When I turned fifty I fell in love with life and with myself. I didn't plan it that way. What I DID plan was that by fifty I'd finally be free of dyeing my hair, but that was all. And true to my word, I was, my long dyed brunette tresses replaced with a short silver bob. But somehow, during this growing out process, something else had happened too. I want to share it with you.
My life to this point has been pretty good. But as the years rolled by, I felt like I was on this predictable treadmill, my life mapped out. Plus I was getting older, and HATING that I was. Big time. The physical signs freaked me out. Thanks to my genes (cheers, Dad!) grey hair started arriving in my teens. I was having none of it. I embraced hair dye, rejoicing that I could cheat the grim grey reaper forever, courtesy of a regular appointment with my hairdresser. And then came the wrinkles. And the saggy bits on my body that hadn't been there before. So I slapped on the anti-ageing creams, exercised and I was told that I “looked good for my age”. Yay me! But it took so much effort, especially the hair part. The roots required a fortnightly touch up once I hit 40. I planned my entire life around that darned skunk stripe.
Until one day in my late forties I had an epiphany. What if I just went grey? Truth be told, I'm vain. I feared not only BEING grey, but also GOING grey. The roots I hated would take over. I'd look unruly. Like I'd let myself go. I’d look OLD. All my life, I realised, I'd despised ageing. Honestly it terrified me.
It's funny how we are conditioned to hate a group we will one day, if we are lucky to live long enough, get to join: old people. So conditioned that we invest huge amounts of time, energy and money into staving off the inevitable truth: at some point, we will be old. That outgroup we can smile benevolently at right now? That’ll be us one day! We will become invisible. People will look at us pityingly. They will know we are (whisper it!) on the inevitable downward slide towards senility and death. Poor us.
But in spite of my misgivings, I decided to try going grey. And yes, I hated it at first. I knitted hats to hide my burgeoning roots, slunk about in the shadows, doing my best to avoid detection. It was a slow process, a lesson in humility and patience. Along the way, though, I realised a few things:
- People will comment on your going grey. Some may compliment you. Others will tell you it's a BIG mistake. But that reflects their concerns. If you disagree, that's ok. It's your hair, your choice.
- Some people will give you funny looks in the street, not quite sure if you’re doing this on purpose. Let them wonder!
- The rest do not care even one iota. Seriously.
After the first few months it can even become fun, growing into this new silver you. Subversive even. As someone who'd always followed the rules, it felt naughty to deviate from the societal diktat that says women must not visibly age. After a while I'd walk into a room without even thinking about my crazy two tone hair. I developed reserves of self-confidence that had eluded me my whole life. I was finally growing into myself, and I liked it. I started to ponder ageing more generally, especially as a woman; to question the wisdom I'd mindlessly absorbed all my life: stay young at any cost, fear age.
As I grew more comfortable with my changing hair, I looked at the rest of my life more closely. Realising that going grey didn't appear to signal the end of my youth after all, I began to question other aspects of getting older. My whole mind-set shifted. I realised that the crippling insecurities that had dogged me from my teens onwards, the sense that I was never quite good enough, had finally fallen away. I recognised that the hard won experience I’ve accrued across my first half century has made me wiser. I’m finally getting a sense of proportion, figuring out what is truly important. I’m more than good enough.
Always cautious and reserved, I began to try new things, to take risks. I eschewed those irritating rules about "What not to wear after fifty" and instead took pleasure in wearing stuff I'd formerly rejected as too young for me. Leather jackets, dungarees, shorts, all found space in my wardrobe. And I love them!
I also welcomed opportunities to celebrate what felt like an incredibly positive step for me: facing up to growing older and realising I love where I am in my life and I love my life. We are ageing from the day we are born. There's a lot to be said for every stage if we stop fighting against what is, after all, a natural process. I've been evolving my whole life, from child to teen to young adult to mid-lifer. Why should this phase be any more shrouded in negativity and fear than the ones that preceded it? So this past year I've taken part in a number of photoshoots celebrating being happily silver (e.g., for Ben Winkler's Faces of Silver book), and modelling projects that seek to break down age barriers (e.g., for fashion label The Bias Cut).
I have never felt more positive about myself, more comfortable in my own skin, more authentically me, less invisible. What started out as an experiment in going grey has ended up being so much more: a reassessment of who I am and what I want in life. An acceptance of ageing as a process to embrace, not fear. Finally, I’ve accepted, and learned to love, my fifty one year old self.
Check out Louise's article on dropping the age cloak of invisibility HERE
To see more photos of Louise and other gorgeous women in midlife and beyond, click HERE
I’m a psychology professor at a UK university with a research interest in gendered ageism. I have a partner and two daughters, and we live in an idyllic rural location surrounded by green spaces and nature. In my spare time I enjoy walking, riding and – when the opportunity presents itself – modelling for projects that align with my perspective on ageing: celebrating that we women are beautiful at all stages of life, and recognising that saying we are looking good “for our age” has had its day. We ARE looking good, sisters. That is all.