A few days ago, one morning, I noticed a few grey strands hiding beneath my usual jet-black hair. These weren’t the first because for as long as I can remember, I have always had two strands (literally) of grey hair right on my hairline and I never gave it much thought. They didn’t bother me and I didn’t bother them. That day, however, things were different because I noticed I had grown multiple strands. I love silver hair, my father has always flaunted his shiny silvery strands and maybe that’s the reason, I was excited to grow some of my own. That day, I tried counting, parting my hair differently to show them off, and admired them multiple times throughout the day. And I shared the good news with friends and family but to my disappointment, not everyone seemed as excited as I was. Most of them blatantly suggested dying my hair, and nobody believed I was excited to grow them out, “looking old is not fun,” they seemed to challenge me. But why do we as a society perceive aging – something so natural – as a negative? And why when both men and women experience aging equally, it’s a thing of shame, especially for women.
While on my many diversions, I came across this new show that seemed to have taken the Nepali internet by storm. Now the content of the show – the direction is a discussion for another day, but there was something that struck me in the very first episode. The contestants were using “Budo” or “Budi” as an insult. The dating show which is supposed to be a journey to find love seemed to declare in its first episode that if you are old, you are cancelled; you don’t deserve to find love.
The global beauty industry today is a 532-billion-dollar business and these billions couldn’t have been made if we didn’t obsess over the smallest wrinkle.
This idea that aging means sexual disqualification is rooted deep into our culture. A man in his 40s will have no problem finding a wife while for a woman only in her 30s it’s nearly impossible to find a husband without a few raised eyebrows. As a filmmaker, I hold mass media as the biggest culprit in cultivating and perpetuating this sexist idea. I remember Malvika Subba sharing how most of the comments she gets these days are about her age, calling her auntie while if you scroll through Rajesh Hamal’s social media account, you’ll see he’s constantly complimented for how he’s growing better with age and he’s always Rajesh Dai. In Shakti (1982), Rakhi plays Amitabh Bachchan’s mother when she’s five years younger than him. Niruta Singh and Dilip Rayamajhi’s are the same age but she has played his mother.
Hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers around the world constantly bombard us with tips to look younger, they “celebrate” women for looking younger than their age. But why do we have to be in this constant battle with our biological self? Why is grey hair or a wrinkle such a downfall? Why is looking at our actual age a sin? Because in a patriarchal society, self-assured women mean they will demand equality and respect and as for the capitalist aspect of our society, women’s insecurities equal profit.
The global beauty industry today is a 532-billion-dollar business and these billions couldn’t have been made if we didn’t obsess over the smallest wrinkle. My 23-year-old sister said she’s starting on a certain cream because her “smile lines” are showing and it makes her feel conscious. With shop shelves filled with “age-defying” products combined with media messages that echo, we lose out on opportunities, if we don’t look brighter, fairer, supple – all different words for youth, and it’s impossible to not feel insecure.
I remember my anxieties too had begun creeping up in my early 20’s and I felt like my time was running out. I could hardly imagine life after 30. It has taken me long years of learning to allow myself and my body its natural growth without protest. I’ve also come to accept that although it’s the society that operates this system of inequality, it’s us women who consent to it.
When I was younger, I never understood why my father embraced his grey hair right from the beginning while my mother spent her Saturday afternoons drenched in henna. When my father’s hair was first turning grey I had asked him why he wouldn’t dye his hair back to black and he’d say, “If I look old, clients will think I am more experienced and I’ll get more cases and you’ll get more toys.” I was naïve then but now I know my mother didn’t have that option, she wasn’t allowed that freedom to decide for herself, and all these years later, I am experiencing the same prejudice. I know it’s going to be a tough road ahead, embracing my greys while ignoring expectations and opinions of society will be challenged. But I am not going to give up because in a world that likes to control every aspect of my being, simply accepting my natural self can be an act of resilience.
And about the show, sometimes I do give up.