Lockdown continues, and my hair carries on growing. Trivial, yet trying, and it does make you think, given that there’s plenty of time to do so. In my youth, I was relatively low maintenance – I was one of those girls who had long hair when it wasn’t fashionable, and I rarely went to the hairdressers. If I had been in lockdown then, I would have been fairly smug and self-sufficient, certainly about my hair. But for the last decade I have been trimmed and coloured, very much to my satisfaction, so the horror now that this has been whipped away is both tragic and comic. I haven’t seen my forehead for years, and it appears to have grown.
But why should I expect to have youthful hair when I am middle-aged? This is the real worry, that we will all be unmasked. Many of us – I know not all – acquire a youthful front as we age, cleverly disguised by hairdressers, beauticians, dentists and others, and I am one of these. I took a long hard look at myself, and realised that without access to all this, I would be almost blind, probably toothless and crowned by long, straggly grey hair. This is a dismal thought, but I did wonder if it would be more acceptable if we stopped all striving to maintain our youth. And then I found myself wondering further – would I actually be that bad?
Without being too specific, I tried to imagine myself in middle-age in a bygone century. Predictably, my first thought was of my hair, which has been glimpsed for the first time in some years sprouting from the roots. And yes, I would have had long grey hair, although to my surprise, it’s not actually very grey. It’s just that a few long whites show up rather obviously when you’ve got darkish hair. But perhaps in these long-gone years I would have worn a headdress of some kind? I found myself thinking of Dutch paintings – not a grey hair in sight.
The eyesight would have been a problem though, as I am one of those people who is so myopic that I would be a danger to myself and others if I ventured out without my glasses. However, I have been fortunate enough to live in the era of contact lenses, giving me artificially perfect sight. Without these I would have struggled to have lived any sort of normal life – unless, of course, my eyesight had, in fact, been less impaired. It is possible, although by no means certain, that this would have been the case. I was a very early and voracious reader, and some think this may cause or worsen myopia. Without all that early squinting at books, perhaps my vision would have been perfect. And, if slightly less so, then I would have had the advantage of being able to see close up in middle age, which might have been good for all that sewing I might have been doing.
I moved on to the rather less savoury thought of my teeth. They are mostly present and correct, but I am afflicted by gum disease, and only the ministrations of professionals and an obsessive electric toothbrush habit keep them so. My grandmother was toothless by my age, so I didn’t even have to go back too far in time to glimpse that alternate and toothless me. It was a distressing thought. But maybe there would have been other variables at play. I might have eaten and drunk a lot less sugar, for example. But – perish the thought – I might have had a lot more pregnancies, and I am fairly certain that these affect your gums. I have even heard that in the past women could lose a tooth with each one. I shuddered at this, and wondered if I might have been a nun, which would have had the additional advantage of a wimple. But I wouldn’t have been able to count on this, and the nun might have had the eyesight problems.
Another dental variable occurred to me, which was my many years of taking psychiatric drugs. Many of these cause dry mouth, and I am certain that they have advanced my gum problems. Had I lived in an era when these had not been invented I would not have been able to take them, and my teeth might possibly have been in better condition. But what about me? If, in this older time, I had never become ill, then all well and good. But, given my history, this would have been unlikely, so I might have had my teeth, but been locked in an attic, or asylum, and these might have been good outcomes compared with the alternatives.
Returning to the here and now and lockdown, I’m not sure how these meanderings help, unless to show that things are never straightforward, and that changing one thing can have many other unexpected results. Like everyone, I’m looking forward to getting out again, but things will be different, and in a funny and rather shallow sort of way, I’m glad to see the truth of my hair, and what lies beneath. It makes me think of all the interactions that have led us to this, and also that there is no one purist approach, that we can never really be truly natural. And while this is giving me an opportunity to enjoy dubious retro hairstyles that would not normally be that acceptable, I must say that I can’t wait to get the whole shaggy mess cut, coloured and made beautiful. There won’t be any au naturel for me then.