Facial hair bane of the ageing woman

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2014

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Rosemary McLeod

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OPINION: Beards. They tell you soothing lies about being an ageing woman, but they give that one a swerve.

They say – because baby boomers now dominate statistics – that getting old is sexy, and show you photographs of older women who've remained ideal, like that maddening Helen Mirren.

They speak of Brigitte Bardot as if she's still toothsome, when truth to tell, her face now resembles an anorexic pug, but they don't tell you why nine out of 10 older women stopped at traffic lights are examining their chins in their rear vision mirrors, pulling very peculiar faces, or why so many of us incessantly run our fingers over our chin-lines. It's hair we're looking for. Stumps. Hair that starts to sprout there in your 40s and requires eternal vigilance, because the one thing we don't want to be is a bearded lady.

I congratulate Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, aka "the bearded lady", for having full facial hair while dressed in a frock and winning the Eurovision Song Contest, but ordinary women wouldn't be applauded for being bearded in a frock, which, when you think about it, would be far more daring.

Yves Saint Laurent has featured a pretty girl (as far as I know) model with a moustache in recent advertising, which I call too cool for comfort. But then I'm provincial.

Facial hair on drag queens is OK, even piquant, but on women it's the last great no-no. Nobody loves a feminine bristly chin, or likes being punctured with a stout bristle when they're in a clinch. You can bet Mirren has beauticians tracking hers with giant microscopes and that Bardot, while she adores animals, would not want to be a persian cat in the facial hair department. Unwanted hair is the bane of an older woman's life, a final frontier of dignity, an incessant battle with time.

My mother long ago would pause in a good light behind net curtains and chase her unwanted hairs, viciously removing them with pink, scissor-handled tweezers. She'd have none of them. And I was the visitor my grandmother asked to cut her toenails, which she could no longer reach, and pluck the long, soft tendrils on her face, which she could no longer see. Even in her 80s, long past being an object of desire, or wanting to be, she was a woman I could understand.

In Wellington, when I was a teenager, a woman with a full beard could often be seen carrying her shopping bag through town. She had a full, Celtic beard of auburn hair with a white streak through it, incongruous under a woman's hat, and I guess she'd given up on it long before. What woman wants to shave her face daily? It's bad enough remembering to scrape your legs and armpits. I admired that woman for not giving a damn, but I do.

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Strange, isn't it, how we draw the line at hair in the wrong place while it's smart to become bald in the places where it grows naturally? I can remember when older women didn't shave their legs, and the hairs curled thickly under their sheer, flesh-coloured stockings. It looked revolting. They told young girls we should never shave ours because they'd get thicker if we did, an inter-generational lie we ignored. Who were they kidding?

There are women who say you shouldn't patrol your facial hair because it's natural, or giving in to male expectations. But why take a stand on this issue on the grounds of being so together that you don't care about your hairy moles and whiskers? What does it prove? Drag queens strut the line between masculine and feminine, which is fine, but I don't yet picture the day when ordinary women grow beards to enhance their lipstick.

- The Dominion Post

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