Thursday, 16 October 2014

Vanity project

Back in August, I wondered idly whether  the well-known anti-hair-greying product, Grecian 2000, (or Grecian Formula, as it's known in the States), could possibly work as advertised. So idly that I didn't get round to following it up until October.

So it sounds as if it doesn't magically select only the grey hairs, but reacts with all the hairs, producing an overall colour change that happens slowly enough to be imperceptible. But there are problems.

First, according to some contributors to the Straight Dope message board's Grecian Formula thread, it stinks. 'It smelled like I fell into a sulphur pit' ... 'smells like rotten eggs'. Other contributors contradict this, or think that the smell might only apply the recipe Grecian use in the US, but comments from the UK indicate that our version is also pretty whiffy ('The first thing I noticed when I squeezed it on my hands was its nasty smell, something between carbolic and a cheap hair lotion').

Second, and more worryingly, the US version is made with lead acetate, (the toxin formerly known as salt of Saturn). If you don't actually swallow the stuff, it probably won't end up killing you (like Pope Clement II and, possibly, Beethoven), but rubbing it into your scalp on a regular basis still doesn't sound like a smart move.
Here in the EU and in Canada, the lead acetate has been banned and has now been replaced with bismuth citrate. I'm assuming that the unleaded version is safer, although the EU's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety thinks there's still more work to be done on assessing how safe, or otherwise, bismuth citrate is.

Even if we find the UK version harmless until proven otherwise, I don't want to lose the grey, only to gain an eggy smell. Also, according to LordChaverly, it leaves your hair greasy, so I think I'll give it a miss.

People of a certain generation would probably tell me that a bit of grey looks "distinguished", whatever that means, but they'd be talking rubbish. Suppose there were men who really wanted to look "distinguished", say because the older-male-as-silverback-gorilla look conveyed status and authority. If that demand existed in real life, then somebody would be making money from marketing an anti-Grecian formula, designed to give ambitious younger middle mangers that senior executive-style sprinkling of grey hairs. Nobody is.

Of course, there are high-status men who "carry off" the silver fox look, but I think that status precedes the grey hairs, rather than being conferred by them. We can see this most clearly through the lens of gender politics. Men and women can suffer from ageism but men, especially high-status ones, suffer less. The greying male CEO of the Empty Suit Corporation attracts no comment, but the female academic who dares not to dye must take up arms against a sea of on line abuse. Nobody's aspiring to be grey, but men, especially high-status ones, aren't so harshly judged by superficial factors like fading hair colour.

Back in the decade that taste forgot, there was an aftershave called "Denim", advertised with the slogan 'For men who don't have to try too hard', which neatly summed up the essence of a particular view of masculinity.

We've moved on a bit since the 1970s, but not that much. Okay, if you're a slightly younger male, I dare say there's a bit more moisturising, exfoliation, hair gel and gym-fashioned muscle definition going on than there was in my day, but that's nothing compared with the beauty regime women are still routinely expected to submit to, if they're not to be accused of letting themselves go; the makeup, the uncomfortable, impractical, restricting clothes, the crippling high heels, the endless array of dubious anti-ageing products, the false eyelashes, the under-wired bra, the padded bra... When it comes to appearance, compared with the average woman, most men don't have to try too hard.

And the pathologically well-adjusted man hardly has to try at all. Grayson Perry calls him 'Default Man', looking down on the human objects in his world with his Default Male gaze:
... identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland...
... The Default Male gaze does not just dominate cinema, it looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. Every other identity group is “othered” by it. It is the gaze of the expensively nondescript corporate leader watching consumers adorn themselves with his company’s products the better to get his attention.

Removing as much grey as you want seems to be a doddle compared with removing the éminence grise.