Hair and age

Authored by: Richard Ward

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology

Print publication date:  June  2015
Online publication date:  June  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415631143
eBook ISBN: 9780203097090
Adobe ISBN: 9781136221033


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There is a malleability to hair that gives it a distinctly expressive and discursive quality. For this reason it has long attracted attention in the analysis of culture and identity (Synott 1987). But hair is also part of the body, and these bodily origins have often been overlooked in efforts to deconstruct the hairstyle as a cultural artefact. In this chapter we consider hair and its relationship with ageing. In order to fully appreciate the significance of hair with regard to the meaning and experience of growing old, we must not only consider the signifying properties of the hairstyle, but also the lived experience of the ageing body. As Katz has argued of embodiment more generally, it is ‘a materialising process whereby the vicissitudes of physical and biographical ageing are grounded in bodywork practices, routines and environments’ (2011, 192–3). Consequently, the cultural expectation that we manage our hair, as it grows or recedes, becomes tangled, greasy, split or brittle, means that it is not only a necessary part of our regime of self-care but also integral to an ongoing and embodied biographical narrative. Hair can feature prominently in the relationship we have with ourselves over time. As it changes, hair helps us to recognize our own ageing (Hockey and James 2004). How we respond to the greying of hair often reveals something of our attitude to ageing. And this process, by which we make sense of our own ageing bodies as a response to how others see us, has long been a preoccupation for cultural gerontology and efforts to theorize the ageing self (for example, Biggs 1997, Featherstone and Hepworth 1991).

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