Wendyl Nissen

Wendyl Nissen on being 'The Supportive Wife'

Wendyl Nissen: Shades of grey don't come lightly

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The ultimate feminist statement - forgoing the dye - is still difficult to embrace for women of a certain age 'Blondie!" she screeched at me across the room. "Blondie, come over here."

I wasn't the only blonde in the room but I knew it was me being referred to as Blondie. The woman knew my name so it wasn't a matter of using a descriptive term to hide the fact that she had forgotten who I was.

"Blondie!" she repeated.

I walked over, unsure that my new nickname was something I approved of. Was I reminiscent of the hapless bombshell housewife of the Blondie cartoon series, or did I remind her of the now gently decaying Debbie Harry, singer in rock band Blondie?

Either way, I wasn't happy. Referring to a woman by the colour of her hair is at best demeaning and at worst plain rude.

"That's it, I'm going grey," I said to my husband the next day. "I never thought I would be one of those women referred to in that way. She might as well have yelled 'Tits!' or 'Hot Lips!' I felt like I was in some bad 50s comedy."

"Go grey, you'd look lovely," he said.

"But I'll look old," I said, repeating the mantra I have learned from a thousand articles and images.

"You'll look your age, you'll look confident about your age and you'll look natural," he said. "Natural is good, you know that."

I have tried to do this before. Letting the grey hair run free seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do but I was met with howls of horror, not from the men in my life, but the women.

"You'll age 20 years overnight," said my hairdresser. "I won't do it."

Friends have been forthright in their comments.

"You'll look terrible," they say. "Do you want to look 80 overnight?"

I retreat to Google image search and immediately find solace in pictures of Helen Mirren and Emmy Lou Harris rocking their grey hair and looking fabulous. Forgetting, conveniently, that they are naturally beautiful women who would look good with a pumpkin on their head.

What I risk if I do go grey is telling society that I have given up. That I no longer want to impress people by submitting my scalp and hair to chemicals so that I look good out there. Yet, at my age, I really couldn't give a damn what people think of me. I have a husband who has no objection to the grey and I'm fairly sure isn't going to leave me, so it's not like I need to attract anyone anytime soon. And surely going grey is the ultimate act of feminism. Sporting silver grey locks says, "I am not giving in to pressure to be anything but who I really am."

Yet perhaps grey hair is a reminder to us of a pre-feminist time when women went grey and disappeared in every way from society into a life of caring for grandchildren and knitting peggy squares. Feminism has given us careers and visibility for as long as we want it. and being a chief executive of a major corporation with grey helmet hair might not wash.

For a man, grey hair says "wise old fox" and immediately gives him an air of life experience and automatic respect. For women, it sends us straight to the back of the room, looking for a chair to rest our ageing legs and having a wee nap until it's all over.

- NZ Herald

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