Saturday 22 October 2016

Tanya Sweeney: 'Don't tell women over 30 what they can and cannot wear'

Tanya Sweeney

Published 23/06/2016 | 13:45

Tanya Sweeney
Tanya Sweeney

Now that the kibosh has been put on asking women if their bodies are beach-ready (quite literally in London, as it happens - Mayor Saddiq Khan has banned "body-shaming" adverts), people have had to move on to other ways of being bossy about women's appearances.

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One online scuffle caught my attention recently: the kickback on a list of things that women shouldn't wear over 30. Once you've reached that particular milestone, apparently, short hemlines, graphic tees, colourful eyeshadow and body-con are OUT.

The response by sane women was pretty hilarious: Twitter user Molly Manglewood created her own list of items that no women should wear after 30: fake bomb vest and airport, shirt made of wasps, full suit of armour in the pool.

Gas and so on, but the point has certainly been made. Women are officially over being told what to wear and how to look. We'll wear whatever the hell we want, thanks.

Yet, there's one facet of women's appearance that's still a bit of a grey area, literally. Earlier this year, Anne Kreamer released a book Going Gray: How To Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace & Style. In it, she admits that the decision to stop dyeing her hair was a liberating one.

"There are so many myths about going grey that, when you get through the undeniably difficult growing-out phase, you realise are total hogwash," she says. "About how you'll look old. About how you'll look as if you've let yourself go. About how you can never have long hair again. About how you're invisible. About how you'll kill your career. It's simply not true."

And for many, the decision to go along with their natural grey is a political one: a desire to show the world what real ageing women look like.

But the vast majority of us are chasing the grey away, exhausted in our quest to stay youthful of crown and vibrant of tress. There's a reason that the global haircare market is set to reach $265bn next year - we are (almost) all at it.

And some of us are at it more than most: in the last 18 months alone, I've gone from brunette to blonde to red, like an Aldi-brand Linda Evangelista.

On reflection, it's less a 'looks' thing and, quite possibly, more a psychological one. I'm not so daft as to think that a makeover will make everything in life better, but weirdly, red hair feels much more 'me'. A change is as good as a holiday, and it's an image overhaul that doesn't require weight loss, but does require two boxes of €7.99 dye.

It's already been established that several people change hair colour as a response to a big life event. Unlike a tattoo, it's a wily way to bring the curtain firmly down on one life chapter without any lasting evidence. A drastic hair change jolts people out of their psychological inertia.

I know several women who have washed men out of their hair, bringing their tales of woe and heartbreak straight to the basin.

Society in a wider sense has also got its own hard and fast ideas about hair colour.

In an Empathy Research poll conducted for Garnier, 33pc of men said they were most likely to associate red-headed women as a short-term girlfriend compared to women with other colours. The survey also found that blondes were considered the most likely to steal your boyfriend with women with blonde hair identified most with one-night stands (55pc).

Black-haired women were considered the most self-sufficient and ambitious with 57pc of respondents identifying women with black hair as being the highest earner. So don't tell me that these things are merely trivial, and don't matter.

Hair dyeing is a huge part in relaying, without words or actions, who you see yourself as.

It's ironic that in a world of selfies, Instagram and widespread contouring, the word 'vain' is synonymous with being vacuous and not especially clever. To be accused of caring about your appearance is a huge denigration, and one almost solely aimed at women.

But here's the thing: having self- confidence and confidence in your own image is a very powerful thing indeed.

Even Hillary Clinton has realised this fact and is quoted as saying: "Your hair will send significant messages to those around you. What hopes and dreams you have for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair. Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.''

Whether she wants to ditch the bottle and let nature do its thing, or whether she wants to fight the ageing process tooth and Shellac'd nail is every woman's choice.

In much the same way as it goes with short hems and necklines, there should be no hard and fast rules. There are those who say that outrunning nature is a fool's errand, but we shouldn't be shamed for caring about our looks, or for fashion, past a certain age.

Weight, make-up, graphic tees - the sooner we do away with the dastardly phrase 'women should', the better.

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