When I was younger, I colored my hair as well. I remember a time when you kept quiet about coloring your hair, but that was more a part of my mother mother’s generation, not my own. I actually remember getting the “that was not appropriate” look from my mom once when I had announced, as a child, to room of people that mom looked pretty because she just got done coloring her hair! But in my generation, you were encourage to color your hair, and most of us were coloring it such outrageous colors – there was no sense in pretending that you were really born with the hot pink shade being sported on your new Mohawk – hell you might have green hair tomorrow! Ok, I did not do the Mohawk, but I did sport the short Annie Lennox/ Sinéad O’Connor spiky look. I have been a red head (a lot), brunette, bleached white, Pink, Purple, and a few colors in-between. I colored my hair for a statement. It is not that I had any illusions that by coloring my hair I would be different. You know the myths: Blonds have more fun. Red Heads are passionate and unpredictable. Brunettes are intelligent, reliable and thoughtful (good mothers?), and the purple/pink/green crowd are crazy insane folks. The blue haired folks were either old or part of the insane group (by proximity really). But there was a bit of an illusion that by coloring my hair, others would see me as fun, passionate, nuts, daring or intellectual. Why? I was trained well by the adverting agencies, just like the rest of us.
So, when I got older and started sporting grays, I did not want to stop coloring my hair at all. I worried: my god, I am old now, and people are not seeing me as who I really am – they are seeing only my wrinkles and my gray hair. Is this true? Sometimes yes, and other times no. But I can tell you that many of the young students I teach see me as old. That is human nature I guess. But I am told that every time I turn on the damn TV. I need surgery to get rid of my wrinkles (older is bad), or a new cream, or better make-up. And I truly need to color my gray hair before I lose my friends, job, and sexuality (that is likely gone anyway but a new hair color might just do the trick!). It used to be that only women were inflicted by this type of advertising but now men are being brought into the fold as well. Indeed, there are two commercials that tell men they are in trouble unless they color most of their hair (keep a bit of gray because of the gray + men = "distinguished." This can be compared to the gray + women = old "nonsexual bag" message).
But the distinguished message is even leaving men behind with the new Just for Men Hair commercial that suggests that a job, a son’s success and sex at night all can be achieved by using this one product.
A lot of men are outraged by the negative suggestions in these commercials, but I wish to remind them that women have been subjected to this kind of advertising for years! Regardless, these messages have sociological imports because this recession has harmed many workers who have lost their retirements and ageism is now even more of an issues that before. Women in their 40s and men in their 50s are finding it super hard to get full time employment. Ageism is an issue our society will be dealing with in a new way and commercials like these only work to substantiate misguided myths about age- as misguided as the "blonds are stupid but have more fun" myth. Just something to ponder. R