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‘So long as there's hair there still’: displaying lack of interest as a practice for negotiating social norms of appearance for older women



Although women's appearance is theorised as being central to their identity and social currency, much prior research has argued that as women age, other aspects of their lives assume a higher priority than their appearance. Nevertheless, they continue to invest time in appearance practices. In undertaking these various appearance practices, older women have to negotiate a range of conflicting social norms of age-appropriate appearance, such as managing the balancing act between ‘letting themselves go’, on the one hand, and looking like ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, on the other. This paper contributes to the growing literature on older women's attitudes to their appearance and related practices. Drawing on data from a two-year research project in a hair-salon catering primarily for older clients, I examine the question of the importance to women of their appearance through the lens of their hair-care practices. Focusing on a group of nine female clients aged 55–90 in a small hair-salon in southern England, I show how participants in their talk and embodied presentation display shifting orientations of investment/interest (or lack of interest) in their appearance. Comparing participants’ appearance practices, with their talk in two sequential environments in which a possible interest in appearance is made particularly salient, I argue that these shifting orientations reveal participants’ subtle negotiation of competing social norms of appearance for older women.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Rachel Heinrichsmeier, School of Education, Communication and Society, King's College London, Room 1/23, ECS FWB-WBW, Waterloo Road, London SE1 9NH, UK E-mail:


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