Age role stereotyping

One of the biggest reasons as to why women dye their hair is in attempt to stay looking younger. In our society there is too much age stereotyping (as is there too much of any stereotyping.) People should be able to be and look like how they want to be. Older women feel they must constantly buy products or physically look a certain way to be liked and to stay looking as young as possible. I find this age role stereotype comical in a way, because there’s young girls, who up until a certain age will try and look older than themselves to fit in and be liked by their peers who do the same thing. Then there’s the older women, who are always trying their best to look younger. “Ageing in women is “unbeautiful” since women grow more powerful with time, and since the links between generations of women must always be newly broken: Older women fear young ones, young women fear old, and the beauty myth truncates for all the female life span. Most urgently, women’s identity must be premised upon our “beauty” so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital organ of self-esteem exposed to the air.” (Wolf) It’s especially cringey when women try to look like their daughters!

An interesting fact: “Women have been covering up their grey for hundreds of years. Before synthetic dyes were created and modern methods mastered, plants were used to create a colored dye.” (McKenna)


Its such a shame the way that women are made to feel “Women are actually ashamed of growing older before they’re anywhere near old age. Once they’ve reached their mid twenties, women are generally reluctant to reveal how old they are… Growing older for the vast majority of women purely and simply means becoming less attractive. Ageing in a woman is seen as making her not only unattractive but repulsive and almost obscene to the world. (Adams and Laurikietis, 1980)” (Wilkinson, Pg 125.)

“When older women are portrayed-on the few occasions when they are not invisible by complete omission- they are exhorted to stay young and beautiful, to do things to their bodies to achieve this, and to wear make-up, hair products and clothes to conceal their real age.” (Wilkinson, Pg 126.) Few women in the media can get away with looking their old age. Many older women who are rarely shown in the media, must do all they can in order to look younger, to create an aspiring role model showing that women needn’t look their age.


For older women, the upkeep of their hair is more difficult and time consuming than say a middled aged woman who is yet to have grey hair. They are constantly dying their hair due to the grey roots coming through. “More than difficult shoes, eyelash extensions or losing weight, the tyranny of grey hair is the worst, most oppressive grooming diktat of all. The extent of the re-growth of my silver roots casts a shadow on my day. It dictates my movements and mood.” (Jones) Dying hair for some women is so important that it does control their mood.

“I am now 53 and it’s not an exaggeration to say this fear of grey roots has blighted my life for almost 25 years and, I have calculated, has cost me £60,000 in colouring treatments.” (Jones) It costs around £100 every time a woman has her hair dyed depending on what she’s having done and where she’s going. As Jones says, this adds up to an extortionate amount over the years! Hair dying is an obsession for women! An expensive one at that!

“But this addiction to dyeing is great for the big cosmetics houses: Mintel predicts the home hair dye market will be worth £283 million by 2012.” (Jones)

Why do we care so much about going grey? As I started to go silver in my late 20s, I simply felt it was too early. To me, grey hair was something to be ashamed of. And, of course, once you start dyeing your hair, you cannot easily stop. I used to visit my colourist every two weeks, but finding the time became problematic and living in the country got in the way, so I resorted to colouring at home. ” (Jones)



Sexist stereotypes, strikes again. In society, it is seen as the norm for older men to have grey hair, they can embrace this. Grey hair makes men appear wise. “Men become ‘distinguished’ as they grey around the temples. It lends them an air of maturity and gravitas. ” (Senior Times)  Where as for women, grey hair is an embarrassment, no woman wants to appear old and decrepit.

“There has always been enormous pressure on women to be beautiful and attractive – pressure that is piled on long after the bloom of youth has faded. The media constantly churns out images of youthful perfection. There is a billion euro industry in “hope in a jar” skin creams, cosmetics, hair dye, hold-in knickers and hoist up bras. While women in their 50s and 60s may tire of the endless appointments and enormous expense of having their color done every six weeks, many see no alternative. There is precious little advice out there on how to wear silver in style and the topic gets scant coverage in mainstream fashion and beauty publications. As a result, the majority of women are continually camoflauging their grey hair. But going grey does not entail joining the ranks of the “blue rinse brigade”, all austere crops and sensible flat shoes. There are plenty of options for those who want to go grey and look chic and sexy. For a woman who knows how to carry it off, grey hair can be a powerful symbol of confidence. More and more women are breaking away from beauty conventions, taking grey hair – the ultimate symbol of aging – and making it look very good indeed.” (Senior Times) Jamie Lee Curtis for example, or Pink.

“Anne Kreamer, author of Going Grey” has uncovered some interesting findings that may reassure any woman who feels apprehensive about the effects of going grey. According to Clairol research, 71% of women dye their hair in order to look and feel more attractive. No big shock there. Hearing this, Anne Kreamer decided to conduct an experiment which she hoped would shed a little light on how men view grey hair. She posted two profiles on dating website – both reported her true age, but one profile photo showed her with grey hair, and another with brown hair. She assumed that the brown haired profile would be more popular. The results blew her away:

“I couldn’t have been more wrong. Among in New York City, Chicago and — most shocking of all — Los Angeles, three times as many men were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray as when it was dyed. This blew my mind. Maybe the men sensed that if I was being honest about the color of my hair, I’d be more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made me stand out from the overwhelming majority of women my age who color their hair”.” (Senior Times)

“The truth about whether we embrace the grey as it comes, or modify it to our liking, is that at the end of the day you want to be happy with your hair for yourself.” (Senior Times) Before this assignment, and all the research I have done around the topic, I believed that women dyed their hair not for themselves, but for other people. To please others because this is what society wants us to do. However after extensive research and curating a survey, I have discovered that women dye their hair for themselves. Not for their husbands or friends, but because they want to feel good about themselves. Dying hair for women changes their mood, appearance and confidence in themselves.


