Tag Archives: hair

Grey Ambition

anthea.pngThis is going to seem really shallow, but I’m going grey and it has really unsettled me.

Getting older is a funny process. It’s only when you mention something in passing to your friends that you think is only happening to you that you realise everyone is figuring out what to do with wrinkles, the odd errant chin hair and skin that might go from oily to dry or even from flawless to teenage-style oily.

But the real issues are below the surface. For women especially, the ageing process is reveals so much about your conceptions of femininity and what expectations you have for yourself in terms of family and career.

It’s rare to see women with grey hair in the workplace, particularly in more corporate environments. It’s not perceived as distinguished and dashing as it is on men. Dyeing your hair to mask grey is not dissimilar to wearing makeup – For some, it’s an imperative to subscribe to the cult of youth, to others it’s just fun or they like how it looks. I don’t judge. But I was struck that whereas some of my friends may or may not wear makeup, or shave their legs, or pluck their eyebrows, the friends who have told me they are going grey all dye their hair or have weaves, wigs or braids that cover it, even my friends who wear their hair natural.

There’s something about hair. Perhaps because woman’s hair is almost emblematic and traditionally there has always been pressure for women to have long hair that conforms to the “feminine ideal”. Less so now; but still: everyone remembers the apex of Britney Spear’s troubled year in 2007 as the point when she shaved off her hair. The natural hair/weave/relaxed hair debate continues to roil in black communities. Shaving your head or growing a huge afro is seen a bold political statement.

Hair is tied up in our notions of femininity in a way that wrinkles are not. I have found myself unsettled, I’ve realised, not because I’m upset about ageing but because I expected to be in a different place in my life when this process became most visible.

This is stupid – I’ve had friends who went grey at 15 – but having interrogated my emotions, I feel like I did turning 30. It’s not the date that bothered me, just the disappointment of unmet expectations – expectations that I didn’t know I had. (to be clear: that I would be married, further along in my career, that I would have a career, children).

And that’s why the grey hair has thrown me for a loop this year. I didn’t really know that I had any thoughts about it until it happened and I feel strangely vulnerable still being “on the market” dating-wise as a visibly older woman. (I know, even as I type this I’m thinking, REALLY? But yes, this is an honest post).

I don’t want to dye it because I actually like my hair and all its colours (black and brown in different lights, now silver too) and I am loathe to change it. So I won’t. But it took me a little while to summon the courage to decide this, even though when it comes to other matters of hair removal or makeup or body image I am totally comfortable drawing my own line and walking it.

I’m disappointed in myself; I’ve clearly still got some way to go in terms of growing into my confidence as a 34 year-old. I’ve put a picture of the academic Anthea Butler here because I’ve always loved her look and thought that I’d try it perhaps when I got older.

Well, the first silvery threads are here and they brought friends, gathering into what appear to be two streaks at the front. They catch the light and keep surprising me. But I’m not going to dye them. I am learning to lean in and show up as that creature that society is alternately fascinated and repelled by – the (visibly) older woman.


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Time Lapse Hair styles

I’m a bit late to this party, but I loved the video of 100 years of Black hairstyles – especially the 1940s and 1990s styles, which I love for vintage nostalgia and (in the case of the 90s obvs) the lived experience!

Here it is side by side with the White version – it appears they were Part I and II of a series. Love it!

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Crowning Glory

“Dearest Future Queen, you are enough.”

I had the pleasure of catching Crowning Glory, the debut play by actress Somalia Seaton, the day before it ended at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

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TRSE is one of my favourite theatres in London, particularly for unexpected, edifying plays, and Crowning Glory didn’t disappoint. I was struck by the set when I first walked in – it was jagged and at an angle, with a couple of movable screens which were later used for projections of video. It felt pared back and minimalist, which really suited the content. The dialogue was poetic – a series of monologues blending performance art, poetry and dance to uncover the complicated relationship between black women and their hair.

There were all sorts of perspectives – tomboys, mixed race women, women wearing weaves, one who cut her hair off, the Black Panther – the list goes on. There were also memories of growing up in African and Caribbean households and a humorous but searing take on the relationship between generations of black women, their daughters and their hair.



What struck me about this multifaceted play was that there was something for everyone to identify with, regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum of natural-relaxed-weave-braided hair. The play threw down a challenge to the European paradigm of beauty and urged Black Women to see that they are beautiful too – and this is important for us to remember because our little girls need to hear the message too.

And the message was this: You are enough.

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My second facial. Or the day I got punched in the leg.

Today I had my second facial. This is significant because I am a lazy groomer. I’ve coasted by on occasional make-up and sporadic efforts at hair management until the ripe old age of 30, when it appears my complexion decided to completely change on me. Black don’ t crack but I’m not willing to push the envelope any more.

On grooming though – let me swiftly add that there are two important exemptions to my lackadaisical approach: my tresses and my skin as a whole, in line with two basic rules:

1. Black women take hair seriously. Whether it’s natural, straightened, somewhere in between, braided, twisted, dreadlocked – for the most part it’s not a laughing matter. (this being me, however, I also adhere to a cycle of growing long, strong hair and then, roughly about every two years, ruining it with a bad haircut, strange colour, mullet in various combinations or all at once)

2. Once you’ve had extreme eczema from your neck to your toes, every day that you wake up and your skin is working with you and not against you is a win. 

But back to the facial. My first facial was in Australia last year with a friend and bride-to-be, whose wedding I’d flown out to attend. I admit, I was sceptical …until I felt the softness and wonder (and relaxation) that is a deep Oxygen facial and massage. I’ve been dreaming of it ever since.

Which brings me to getting punched in the leg somewhere in Regent’s Park. Armed only with a childish sense of enthusiasm and a discount voucher for a facial and back massage I went along to the spa.

The massage was firm and soothing…right up until the end, when she started punching my leg like it had looked at her funny.  Repeatedly. When I felt that I couldn’t stand it any more, she hopped back and grunted with satisfaction. Then she left me alone for five minutes to “relax” (read: fully absorb the weirdness of the situation and figure out what colour my bruises would be) before starting on the facial, which I managed to survive without getting boxed on the ears.

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