Hair colour: a grey area
May 6, 2011 | By:
Does a grey-haired model on the cover of Vogue signal a turning point? Linda Kelsey thinks not

McMenamy: a model, yes; a role model, no. {a href="https://www.vogue.it/" target="_new"}Thanks to © VOGUE ITALIA{/a}

I wish I could feel thrilled about Kristen McMenamy, 46, posing on the front cover of Italian Vogue wearing little more than her waist-length grey hair. As a fifty-something feminist it would be greatly gratifying to herald this as some kind of cosmic breakthrough in attitudes. An older woman on the cover of a fashion bible? Surely, in itself, a cause for celebration.

This proclamation to the world that’s she grey and she’s proud would suggest that age is no longer a barrier to anything at all. Unfortunately, it means nothing of the sort. Examine these pictures more closely and the whole argument about this as a turning point in attitudes to women and ageing falls apart.

For a start, McMenamy’s face has been so re-touched that she resembles a 12-year-old. Either that or she’s been taking lessons from Dorian Gray. Then there’s her body. This is the body of a pre-pubescent girl, not the body of your average mature woman with grey hair.

I know models are different from you and me. They don’t have cellulite or muffin-tops. Their bottoms don’t droop. They don’t do breasts. And they live on chives and sometimes cocaine. That’s why they’re models.

That is the point we sometimes forget. They are models, not role models. And McMenamy’s grey hair is a fashion moment. Not a fashion movement.

The message is simply this: if you have the face and body of a teenager, it’s cool (this month) to be grey. But where does this leave the rest of us?

I do rather admire McMenamy for her personally bold statement. But I’ve seen unstaged paparazzi pictures of her with her long grey locks, and in those photos she resembles a dank day on Dartmoor more than the Snow Queen on Italian Vogue. As far as the magazine is concerned this is a publicity stunt, not a change of direction.

I’m all in favour of women going grey if they want to. I myself tried to escape the tyranny of the tint and go grey gracefully. Although if I’d grown my grey hair down to my waist I would probably have been burned at the stake as a witch.

What a relief it would be, I thought, after 30 years of battling the grey (I started sprouting silver hairs in my late twenties) not to have to arrange social events – even holidays – around my hairdressing appointments. Not to mention the money I’d save.

For six miserable months I allowed my hair to grow out, feeling myself becoming more and more invisible with each passing week. Then I gave up and went back to being a natural brunette.

I’ll tell you what would be a breakthrough in attitudes to ageing. Not an artfully posed Kristen on the cover of Vogue, but a female Mark Mardell on our news screens every night. Highly intelligent, of course. But fat-faced, fifty-something, grey-haired and a woman. I doubt I’ll live to see the day.

See also: Linda Kelsey’s comment on Vogue’s ageless style issue