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‘If I look old, I will be treated old’: hair and later-life image dilemmas

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 11 November 2010

This paper considers the social symbolism of hair, how it is managed and styled in later life, and what attitudes to appearance in general and hairstyling in particular reveal about ageism in contemporary culture. The paper draws on findings from a two-year, nationwide, participative study of age discrimination in the United Kingdom, the Research on Age Discrimination (RoAD) project. Using data collected by qualitative methods, including participant diaries and interviews undertaken by older field-workers, the paper explores narratives of image and appearance related to hair and associated social responses. The paper focuses on older people's accounts of the dual processes of the production of an image and consumption of a service with reference to hairdressing – and the dilemmas these pose in later life. The findings are considered in the context of the emerging debate on the ageing body. The discussion underlines how the bodies of older people are central to their experience of discrimination and social marginalisation, and examines the relevance of the body and embodiment to the debate on discrimination. A case is made for further scrutiny of the significance of hairdressing to the lives of older people and for the need to challenge the assumption that everyday aspects of daily life are irrelevant to the policies and interventions that counter age discrimination and promote equality.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Richard Ward, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, The Jean McFarlane Building, University Place, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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