When I was in my early forties I took my first trip to Scotland. It was a whirlwind of new experiences. I discovered you could drink carbonated soda at room temperature, that ale isn’t like beer at all, and that black pudding is really very good, so long as you eat it with eggs that have really runny yolks. But part of what I learned was that in the U.K. older women are not invisible to young men.
Having spent most of my life as a young, cute blonde girl, quite visible but for all the wrong reasons, I’d become comfortable with fading into the background as I aged, because I was done with fending advances. After decades of leering looks, copped feels, really dumb double entendres and generally being treated like furniture, I’d take being unseen over being a target, with pleasure, thankyouverymuch. But then, one Sunday in Edinburgh, I encountered a young, handsome Irish fellow in a souvenir shop who did not ignore me.
Such a sweetie, he took seriously my touristy desire for a clan badge for a clan that was not my own. He wasn’t certain he had one, but he was perfectly willing to help me dig through baskets of pins looking for it. He appeared to be having as much fun on my trip as I was, chatting merrily as we knelt on the floor, looking for a Matheson clan badge for the character in my new book. I adored his accent as he told me about Ireland vs. Edinburgh, and I noticed he didn’t have was the condescending, yet somehow suggestive tone American men always seemed to have. If they spoke to me at all. This young Irishman spoke to me straight across, just as I’d always wished to be spoken to. I was astonished.
Throughout that trip I noticed other young men who did the same thing. The barkeep at a pub, a hotelier in the Highlands, a cab driver, a waiter. I was visible to all of them! The only downside was that I could no longer fight crime or walk into men’s rooms. I returned home, wondering what was wrong with American men.
Years later when I turned fifty, I celebrated my new eccentricity. I was, I felt, now officially eccentric rather than simply weird. I was now able to get away with things, just like Estelle Getty in “The Golden Girls,” whose character had no filter, so that she blurted whatever crossed her mind with impunity. In short, I could be myself and not be censured. Mostly. I was still invisible to young American men, but that mattered less and less. American men were a writeoff, and British men were…well, over there. I accepted.
Then one day last year I was getting my hair colored, and my hairdresser’s next customer arrived early. She sat and chatted with us while my cut was finished up and blown dry. I noticed her hair. She had short, blonde hair in a kicky sort of style, and it had large streaks of bright purple. The sort of eye-catching color one these days usually sees on millennial girls, and sometimes boys. But this woman was my age, and it struck me that she didn’t look as if she were trying to appear younger than she was. In fact, it was just the opposite. She actually appeared to be flaunting her age. As if she were saying, “Yeah, I’m fifty-five. Get over it.” I couldn’t help staring at that fabulous color.
My hairdresser said I should have mine dyed like that. I said, “I was just thinking that same thing.” Not purple, because then I’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe. But blue. My favorite color is blue, which would work with everything I own. After some discussion, we settled on a bright, electric blue. Just little spots at first, but over the following year it increased to larger, more visible streaks.
Way more visible. Like a light going on, I was suddenly noticed, in a good way. Younger people I didn’t know, older people I did know, all thought it was delightful. Most importantly, I enjoyed it. In an odd way, it seemed as if people in general began treating me like the person I felt I was inside. Eccentric, creative…visible.
This afternoon I was in a book store with some friends, at the checkout, and a handsome young man at the cash register said, “I love your hair.”
I thanked him kindly. I’d grown accustomed to positive remarks about it but it’s always nice to hear. I said, “Yeah, I’m a blue-haired old lady.”
“You certainly pull it off well.”
I thanked him again, now truly flattered. What a sweetie, and he sounded like he meant it, unlike all the young men of my own youth who’d only ever wanted to get me into bed. (Not nearly as much fun as one might think.) What a joy!
Outside the store I told my friends, “I love being an age where I can get a compliment like that from a young man and know for a certainty he’s not trying to pick me up.”
At long last I can be myself. Now I know what Robert Frost meant: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!’”
4 thoughts on “On Being a Blue-Haired Old Lady”
Sing it long and sing it proud!
I’ve had a blue streak in my hair (and before that it was streaks of blue with red underneath, during my Superman period) for six or seven years now. During the lockdown, when I grew out my gray, I tried a purple temporary color, but I’m back to blue now.
I’ve had a homeless guy pause in the middle of an obvious drug by (in the Tenderloin in San Francisco) to yell “LOVE YOUR HAIR!” The checkout folk at my local market and I exchange compliments on hair color choices. I work in a museum, and when it’s my turn at the front desk there are people who clearly dig it–and the odd person who keeps trying to keep looking at my face, but whose eyes slide up to the blue streak in my curls with a sort of disbelief.
I’ve decided it’s fair warning. I’m an Old Lady, but I’m a weird Old Lady. Watch out. I could be tricky.
Err — Robert Browning.