Friday, January 25, 2008

Looking Old

One of my favorite emails about my books was from a woman who said, "Elizabeth makes me want to quit dyeing my hair and be who I am."

Back in high school I had dyed hair-- my mother's attempt to make me more glamorous -- just to 'brighten up' my rather ordinary dark brown hair. Then I got into it -- in college I was various shades of strawberry blonde; when I got married, I could be fairly, if somewhat romantically, described as 'raven-tressed.' Then I got over it. What had been fun became tedious. Touching up roots was a real drag. So I got back in touch with my inner brown-haired girl just in time to watch her begin to go gray. (We gray earlier in my family -- except for my mother who became ash blonde.)

The encroaching white hairs never bothered me -- and for quite a while they were limited to a streak or two at my temples. By the time I first heard someone describe my hair as salt-and-pepper, I was the mother of a toddler and teaching full time with not a spare minute to be looking in mirrors. And then I was moving to a farm and milking a cow twice a day and having another baby and raising a garden and still not looking in mirrors. Somehow, by the time I'd taught both sons to drive on our narrow, winding, guardrailless mountain roads, my hair'd become mostly white. Imagine that!

Years ago a visiting friend told me that she'd like to quit dyeing her hair but in her job, she needed to look young. This puzzled me -- but I'd been out of the work force so long that I didn't argue. Now today, I read this article in the NYT about a best-seller How Not to Look Old -- aimed at women over 40 worried about "professional obsolescence and economic vulnerability."

Oy! Why should looking young matter to a professional (unless you're in show biz or a hooker, maybe). Shouldn't it be about how well you do the job; not whether you still look like you're capable of bearing children? And why is it more acceptable for men to age?

Oh dear, this could turn into a rant. But it's a conversation Elizabeth and her sister Gloria are slated to have in book six -- just you wait!

Here's the link to the NYT article -- and the comments are worth reading too, especially number ten, from the man at Attica State Correctional Facility.
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