Going grey gracefully

I have my second living room letter!

Dear Gemma Rose,

I am a woman in my mid thirties and I’m starting to go quite grey. I’m wondering whether I should dye my hair or not. My mother keeps nagging me to do it, but I quite like my grey hair. I think it makes me look distinguished. Yet dying it would probably make me look a lot younger. What do the philosophers say on grey hair? Should I resort to dying it for the sake of looking young, and pleasing my mother?

Love the blog by the way.

– K

Dear K,

I feel honoured that you should bestow such a request for advice on me. As someone who is similar in age and going grey herself, it too is something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. I have very dark hair, so my greys (or are they white?) really are on show. I must say that I sometimes grieve at seeing more and more grey, and I try to hide the strands by changing my quiff or cut. I guess for me it’s like grieving my youth, that I’m not a “youngin'” anymore and that I am sort of approaching middle age.

There has been a double standard with going grey between the sexes. George Clooney is your typical salt and pepper (although he seems pretty much salt these days) hearthrob, or silver fox. Today, it’s pretty much accepted in society that men don’t feel the pressure or need to dye their hair, in comparison to the nineties when the use of ‘Just For Men‘ was rife. I definitely notice it with colleagues: the male ones revel in their grey, whereas the female ones tend to get the dye out.

However, there seems to a revolution going on: a grey one. ‘Grey is the new black! Blondies, it’s quiet for y’all!’ tweeted the fashionista Rihanna back in 2013. Young people who probably don’t have grey yet are flocking to colour the hair grey to be “on trend”. A Kardashian clan member even spent 11 hours for the privilege!

So grey is cool in the celeb world. But the difference seems to be that these are celebs who are dying their hair, not celebs who have bitten the silver bullet (I couldn’t resist) and decided to let nature do the talking, instead of Clairol. As you know, naturally grey hair is coarse and can have a life of its own, so to look good with grey, a bit of haircare and a good cut is needed. The tendency is that if you are going grey, better to go short too but I’ve seen some women who look fantastic with long, grey hair and I’ve seem some women who look like they have a bird’s nest on their head.

What do the philosophers say? Well, I reckon a few them were grey. For instance, Socrates was grey by the end of his life. As was Jeremy Bentham, David Hume and Michael Sandel. What about the women? Well Simone de Beauvoir looked like she might have only stopped dyeing her hair when she was well into her third act, same goes for Ayn Rand. I am no academic, but I’m not sure if hair colour was on the agenda. Hannah Arendt was kept occupied fleeing the Nazis and then covering Adolf Eichmann’s trial. Simone de Beauvoir was probably way-laid writing that feminism can never be achieved as long as women are considered a “deviation” of the male norm. Susan Haack is most likely spending a lot of her time writing about “foundherentism”. Not sure if philosophising about going grey is on her to-do list.

In a 2007 Time article about going grey in showbiz, political, business and even in the healthcare circles, this was practically unheard of and frowned upon. One doctor said she would be taken less seriously, viewed as an “alternative” practitioner, for going grey. One business woman admitted that her career success depended on not going grey. But that was 8 years ago, I think times have changed.

If you do decide to dye, according to the Guardian’s fashion expert Hadley Freeman, once you start, you can’t stop. And your bank balance won’t thank you for it.

Whatever decision you make, make sure that you feel good about it. If letting nature take its course displeases your Mum, I’m sure she will get over it. Of course, you can always suggest that she foots the bill every time you get your hair done. She might soon change her mind.

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Higher Pleasures

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”

– Oscar Wilde

I am trying to live within my means as of late. I went on such a crazy spending spree in January that I was very close to reaching my credit card limit. I am now feeling ever so slightly guilty at my over-indulgence; my poor will-power and absolute lack of discipline in saving money.

I was in a real pickle last week about whether to go to a Jazz concert. I have always been a bit of a Jazz fan – and my Dad and I are currently doing an online Jazz appreciation course – so I was extremely excited when I recently picked up a flyer for this concert. I naively thought that there would still be cheap tickets available. But no, only the expensive ones were left.

I agonised about whether it was worth buying a ticket. I had already dipped into my savings to pay off last month’s credit card bill and it didn’t seem like I would manage to save this month either. Could I really afford to go to a concert? “A penny saved is a penny earned” said founding father of the US and polymath Benjamin Franklin. My guilty conscience was telling me to save the money.

I ignored it all the same and bought the ticket. Over the following days, I attempted to rationalise and justify my decision as being a good one. My first justification was that it was my hard-earned cash and I could do whatever I like with it. Unfortunately, this reasoning is very superficial, and its sparkle soon faded. My Mum’s words of wisdom came next: “You have to spend money to make money”. My spending was helping the local economy make money – I skilfully argued with myself – and you never know who I could meet there or what opportunity may come out of going. This reasoning was more plausible, but I was still yet to be fully convinced.

It was the English philosopher, John Stuart Mill (also a polymath), who assured me that my purchase was justified. Mill developed Jeremy Bentham’s greatest happiness principle to incorporate the idea of assessing happiness on its value and desirability. Bentham’s theory on utilitarianism was non-judgemental: it was not the quality of the thing that made you happy which counted because all preferences were rated equally. What only mattered was whether this thing also made most people happy too. To Bentham, the enjoyment of watching reality TV shows would be of the same value as the enjoyment of watching Shakespeare.

However, the idea of all preferences being equal raised moral questions: surely it would still be morally wrong for society to allow horrible goods e.g blood sports even if this pleased the greatest number in society? Mill tried to rectify such an outcome occurring in his essay Utilitarianism (1861) by developing the happiness principle on the basis of “higher and lower pleasures”: society does value one good over another, and that the higher pleasures are the ones which contribute to society’s greater good. Thus “higher pleasures” are goods which are more valuable or desirable; they appeal to our higher senses and faculties. Perhaps they are harder or more difficult to acquire, comprehend or grasp, but we know intrinsically that they raise the quality of our being.

To me, watching a Jazz concert is a higher pleasure, and ever since I started the Jazz appreciation course, I have begun to understand how technically difficult Jazz is and how creatively ingenious its musicians are. I think John Stuart Mill provides an excellent moral justification for me forking out more than I would expect to for a Jazz concert.

When caught in a position of living on a budget and trying to save for a rainy day, it is natural to give ourselves a hard time about spending money on a pleasure that may seem like a waste. Nevertheless, if this is a pleasure that cultivates our mind, which adds to our character and nobility (and in the grand of scheme of things, it is affordable), then we should be reluctant to deny ourselves such a pleasure.