Ageism In Fashion: Why Can’t Society Leave Women’s Hairstyles Alone?

Aniston at a "Just Go With It" premiere in Spain

If only Jennifer Aniston would develop a case of sticky fingers, or whatever it is LiLo currently suffers from, maybe she’d get some press coverage for something other than just her hair. But until she stops being a fairly stable and physically fit actress who ends up in rehab or jail, the world is stuck obsessing over her latest ‘do.

In January, Aniston called “The Rachel,” her signature Friends hairstyle “the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen” (no arguments here), instantly making my already-regrettable mid-’90s attempted recreation all the more embarrassing in retrospect.

Aniston’s hair is making headlines again this week because she debuted a sleek blonde bob just after her 42nd birthday while promoting her latest filmsy film Just Go With It in Spain, somehow managing to upstage the monumental noveau-youthquake event that was Justin Bieber Samsoning himself during a haircut. StyleList called it a “modern Rachel.” Babble drew comparisons to Barbra Streisand’s signature look. I wonder: Have we seen the end of Aniston’s long hair now that she’s passed the 40-mile marker? And perhaps more to the point, why the hell do we care so much?

The prognosis isn’t great. As we’ve already mentioned, women tend to sport shorter hairstyles as they age, though the alleged reasons are conflicting at best. And sure, longer hair can be more difficult to maintain depending on its texture; I’m lucky enough to have straight, thick hair that enables a brush-and-run grooming method that works fine even when it’s waist-length. If my hair was even the least bit susceptible to humidity horror, I’d quickly chop it to whatever length necessary to maintain my rushed morning routine. But that excuse doesn’t fly when taking into account the fact that famous actresses seem just as prone to chopping their locks as they get older. They have entire flotillas of assistants to help them maintain their personal appearance and style, so it’s hard to imagine any A-lister seriously weighing whether or not she can keep her hair a certain length and still hit the snooze button three times each morning.

Of course, there can be physical reasons to cut your hair after a certain age. Thinning hair looks fuller when it’s shorter and less weighed down. And after several decades of abuse via bleach and flat irons, some of us may need to chop off a hefty swath just to get rid of all those fried ends.

But it’s hard to deny the cultural push for women to sport “age-appropriate locks.” Dominique Browning discussed this subject in The New York Times a few months ago, saying that her mother, sister, and (gasp) agent all hate her long hair. “A concerned friend suggests that it undermines my professional credibility. But in the middle of my life, I’m happy with it. Which is saying a lot about anything happening to my 55-year-old body,” Browning wrote.

Basically, as far as society goes, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t when it comes to styling your hair past a certain age. Annette Bening got slammed for her super-short, super-edgy recent Golden Globes hairdo. Sure, it was a punky change for the normally-reserved 52-year-old actress. But would that same hairstyle have set quite so many tongues wagging had it been sported by, say, Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart, or any other 20-something?

Personally, while I think Aniston makes terrible movie script choices, her new look is a sweet, sleek style for spring. But here’s hoping she feels comfortable growing it out again if she so chooses, and that eventually, society will choose to obsess over something slightly more substantive than at what length women of a certain age should maintain their hair — and what all their innocuous style choices really mean. But selfishly, Jen, having a long-haired idol sure would go a long way toward helping me redeem my own misguided “Rachel” of yore.

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