Women Over 40. Long Hair. Welcome to the New Beauty Controversy.

Recently, the New York Times examined one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century – climate change. And then – wait for it – they looked at long hair on middle aged women. Writer Dominique Browning, aged 55, possesses a long, graying veil of hair that she likes to wear loose around her shoulders. She defends her choice of hairstyle to a world of cynics who claim she’s “acting out” and “stuck in the 1970s.” Her response? She’s letting all her gray hair hang out and screw the naysayers.

To which we say to Ms. Browning: you go ahead and rock your bad long-haired self. To each her own – you want long, gray hair, you flaunt it. But society seems to dictate that women chop off their long locks at the first sight of crow’s feet. Long hair is relegated to glossy youths who shake their locks with abandon and turn their dewy faces to the sun without concern. And why is this?

(And sure, many might sigh “Who cares?” We support you. For the rest who want jump through this veil of controversy, gather around. Because veils are like hair? Right? Sorta?)

We get the appeal of long hair. I chopped my hair in the 1990s in an attempt to mimic Winona Ryder’s “Reality Bites” hairstyle. A few years later I was caught up in Tolkien frenzy (long live Eowyn!) and decided to grow my hair as long as possible. It traveled to my elbows. I was able to play with as many Middle Earth hairstyles as I wanted, as I am a nerd. I had braids, bangs, and bangs with braids. Now, as I’m staring down 40, it resides somewhere in between. Am I supposed to keep it short now?

If you look at the more synthetic representations of modern womanhood, as evidence of reality shows and troubled starlets, you don’t see a lot of pixie cuts among them. The “Real Housewives” franchise all showcase largely middle-aged women with long hair, usually wigs or extensions. A walk around Beverly Hills confirms that women of all ages are sporting long hair – along with Botox and enough lip filler that could raise the Titanic from the ocean floor. Long hair is a societal marker of youth, and many women want it.

And yet, we cut it as we get older. Some women cut their hair when they have kids. I have more than one friend, (well, almost all of my friends) who chopped their hair after giving birth because they couldn’t be bothered with it. But others seem to cut it from societal pressure that they are “too old” for long hair. And while it might be unfair and wrong to think so, would anyone expect Hillary Clinton to carry curls past her shoulders while engaged in diplomacy? Someone besides Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

And by judging from the comments on Ms. Browning’s New York Times piece, there’s a lot of emotion on the matter. Some pointed out that your hair loses thickness as you age, and that long hair simply isn’t an option for some women afflicted with patterned baldness.

Others worried over the stagnant state of femininity in the world. Kellie from Shanghai wrote: “Reading this article and the comments, all I am left with is the saddening realization that no matter how old or ‘mature’ we get, we women seemingly will never be able to get over judging each other for how we look. I can’t believe that anyone feels the need to justify the length of their hair to anyone else, and worse, to insult (be it blatantly or covertly) those who would make a different choice.”

Suzanne from Denver took a different approach. As she commented, “Good for you if you can pull it off (no pun intended), but many older women who wear gray hair long look a bit witchy or worse, a bit pathetic, as if they’re trying to regain their lost youth. There’s a great expression for this: mutton in lamb’s clothing”.

But Blondtitude, 58, from San Francisco, perhaps summed it up the best. As she wrote in response to Ms. Browning’s article, “Oh yes, middle-aged should wear their hair short, bobbed and tamed? Dear God, you may as well put us into Eileen Fisher outfits where all the pieces were created to be worn together, homogenized like milk.” We raise a fist of support to you, Blonditude!

Tell us, do you think middle-aged women should forgo long locks? (And if you have a decent exit strategy for Afghanistan, we’re all ears on that too.)

Images: evil erin, nrbelex

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.