February 13, 2014 | by Shafinaaz Hassim
Grey Expectations

Hair and aging …
Article for Oprah Mag Jan 2014

Hair and the  process of aging has a strangely glorious link. An old custom that I grew up listening to suggests that as hair whitens, it serves as a reminder to young observers that the wearer is bestowed with wisdom. Another suggests that a white beard on a man guarantees a torch to light the journey in the transition between this life and the next.
I remember as a little girl, watching my grandmother plait her hair after having carefully applied a home made concoction of coconut oil with rose essence. And the smell of rose and coconut is forever etched in memory to be associated with childhood and healthy hair. As her own lengths have slowly turned luscious shades of silver, I begin to note how the signs of grey gradually creep in-between my layered brown lengths of hair, less easy to hide as they stubbornly assert my aging process. Hair is often associated with attractiveness, with how we display independence of style and either a rebellion to current trends or a fierce adherence to them. Aging hair carries various labels: white hair, grey hair, silver hair, invoking some purity, some wisdom and perhaps denoting something valuable. And how we wear our hair  also  comes with a degree of self consciousness.
Bad hair days have been branded as days to bring out silk scarves and display the hat fetish and good hair days carry an air of consent and worth: social protocol tells us that it’s okay to flaunt attractiveness. Anything less must be hidden.
And in between the two, the good and the bad, there’s that moment when the first greys begin to show, and life presents a moment of ambivalence. On the one hand, early impatience causes one to reach for bottles of hair dye to cover up natures stubborn billboard of aging. On the other, it’s  understood as a sign of wisdom, and over time with renewed reassurance that there is no genuine battering of self worth in the silvery lining of ones head, I think I will be more amenable to just letting it be. Greying, as with freckles, laugh lines and wrinkles, are life’s way of highlighting the value of the years that we’ve stacked up, mementos in big and small accomplishments, in ways of being, in growing up. And this way, the opportunity for a new level of humility is forged.   If we allow this process of aging and reflection to be successful, comfort can be then found in selfhood, and we can look into the mirror and know that grace and age are true companions.

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of 'Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective' (2007), 'Memoirs for Kimya' (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence 'SoPhia' (2012). Her work has been shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize and the prestigious K Sello Duiker Award 2013, and she has been awarded in Hay Festival's category of top 39 authors under the age of 40 in Africa during the London Book Fair 2014. She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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About Shafinaaz

Shafinaaz Hassim is a sociologist based in Johannesburg. She is the author of Daughters are Diamonds: Honour, Shame & Seclusion -- A South African Perspective (2007), Memoirs for Kimya (2009), and the critically acclaimed novel on domestic violence SoPhia (2012). She is also the editor of the Belly of Fire anthologies for social change series, which was launched in 2011. Her research focuses on biographical narrative in the interplay between personal and political spaces and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. She has lectured and presented seminars at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

My Books

Sophia

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Daughters are Diamonds

Honour, Shame & Seclusion- A South African Perspective
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The Garden of Love and Longing (2017)

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