Maura had been cutting my long, curly hair for several years. She layered it so the natural curl was the norm rather than the exception. She kept me frizzless and expertly layered the shorter lengths above my ears, keeping them from growing out and looking like ear muffs. Her hand was deft when it came to mixing perfect proportions of yellow with brown for my caramel highlights, and more importantly, she knew where to place the lightened strands so they illuminated my face. Maura knew just how to get my long hair to look good, and was worth every penny.
Maura and I had a good thing going until one October afternoon, after I had just had a birthday and she congratulated me on still looking ah-mazing. "We'll have to start looking for shorter hairstyles for you," she said matter-of-factly. "You can't keep this length much longer at your age."
Those words hit me like a blast of cold arctic air.
At your age?
I told her I loved my long hair, kept it in great shape, as her work calendar showed, and had no plans for cutting it. But Maura must have had a thing for frigid temperatures because she had more to say on the subject of Middle-Age Long-Haired Women, and wasn't dropping it.
"Next birthday, we're cutting off six inches," she joked. "I can't let you look like Crazy Mary on a broom, can I?"
I doubt that Crazy Mary on a broom could afford the car payment I was giving to Maura every six weeks. She finished the trim and color, and like always, I left her a nice tip. As I walked out, I thought about how Maura had no idea that that would be the last time she'd be cutting my hair.
By the time my next appointment came around, I had found someone new. Liz has been cutting my hair for more than two years now. She has a beautiful tattoo that covers her arm up across her shoulder, a gold nose ring, and her long hair curves along the inside of her elbows. I have an appointment with her every six weeks for a deep condition, a highlight touch-up, and a trim to get rid of any split ends. And we always talk about how much we like our long hair.
Since that appointment with Maura almost six years ago, I've continued to wear my hair past my shoulders. And, like I said before, I have absolutely no intention of ever cutting it. From time to time, there have been others (read: young people) who have asked me about when I plan on lopping off my locks and it always puzzles me. Why is our culture so uncomfortable with older women who have long hair?
The way we wear our hair as we age should be left up to us, but the conversation seems to be about more than just looks and fashion. Long hair has always been sexual. Indeed, an older woman who wears her hair long is saying without words that she's still alluring and desirable. Some people — for whatever their reasons — don't like that, and this is where the uncomfortableness begins.
Like skirt lengths above the knee after middle-age, some people (read: annoying and younger) don't like to think about the idea of being attractive after turning 40 or 50, forgetting that they, too, will someday be of middle-age. To be honest, above-the-knee skirts, just like long hair, only look bad if you choose the wrong style. For a flirty skirt or, for that matter, a flip of a hairstyle to work, the same rules apply — good posture and good taste.
"I can't wait until you start turning gray," Liz said to me after my last birthday and cut. "Your hair is going to look fabulous."
If you ask me, there's only one rule for wearing long hair after you turn 40 — with confidence and no apologies.