Women 'risk' gray hair to feel authentic

gray hair woman
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Many women "risk" allowing natural gray hair to show in order to feel authentic, a new study shows.

Researchers from the University of Exeter surveyed who chose not to dye their gray hair, and found a "conflict" between looking natural and being seen as competent.

Participants in the study—mostly from English-speaking countries—belonged to whose members allow their natural gray hair to show, and the researchers noted "solidarity and sisterhood" among these women.

"We are all constrained by society's norms and expectations when it comes to appearance, but expectations are more rigorous for women—especially ," said lead author Vanessa Cecil, of the University of Exeter.

"The 'old woman' is an undesirable character in Western societies, being seen as incompetent or unpleasant—if she is seen at all.

"In our study, we wanted to understand why some women choose natural gray hair.

"In the face of impossible standards to be natural and remain youthful forever, these women are doing what they can to retain status.

"Although many reported such as being ignored or treated as less competent, they also felt happier to be 'flying my natural flag."

"We also found that women chose to compensate for going gray by using other beauty practices—so embracing gray isn't the same as embracing looking old.

"Gray-haired and youthfully glamorous is one thing, but in Western societies it's still not OK to look old."

Responses from the 80 participants, members of two Facebook groups about transitioning to natural gray hair, suggested the key trade-off was between authenticity and being seen as competent.

Women reported being shamed—including by family and friends—for being too natural ("let oneself go") but also wanted to avoid looking as if they have tried too hard to conceal their age ("mutton dressed as lamb").

Those who were supported by partners, family and friends had an "easier time" of the transition to gray, Cecil said.

Many women have chosen natural gray hair during COVID lockdowns—both because hairdressers have been closed and due to spending less time in public, including at work.

"This appears to have accelerated a shift that was already happening, with more and more women choosing not to dye their hair," Cecil said.

The paper, published in the journal Journal of Women & Aging, is titled: "Gendered ageism and gray : must older women choose between feeling authentic and looking competent?"


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More information: Vanessa Cecil et al. Gendered ageism and gray hair: must older women choose between feeling authentic and looking competent?, Journal of Women & Aging (2021). DOI: 10.1080/08952841.2021.1899744
Citation: Women 'risk' gray hair to feel authentic (2021, April 12) retrieved 14 May 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-women-gray-hair-authentic.html
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