Voices: If older women like Helen Mirren ‘shouldn’t have long hair’, when do I have to cut mine?
When should I cut my hair off?
I’m serious – apparently, there are rules. When it comes to women, you can forget any future visions of flowing silver locks, because after a certain age, it’s simply not allowed. Banned. Verboten.
Forget buns and top-knots, Pippi Longstocking plaits or an enormous, just-tumbled-out-of-a-nightclub messy mane (yes, older people go out partying, too), as Dame Helen Mirrenhas reminded us: having anything other than a bob or perm or pixie crop when you’re over a certain age marks you out as a “radical”.
The Queen star, 77, revealed that she started growing her hair during the Covid-19 lockdown and “couldn’t be bothered to cut it”.
In an appearance on Lorraine on Wednesday (8 March), she addressed the stereotype that ageing women are not “supposed” to have long hair and described her chest-length hair as a kind of rebellion. “You’re not supposed to have longer hair after a certain age,” she said. “But during Covid, I started growing my hair and I hadn’t actually had long hair since I was in my 20s. And it sort of grew and grew and grew, and I couldn’t be bothered to cut it, basically.”
“I thought, do you know what, it’s pretty cool, I think I’ll stick with it for a little while,” she added. “It will come off eventually. But I’m kind of enjoying it, it’s quite radical.”
So, this leads me to a central question: How old is “too old” for a woman to have long hair? Is it 40? 50? 60+?
If you do a Google search for “older women with long hair”, the results appear to suggest that the cut-off age is around 50, give or take. That’s a way off, for me, but it’s still my next “big birthday”. And I have long hair; I like having long hair – so I’m asking for clemency.
Of course, it is a ridiculous argument, and one we need pay no real heed to: wear what you like, whenever you like. But there is an underlying, more insidious point to address – ageism, as described by women like DJ Liz Kershaw, 63, who was replaced last year on her Saturday afternoon BBC Radio 6 show by Jamz Supernova, who is 31. Kershaw later tweeted: “I got sacked from @BBC6Music because they don’t want women over 60.”
Or BBC TV presenter Caryn Franklin, 64, who knows exactly how important hair can be for women. She wrote for The Independent: “As presenter of the BBC’s primetime The Clothes Show from 1986 to 1998, with women coming up to me in the street to say how glad they were to have my industry insights and challenges to fashion’s oppressive body ideals, I was shocked to be told over the phone that I had been discussed in a meeting of senior execs and (despite being in my late-thirties) was going to be “wound down” – because I was looking old.
“I had a noticeable grey streak at the front of my hair (which women also told me they loved). But this was seemingly not appreciated by some key BBC types, according to the call I received. In short, I was objectified in a way that few men in the workplace or male TV presenters ever experience.”
What Franklin did next should be an example to us all: she didn’t hide her “unacceptable” hair – she flaunted it. “After my aforementioned phone call, I did not meekly cover up my stylish streak, but made it my trademark instead,” she said. “Charles Worthington, my hairdressing mate, dyed the rest of my brunette hair to a much richer colour to make my light stripe stand out.”
Hear, hear. Tempted to grow yours? Do it. This arbitrary hair “cut off” (pardon the pun) age range is just another way to police women’s bodies. To decide who fits the socially accepted mould, and who doesn’t. If a guy can hit 60 and scrape his thinning strands into a man-bun and make like they’re Jason Momoa, women can wear their hair long. Get over it.