East of Elmgove

After the Snip

Should your age dictate the length of your hair?


My locks are gone, shorn on a whim. If only I had read that article, you know, the one in The New York Times, which said, in short, that long hair on mature women is a “mark of liberation.’’

I’ve always wanted to be a feminist, and now it’s too late. I spent months living with unruly hair, only to decide, in the end, that those wavy strands cascading down the nape of my neck looked stupid. I glimpsed in the mirror and saw the scraggly tail of a sickly squirrel. I called my stylist: “I can’t stand it! Book me.’’ If only I had done the research first. I always do the research. If I had Googled “long hair on middle-aged women” or, better yet, “long hair is the new black,’’ I would be celebrating the growing season.

Instead, I called M, a Picasso with scissors, and in no time my mane was a bob. Don’t get me wrong. The cut she gave me was superb, as always. It is full of bounce and vigor. But it is less; the glass is half-empty.

I was hasty and failed to pick up on the long-hair trend sweeping the country, though I did notice that Hillary was growing her hair and accessorizing it, no less, in a Wellesley College free-of-frills headband.

I figured Hillary was thinking outside the box. Little did I know that she was inside, riding the wave.

The 2010 story in the Gray Lady was penned by Dominique Browning, a writer and mother who lives in New York and on the Rhode Island coastline, hence the scratch-and-you-will-find Little Rhody connection.

She is pushing 60 and proudly sports long hair, not the kind that simply brushes her broad shoulders. No, we’re talking hair “long enough for a pony-tail with a swing to it... Long enough to braid.’’ Her agent thinks she’s “hiding’’ behind something. Her sister frets over it. Her mother hates it.

Browning isn’t listening. She is crazy about her hair and hangs steady despite all those judgments from people who can’t zip it. Long hair is too rebellious. Long hair is an attempt to relive one’s girlhood. Long hair is high maintenance, what with all those wisps flying hither and thither in a mad dash to the grocery store.

Are these complaints true or false? Who cares when Browning exhorts us to consider the “wonderfully sexy way our grandmothers, those women of the prairie, or concrete canyons, would braid their hair up in the morning and let their cowboys unravel it at night.’’

Come gather ’round the campfire, ladies: men like long hair, and what’s wrong with that?

Patience. If only I had exercised patience.

Yes, there are many things to worry about in the world today, but even the most ardent feminist, the one for whom personal grooming is a patriarchal conspiracy to oppress women, must agree that one’s day cannot proceed if the hair is uncooperative. Hair is a topic from the board room to the soccer field, from the professor’s office to the kitchen table. Hair is the great equalizer among women.

When I was a skinny little girl, I had a pixie. My hair was so short a grade-school teacher once directed me to the boy’s bathroom. “No, you belong here,’’ she said, gently pushing me in line with Billy, Brant and Sam. “I’m a girl,’’ I replied, but the damage was done. I would never succumb to the shears again.

I still have the photo from high school. I’m sitting on a picnic table with my elbows propped on my knees and my hands cupped around a Marlboro, probably the only one I smoked that year. I’m wearing a black Mexican-style shirt embroidered with the sun, red as meat. My hair falls over my shoulders like a tent. Curls and more curls. It must weigh a ton.

Amy had a bob, but she was the exception. Most of us had long hair that we rarely pulled back in ponytails or swept up in buns. We happily wore our hair “down,’’ even during gym. The goal was to obscure the face, not all of it, just the sides, in the way of Neil Young, back when he had hair.

I had long hair in college and in my early years as a reporter for a newspaper. No small feat considering that I was always in motion, sometimes in front of a burning house spitting sparks. In my late 30s, I decided to go for a trim. My friends said I was too old for long hair. I got a mid-back cut, which led to a shoulder-length cut, which led to a bob. I felt lighter, more swift-footed.

But then middle-age came and a pang of regret swept over me. Were those comments from my elders that long hair looks “silly’’ on older women the musings of ladies who parked the car and cut the engine at 50? I began to long for my long hair and let it grow. And then doubts mounted, and I called M.

If only I had read Browning.

Long-hair foes accuse her of “living in the ’70s.’’ Browning gives her mane a flip and responds: “And why not? I like being 55 going on 15. As far as I’m concerned, we never did get better role models than that gang of girls who sang their hearts out for us through lusty days and yearning nights: Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Cher.’’

I’ll pass on Cher as a role model, but gladly take the others, especially Joni, who is 68 and still has long hair. It’s a healthy gray, and, to steal from her Blue album, as long as a river to skate away on, long enough to make my baby cry.

Elizabeth Rau is an East Side resident who can be reached through her email.