Hair! (Or, The Joy Of Living Is Being Exactly What You Are)
August 31, 2010
My wife, bless her heart, is conducting a brave experiment, and is getting flack for it at work. She’s a nurse with some 38 years experience that works in post-op (the Recovery Room) at a local hospital.
You’d think she was doing something really bad or crazy with the comments she’s getting.
“Why are you doing this?” her co-workers demand. Other comments are not so nice.
What is she doing? Shelley has stopped dyeing her hair and is letting the gray grow out.
“I can loan you $20 if you need it,” one nurse snapped.
Most of the other nurses in her unit are also in their 40s and 50s. Shelley’s the only one now who shows any gray. She herself has mixed feelings about this, but she’s doggedly pursuing the experiment.
“I see Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, and George Clooney all showing gray and they look great! But women actresses – they dye it! It’s sexist, and we women do it to each other!”
Shelley’s in a profession (as am I) where experience counts for everything (as in — how experienced would you like your nurse to be as you’re coming out of anesthesia?). Yet she’s not supposed to look her age.
What’s going on here? Is it that her fellow workers look at her and feel their own age, so they want her to cover it up?
It seems to me the joy of living, which by definition must include the joy of ageing, is in being exactly what, and who, you are. But in our culture we are devalued as we age. Every day our stock goes down a point. So we enter our older years kicking and dyeing (and nipping and tucking). Oh it’s true that we all feel better when we look better, but what’s wrong here is we equate and conflate good looks with young looks. But you don’t look good trying to be something you’re not. You’re just broadcasting your embarrassment and shame about being what you are. (“See – I have no gray hair and no wrinkles. I’m still cool, right?!”)
What’s most embarrassing is the blatant immaturity of trying to hide the evidence of having survived past the age of 40 like it’s a crime or disease or some kind of failure.
And you can’t be respected for your age if you don’t respect your ageing. You can’t age gracefully if you refuse to admit to the world you’re ageing at all.
Funny—for my generation, the prime symbol of our youth was hair (as in the Broadway show). Those of us on this side of the counter-cultural fence let our “freak flags fly”. Perhaps Shelley is similarly leading the way iconoclastically at her hospital by flying her Elder Flag.
I love her guts.