Following on from a previous quote taken from the book, I myself have read ‘Going Gray’ by Anne Kreamer. This book has been just what I’ve been looking for in this assignment. It speaks just what I’ve been thinking. As the book is a narrative in a way, based on one womans voice and experience, I cannot rely on this book too much to evidence my thoughts. Although I can reflect on the book and give quotes I believe are important and need to be told around the topic of gender roles, sexism and particularly women dying their hair.

going gray

The book, ‘Going Gray’ is very informal, as if you’re chatting to a friend. Its about the author Kreamer contemplating whether to let her hair go naturally grey after the many years of tirelessly dying it. She finally decides to let her hair become its natural colour and to discover her true self, her true identity. The book is thought-provoking in exploring both ageing and femininity, particularly the cultural pressures and self-images that connect to dyeing hair, especially for middle aged women. Kreamer provides contextual and historical perspectives, “She notes that fewer than 10 percent of American women colored their hair in the 1950s, compared with a reported 40 to 75 percent today.” (Laavin) Kreamer talks about the biggest fears middle aged women face, for example: ‘am I still attractive as a grey haired woman?’. Her experiments prove to be surprising.


As conveyed in the results in my survey, most women don’t think about why they dye their hair or what they’re doing, they simply do it because everyone else does, “I had never before closely considered what the colour of my hair communicated to the world. Artificial colour was simply what I had always done, what almost everyone my age did, and what I unthinkingly assumed looked good.” (Kreamer, pg 5)

“I discovered that my hair was the one thing that I could manipulate to make me seem at least superficially like someone I wasn’t.” (Kreamer, pg 7)

“If white hair was something anyone famous had, apart from British actresses, Storm in the X-Men movies, and Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, then it wouldn’t feel so weird- it’d just be another colour to try on and live with. But in Southern California, I didn’t see a single woman with gray hair during my entire stay. It seems that almost everyone who can afford it really is absolutely,  professionally, unapologetically, committed to artificial youth- stereotypes and cliches can be true, can’t they?” (Kreamer, pg 61) I believe this comment to be true, as maybe it would be for any colour not just grey. Little celebrities have grey hair, and this is because like every other woman, we feel we must portray ourselves as youthful as possible. Grey hair is not youthful.

Society makes women believe that if they do not look after themselves, stay youthful and beautiful, then they are seen to be letting oneself go as Kreamer says: “This conversation made me wonder again at how choosing not to dye ones hair- and, increasingly, electing not to have plastic surgery- has become synonymous with “letting oneself go.”” pg 63

“Most of the women I talked to for this book admitted that their number one anxiety about letting their hair go gray was not a fear about how quickly they were closing in on their actuarial death dates- rather, it was that they’d instantly be seen as sexless, grandmotherly old ladies.” pg 68

“So for me, growing up, dyed hair equaled femininity, and social acceptance hinged on looking no different than the people around us.” (Kreamer, pg 70.) Today, it cannot be said that social acceptance hinges on people looking the same, however you are seen to be different if you do not conform to societies norms. To look different is becoming a positive, influential thing, yet many people are not confident in doing this. Therefore the norm is still to look the same as everyone else.

“And even a brutally clear-eyed man like Henry insisted that men weren’t as obsessed with sheer youth and prettiness as women assumed. “Remember,” he said, “every time you see some beautiful woman walking down the street, some guy is tired of fucking her. If men are so superficial, how could a guy ever get tired of fucking a beautiful model? If it were just about beauty, that wouldn’t happen. The way men read youth is about attitude and energy and vitality, the way a woman carries herself. Men respond to that kind of physicality.”” (Kreamer, pg 77) In other words authenticity, character? This is a good point, something I had never thought of before.

Great quote from Kreamer: “Gray hair, she made me think, has become a form of public nakedness.” pg 79. This is exactly what it is! Grey hair can make women feel vulnerable, an outcast and looked at, the same as what it would be if you were walking the streets naked… although you can’t get arrested for having grey hair!





Jones, L (2011) My 25-year battle with grey hair [online] available from [28th February 2015]

Wilkinson, S (1986) Feminist Social Psychology. Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Senior Times (2015) Silver Stunners [online] available from [28th February 2015]

McKenna, A (2012) To dye or not to dye [online] available from [28th February 2015]

Wolf, N. (2007) The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women. London: Vintage, 1991

Laavin, M. (2015) Going Gray [online] available from [5th March 2015]

Kreamer, A. (2007) Going Gray: what I learned about beauty, sex, work, motherhood, authenticity, and everything else that really matters. United States: Little, Brown and Company