So who are the grey haired women that first spring to mind in Hollywood products and how were they represented?
My first thought is the film Moonstruck, starring Cher as a middle aged (beautiful) woman, Loretta with a bit of grey who is all work obsessed and dried up. After meeting the Nicolas Cage character Ronny, she visits the hairdresser before their date and finally relents to having her grey 'taken care of'. She is then filmed in a completely different way, the camera swoons, the lighting is soft, the close ups are, well, closer. And she has brilliant sex. Her mother on the other hand, played Olympia Dukakis is a (beautiful) silver haired Italian wife being cheated on by her very ugly, fat, work obsessed husband. She has a flirtation with a man that makes her realise she is still alive, valid and sexual and this gives her the strength to tell her husband to get rid of his mistress (who has bright fake red hair - clearly a slut in Hollywood terms!). So what does this say about what it is to be a grey haired women in this narrative world? I read it as meaning you can only have safe married sex, you are too 'mature' to be naughty and you can only really be regarded as an object of desire if you 'take care of those greys'!
I actually think Cher looks stunning with greying hair at the front, as most dark, olive skinned women who've had very dark hair do. The contrast is arresting, the silver frames the face and adds interest.
Hmm, which reminds me of another Hollywood character with greying hair that frames the face. You got it, Cruella de Ville. The woman that kills puppies, hundreds of them just to adorn herself. She is pure evil and she has a grey streak. The look has been stolen and reused in popular subculture in a wonderfully subversive way ever since. I msyself sported a Cruella steak during a particularly pretentious and painful goth phase (check out the barnet of the lead singer of 80s band The Damned). But I certainly wouldn't have killed puppies, it was play, playing with representations, hair as a shortcut to meaning, it was my way of rejecting the meanings created by huge multinational media makers that is foisted upon us.
And that maybe is the point. As consumers of culture, we can't influence how Hollywood or TV companies represent older people or grey haired people, but as consumers we can determine how we 'read' this representation. We do not have to accept it as dominant, we can negotiate the meaning, we can play with it, challenge it and subvert it through making our own media that's different and by living by different rules.
Much has been made in other blogs about the grey hair sported by the boss played by Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada. But factor in the implication of the title, the way the character behaves for most of the film and her ultimate undoing - her husband abandons her. She is certainly on a journey and comes good, but it's almost at odds with her image. I'm amazed they didn't give her a bit of a Maraget Thatcher (more of her another time - don't get me started...) golden hue for the last shot to properly show that she was, deep down beneath her severe silver hair, a nice person. Also factor in the representation of the Anne Hathaway character who looks just like snow white and we see the film is full of intertextual references that are decades old, and go further back into folklore and the oral history of good and bad characters in storytelling.
Hollywood, as we all know has it's limitations, its faults but perhaps too, as all powerful creators of meaning, it's responsibilities. Let's have some honest, true representations of women in their 20s and 30s who have succumbed to the grey, allow actresses to be other than the ubiquitous blonde size zero and let's have some properly 3 dimensional older women on the screen - PLEASE!!