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I Have Purple Hair and Tattoos and Am Darn Proud of It

I want to smash stereotypes that only young people can be rebels.

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Andrea Chronopoulos
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I am 61. I have four children and two grandchildren. I also have purple hair and seven tattoos. I never imagined that this was something I would do. I grew up in a strict Christian household where this type of self-expression was shunned and forbidden. But today, my neon hair and tattoos say as much about my individuality as they do about me — adamant about fighting ageism and stereotypes that only young people can be rebels.   

During my college years, I happily joined the women in the punk rock scene who had wild hair colors. That same color craze has made a resurgence, and it's not just for our kids and grandkids. Plenty of women in their menopausal years are dying their hair vibrant shades of green, blue, purple and pink. And I say it's about time!

When my youngest daughter started coloring her hair in rainbow shades, I wistfully remembered the bright red streaks that glittered in my own hair under the disco ball. At fifty-one, I was quietly slipping into invisibility like so many other women my age. I didn't dare go against the societal norm or against my family. My parents had ingrained in me to be proper and to never do anything wild or outlandish that might, in their opinion, be frowned upon by God. Here I was a grown woman, yet I still craved my parents' approval.

But when my father suddenly passed away, I felt the restraints loosening a bit. My mother had more significant health issues to deal with and became more relaxed. After spotting an older woman with black and white layered hair at the grocery store checkout lane, I marveled at her ability to pull it off so effortlessly. She looked sassy, vibrant. And I realized how desperately I wanted to feel that way about myself. I took the plunge and colored my hair in multiple layers of white, fuchsia and eggplant purple. What surprised me most about the change was the utter freedom I felt and the number of compliments I received from young and old women. When my mother playfully tugged a lock of my hair and said the colors suited me, I felt a new level of confidence that had been missing for years. 

Shortly after the hair changes, I met a woman in her 70s who had just gotten her first tattoo. The butterfly on her chest marked her first anniversary of beating breast cancer, and I was in awe of her bravery. She was very proud of her tattoo, and I wondered what it would be like to have something so meaningful inked on my own skin. I'd never considered it before since I was raised to believe that tattoos were for tough guys and motorcycle mamas. But that didn't stop me from getting one on my 56th birthday.

The tattoo I chose was an image of a crane, a symbolic bird of the love I had for a sister who had died years earlier from pneumonia. I had no regrets about the tattoo, but I did worry about family backlash, so I wore jeans to cover the beautiful crane on my leg.

When my mother passed away six months later, the jeans came off and I no longer cared what anyone else thought of me. Revealing the tattoo was emancipating and healing, allowing me to bust out of my strict upbringing and shatter age stereotypes. And I wanted more. I began to realize that tattoos were no longer a sign of one's societal standing or age.  

A recent Ipsos poll found that nearly one-third of all Americans have at least one tattoo, with 16 percent of those representing people over the age of 55. Body art may be a growing trend but it certainly is nothing new. People have been painting their skin for centuries, abiding by ceremonial and cultural traditions. Tattoos were found on Europe's oldest mummy, Otzi the Iceman, who lived sometime between 5,100 to 5,400 years ago.

Meghan Schader, a tattoo artist at Badfellow in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, reports that she has seen a rise in older clients, particularly women 60 and beyond. “I get lots of grandparents that come in. My oldest client is my dad, and he's 85! I also tattoo a woman who is in her late 70s. Women have finally gotten to the point where we can express ourselves in ways that were frowned upon for so long, but now it's 2021. And we can finally live our truth.”

I've been getting inked for five years now, and every tattoo holds a special meaning. But my favorite remains a line of birds soaring across my arm in memory of the sister who died too young. It's also my two-year-old granddaughter's favorite tattoo. When I hold her on my lap, she traces the birds and says, "Nonnie's birdies!" with a smile that melts me.  

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