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There are certain stereotypes I realise, that go with grey-haired women. It is alright if you are overweight – that just adds to the image!
I was in the ladies compartment inside the Chennai metro when I realised that some women were staring at me and I wondered why? Had I by chance forgotten to wear my COVID-protection mask? Or was I barefoot? Wait. Had I just walked out dressed in my faded track pants?
A quick look at my reflection in the window glass showed I was in my usual trousers and kurti, my mask was in place and I was wearing fairly decent shoes. I looked at the women who were part of the crowd – mostly government employees (that sector of the metro went through important government offices). They were all dressed in saris with bindis on their foreheads and flowers in their hair.
That’s when it hit me. I was a middle-aged woman with silver-grey hair, dressed in what might be considered age-defying clothes by the average conservative Chennai standards.
This is a reaction that I have been getting in varying forms over the last two years when I decided to stop camouflaging my greys. Though I have had no regrets, I cannot say the same about my friends and family. Their reactions have ranged from surprise to shock.
My father had said ‘Why do you want to look older than your age?’
Meanwhile, my school friends had warned me that it was a one way street. My daughter said I should have waited for a few more years to develop some wrinkles around my face. And my in laws were plain horrified – probably because people would wonder why their cousin/brother/nephew had such an ‘old’ wife.
Of course, the fact that this man who was perceived to have an ‘old-looking wife’ was himself balding was another issue!
While equating age with hair colour seems to be the norm, the need to adopt a certain demeanour simply because your hair is grey is unfair! The reactions to Malayalam film actress Rajni Chandy’s photo shoot is a clear example of how society discriminates against middle aged women. Especially the ones who want to look glamourous.
There are certain stereotypes I realise, that go with grey haired women. You are supposed to dress traditionally, take interest in religious and spiritual matters. And are supposed to carry the responsibilities of your family balanced on your silver hair. It is alright if you are overweight – that just adds to the image!
So you can imagine, what happens when a grey haired woman like me decides to dress like she always did, goes jogging on the beach and engages in fiery debates on social media with strangers. My profile picture has made rank strangers call me ‘Aunty‘ or ‘Budhiya’ on Twitter when I debate on political issues.
They use it as an insult because I guess their patriarchal mindset cannot accept a grey haired woman discussing politics. Maybe they think that a person who looks like me is supposed to make samosas in the kitchen for her husband and family!
Whenever I go shopping, the sales people direct me to the salwar-kameez sections. They are surprised when I head for the trousers section. When I ask to buy T-shirts in a shop they imagine it is for someone else and when I tell them it is for me, they get me oversized ones.
In the pre-covid days whenever I wore make up with my grey hair and high heels, people were intimidated by what they considered high levels of eccentricity. Or they were shocked and wondered why I wanted to dress up!
Eccentricity might run in my genes. However, when people think my dressing has to do with my desire to look young, I am pained because I believe that age has nothing to do with your appearance. It has everything to do with your mindset.
We women have always been made to carry the burden of age thanks to the responsibilities we are made to shoulder. Youthful behaviour has always been discouraged as frivolous.
If you skip you are made to walk, if you jump you are made to glide and when you laugh you are shushed into silence. Is it, thus, not surprising that people think when your chronological age is not in sync with socially defined so called appropriate behaviour?
A middle-aged woman is expected to stop having any feminine desires. With menopause you are expected to lose not just your hormones but your gender identity. I guess we might be expected to move from being ‘she’ to ‘it!’
You can indulge in family politics but you cannot discuss national politics. Additionally, you are socialised into taking a ‘back seat!’ But why? What is the use of all the experience that we have gained through life if we have no chance to use it now?
If grey hair does not make a man an ‘Uncle,’ why does it have to make a woman an ‘Aunty?’ Similarly, if wisdom is attributed to grey hair then why are women not considered wise? Is it therefore any surprise that women want to keep subjecting themselves to hair colour?
We do not want to accept the changes our body is going through because we are afraid of how the world will react to us. Hormonal changes that occur with age are not restricted to just women. There is also what I would like to call “male menopause” that we do not talk about – erectile dysfunction, enlarged prostrate etc.
With an increasing greying population in our country, it is time that people accept aging as something normal and not debilitating. It is good health that we should be concerned about, everything else is secondary!
As long as we are physically and mentally together it should be fine. And society should stop killing the spirit to live life “queen size” for middle aged and older women who are probably at the best stage in their lives to do so.
What do you think about this?
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Sarabhai Vs. Sarabhai Season 2
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Dreamer, writer, fiery feminist. I believe in diversity and in a world that is inclusive
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