Sunday, March 15, 2009

It's Hip to Be Grey

A friend asked me the other day where I get the ideas for my blog posts. Like most people, they come out of life, but once in awhile, the perfect phrase or scenario drops down like brain manna from the gods. Case in point: Last week I attended a professional seminar on social media, and the young (ish) presenter told us that the user age for Facebook was steadily climbing upwards, into the 35-44 year-olds. He glibbly called this "greyification." Oh boy, I thought, there's a blog topic just waiting to be developed!

The fact that everyone in the room understood what he meant says something about how we Americans almost universally associate "greying" with aging. Which is strange considering the fact that I know men who are completely bald by thirty, and we don't use the word "balding" as a way of referring to states of degeneration, for instance, erectial dysfunction. I mean, you're not likely to hear this conversation in the doctor's office: Man: Gee, doc, I've been experiencing some balding in my bedroom performance lately. Doctor: I hear a lot of that from men your age, George.

Greyification is an interesting word, when you think about it. It can have positive connations, like the Hollywood trend towards featuring more and more women over forty in plum roles. You could also use greyification to describe the uptick in relationships between older women and younger men a la Jennifer Aniston-John Mayer or Demi Moore-Ashton Kutcher. If Americans had more of the European attitude towards older women, we wouldn't be so perplexed over these couplings.

On the downside, greyification could mean the adoption of what we view, none too happily, as "old people" habits. Like reading glasses. Despite years of squinting to read maps and prescription bottles, I finally overcame my own grey resistance and bought a pair at the dollar store. I figured I better, or else I'd be double-dosing on clonazapam and wake up a week later.

And then there's the hair thing. This is one of those areas where stylists must read from the same manual that says, "sexy hair dos are for young women; dowdy hair dos are for post-menopausal women." There was a time I dreaded going into a salon for fear of coming out with bowling ball head. Even though I would come in with loads of pictures from hair styling magazines, I'd inevitably end up with senior hair. Basic blah. So one day I decided to try a different tactic: I said to the stylist, "I want TV hair. I do alot of PR on camera stuff, so I need something, you know, like Vanna White or Katie Couric." That did the trick. I walked out with the cut of my dreams. It took me two hours to duplicate, but what the hell--it erased ten years from my face.

What I find personally vexing is the attitude that over-forty means it's time to let down our hems, throw on a ratty cardigan sweater, and tie our (grey) hair up in tight little spinster buns. If pictures of Ruth Buzzi doing her infamous grumpy old woman bit on Laugh In are coming to your mind, we're on the same page, sister. Who decides these things? Where is Project Runway's Tim Gunn with his elegant lilting voice saying: Sweetie, what are those sacks in your closet? Show off your curves!

I have a lot of personal experience with mature woman wardrobes, having been a creative director at one time for a retail department store client. At least three times a year, we'd have to shoot ensembles by Alfred Dunner, the mainstay of matrons everywhere. Inevitably, we'd be using twenty-something models, and would end up having to tape and clamp the excess material in order to make the clothes look presentable. I came to dread growing older, envisioning myself in calf length skirts, boxy jackets, and oversize, floral bow tie blouses, all in Pepto Bismal pink. Surgical scrubs started to seem like a reasonable alternative.

But that was twenty years ago. Thankfully, fashion is starting to wake up to the fact that women over forty want to show off cleavage, our hard-won slender legs that we've spent decades on treadmills achieving, and our generous--and apparently appealing--plush booties. But we also have to give a round of applause to our brave sisters who dare to stroll the beach in teeny tiny bikinis, cellulite be damned (Donatella Versace), as if you to say: "Yeah, it's old and flabby. I love me, and so do young European men. Deal with it."

Hmmm. Sounds like a slogan that belongs on a bumper sticker or coffee mug. Orders, anyone?