hair with it!

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Sheri Radel Rosenberghttp://sherimavenblog.com/
Sheri Radel Rosenberg has spent a life in advertising. Currently she's a freelance writer focusing on women at midlife and the power of reinvention. She regularly writes on her own blog and also works with brands to develop content in the areas of women's health, wellness, fashion, and beauty .She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and a ten pound ball of doggie fluff called Khan.

 

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