From Sharon Osbourne to Jane Fonda, let's celebrate the unrepressed brilliance of white hair

Middle-aged women are still pressured into hiding their natural grey when they appear on television. But many are now refusing to meet these sexist expectations

Female celebrities’ most minor hair modifications often make headlines, but the fuss around Sharon Osbourne’s new do gave me pause. After dyeing it a vibrant burgundy red once a week for 18 years, she is now the chic spitting image of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly, pictured with a luminous white bob. Just a week before, Jane Fonda visited the same colourist for a stylish grey pixie cut for the Oscars.

Osbourne had reportedly felt “obligated” to dye previously, according to colourist Jack Martin, due to her role as a host on a US chatshow, The Talk. How little we see grey and white hair on primetime television – on women at least. This is either because they are much younger than the men they host with or dyeing to appear so. Usually, it is both. Think about it: Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid. Karren Brady and Alan Sugar. I have never seen a hint of grey on a female X Factor judge, but Louis Walsh has had white hair since it began in 2004. The Great British Bake Off seems to be one of the few places where silver manes among the judges are not gendered.

Unlike the gradual greying we celebrate in “silver foxes” such as Jeff Goldblum or Steve Carrell, many famous older women suddenly stop dyeing after a long-coming “sod it” moment. Jamie Lee Curtis said she abruptly quit after wondering: “What the eff am I doing putting a chemical on my head that burns?” Osbourne’s decision was unlikely to have been taken lightly; the academic Mary Beard fronted an entire Radio 4 documentary called Glad to be Grey, in which she spoke of the backlash she receives for daring not to dye while on TV. In 2012, Fiona Bruce said she doesn’t let her grey hairs show when reading the news; eight years later, it is still the case. Much of the hubbub surrounding Keanu Reeves’s “age-appropriate” girlfriend was undoubtedly down to her hair colour. She is eight years younger than him, but far greyer.

Society makes the odd allowance, for majestic actors such as Helen Mirren and Judi Dench or elegant, older models in high fashion campaigns such as Carmen Dell’Orefice or Iris Apfel.

Cara Delevingne, Rihanna and Lady Gaga have all sported #grannyhair too, a look that once dominated Pinterest and Instagram: because a shock of silver is celebrated when it is on someone so young it’s unlikely it’s natural. A few years ago, when grey braids were all the rage, a friend’s grey-haired mother’s decision to have them done was met with surprise; it was deemed something for millennials, since middle-aged women were supposed to be hiding the grey.

Hats off to Osbourne and Fonda: this is one hair trend I hope sticks.


Yomi Adegoke

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Most of the time they put you in a scarf’ – why black actors struggle in the hair-and-makeup chair
A new campaign aims to tackle the lack of experience among beauticians on set, which sees black actors frequently asked to do their own hair and makeup

Deborah Hobson

09, Jul, 2017 @4:00 PM

Article image
The Ashford hair boom: how does one market town support 28 hair salons?
After it was revealed that the town in Kent has 28 hairdressers for only 75,000 people, we sent a reporter to find out why

Dale Berning Sawa

25, Feb, 2020 @5:05 PM

Article image
Peachy! The rise of a fruity hair colour
Lady Gaga sports it, and so does Paris Jackson. It’s a combination of orange and pink tones on a base of blond and available at a specialist salon near you

Amy Walker

15, Apr, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
Can a model’s monobrow help women embrace body hair?
Sophia Hadjipanteli revels in her black, bushy brows. But her success proves that, while all body hair is equal, some is more equal than other’s

Priya Khaira-Hanks

09, Apr, 2018 @12:11 PM

Article image
Austerity is so last season – why else would celebrities be cutting their hair?
The rise in bob haircuts, as seen on Sienna Miller, Rosamund Pike and Cheryl Fernandez -Versini, is clearly a very, very important story – at least if certain newspapers are to be believed

Hadley Freeman

23, Mar, 2015 @3:01 PM

Article image
Fade to grey: why women should stop dyeing their hair
Silver hair has become fashionable for everyone – except women who have it naturally. So why do so many of us keep hitting the bottle?

Camilla Palmer

25, Apr, 2016 @5:49 PM

Article image
Hair raising! The return of the perm
The trend responsible for some of the 80s’ most ‘memorable’ barnets is back. But fear not – the modern look is less Deirdre Barlow, more a tumble of soft waves

Leah Harper

21, May, 2019 @4:10 PM

Article image
Sharon Osbourne goes to the dogs
Milady has got 12 pooches – and she wants the whole world to know it. Does she have a TV show in mind?

Marina Hyde

15, Dec, 2011 @4:34 PM

Article image
How to colour your hair – without damaging it
If you’re thinking about a new look, follow these expert tips to avoid a disaster. And never, ever do a DIY bleach job

Rita Hazan

05, Jan, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
Neat pubic hair? Pregnant women should never be pressured to get a brazilian
Having a baby is the world’s single most courageous feat. So why would a textbook publisher illustrate it with a picture of a woman with trimmed pubic hair?

Nell Frizzell

13, Feb, 2019 @4:19 PM