As a psychiatrist, I work with both men and women, both young and elderly, but I still find it easiest to talk with women who are around the same age as me -- in other words, women in their 50s. After meeting a few times and become familiar with one another, I find myself talking to them feeling as relaxed as if we were peers.
One time, I complimented the hairstyle of one such woman. The woman had styled her hair in such a way that her gray hair accented it elegantly. When I told her that it looked stylish, the woman, an employee at major company, smiled. "Oh really?" she said. "I wasn't sure if this style would be appropriate for work. I thought that I should probably dye my hair instead."
She told me that at her company, many female employees quit after giving birth or to raise their children, and she was the only woman in her 50s working at the company. "You know, there are many female employees who dress and do their makeup following the company manual closely," she continued. "But there is no dress code manual for women in their 50s."
The percentage of people in their 50s or older who have never been married is rising quickly, reaching 23 percent for men and 14 percent for women. This trend is not desirable because it causes the birthrate to decline, but the reality is that one in seven women greet their 50s single. Many among them are probably still working, and can be thought to live in a style that differs from the "marry and become a housewife" ideal of times past.
Many of them might then wonder -- "I've continued to work and reached my 50s. What kind of clothes should I wear to work then? Do I still have to serve tea in my 50s? How should I spend my weekends?" In the absence of any manual, they have no choice but to forge a new path. Of course, this includes single men as well.
That being said, it isn't necessary to agonize over the answers to these questions. The most important thing is to not be too hung up on your age or worry too much about how others see you, and just live in a way that is true to yourself. This doesn't apply only to "working women in their 50s" or "men who spend their lifetimes single." As long as you are not causing harm or inconvenience to anyone around you, don't try to force yourself into the mold of "parent" or "person in their 40s" too much. Just living your life honestly should be fine.
To the woman who asked me if her gray hair was not proper workplace etiquette, I answered, "I think it's fine because it suits you. I might try it out as well." (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)