Pat Muir is on vacation this week, so here’s some classic complaining from 2015.
I am frustrated that it is not truly acceptable for men to dye their hair.
I am 68 years old, have a full head of gray hair and think I would look very good if I dyed it sandy blond. People would make fun of me. I know this for a fact because a few years ago, I dyed my hair light brown and “friends” made fun of me. Another friend told me it made her so uncomfortable she couldn’t even tease me about it.
These same people do not make fun of my wife, who dyes hers sandy-blond every three months. Women of all ages dye their hair and it is perfectly acceptable. Some male celebrities dye their hair and because they are celebrities it seems to be OK. Probably 25 years from now it will be perfectly acceptable for older men to dye their hair. I won’t be around to enjoy the freedom!
You, Dear Crabby, will probably tell me to quit being so sensitive and dye my hair pink if I want to. I can’t do that because people would think I am being silly. Why is it acceptable for women to dye their hair but not men?
One Shade of Gray
Dear One Shade,
That’s a really good question.
I’d never really given it any thought, but there certainly is more of a stigma against men dyeing their hair. The reason is conditioning. You see, if you condition your hair after you shampoo it — .
Wait. Not that kind of conditioning. I mean social conditioning.
Mainstream society thinks it’s strange to see an older man with dyed hair but normal to see an older woman with dyed hair because we’ve been taught — collectively for generations and generations — that it’s vain of men, but normal and even expected (demanded) of women, to take conspicuous pains to look their best. We’ve also been taught that older men are distinguished, wise and attractive, while older women are washed up, asexual and matronly.
So, yeah, social conditioning: That’s the depressing answer. That’s why men can’t dye their hair.
Now, it should be stated clearly that those expectations, perpetuated by virtually all popular media, have had much more serious negative consequences for women than they have for men. (Technically, yeah, it’s a double-edged sword, but one edge is a lot sharper.) In other words: While it’s too bad that institutionalized gender norms make you feel weird about dyeing your hair, your feeling weird is nothing compared to the effect such expectations have had on the body image and self-esteem of countless women.
Given all of that, my advice is pretty close to what you expected: Go ahead and do it. If you think it makes you look better, there’s no good reason not to dye your hair. When people make fun of you (and they will), you can tell them you’re striking a blow against institutionalized gender norms. Or you can tell them to get bent. It’s just hair color, man.
Hope that helps.
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