Confession – I’m Not Ready to Go Gray

I don’t know what color my hair is anymore.  I have pictures of when I was in my 30s that suggest I was once brunette.  I have memories of looking at myself in the mirror at the beauty parlor (do they even call it that anymore?), and seeing a rather dark-haired, dark-eyed woman with short, wavy hair.  I remember being a bit vain about that.

skunkWhen I first started dyeing my hair, it was because my hair dresser commented on the swath of mousey-grey that was occupying the crown of my head.  Sorta like a skunk.  As a matter of fact, those were her words, “You’re getting a gray streak, just like a skunk!” But now, I don’t know what color my hair is.  I have been dyeing my hair for about 20 years.  A friend of mine commented recently that she liked my hair lighter, and I realized that it was time to apply the dye again.  I just don’t see it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think gray hair is cool.  As a matter of fact, I would kill for that stunning blanc-en-blanc, silver fox gray.  But my genetics are such that I don’t have that.  I am mousey-gray.  So I dye my hair.  I also do it because it makes me look younger.

Standards of Beauty

Standards of beauty for aging women have fortunately undergone a wonderful revolution since the 1950s and 1960s.  Back then, if you were a woman of a certain age, your hair was cut short, permed, and given that hint of blue.  Hair salons in the mid-West where I grew up were the only places you could get your hair dyed.  Off-the-shelf, home dye products had not yet been marketed in any major way. Today, I have a choice of several products that can change the color of my hair in 10 minutes or less.  I can decide to dye my hair virtually any color of the rainbow.  I am sticking with brown for now.

old hair ads klghair_zps5wo0vrweHaving decided to do that, however, means I have no idea what color my hair is.  And I am not sure I am willing to find out because that would mean I would need to let it grow out.  This is the truth about my vanity. I am already pegged as older because I move slowly, use a cane, and have wrinkles.  The gap between my chronological age and my felt age is almost 30 years.  Were I to let my hair return to its natural color, I suspect that that gap would shrink drastically.  And I am not ready for that.

I have noticed that more and more aging women are wearing their hair long and letting it go “natural”.  Advertisers chasing aging Baby Boomer women who are fashion conscious are positioning themselves between incontinence products and retirement accounts.  In September, of 2017, Cover Girl proudly announced its newest spokeswoman, May Musk, a 69 year-old beauty. Vogue dedicated an issue to women over 60.  Fashion icons now include movie stars like Dame Judi Dench with her cropped, snow-white pate and Dame Helen Mirren, always sexy and seductive.  And who can forget Merle Streep in The Devil Wears Prada?

While I have never been considered a fashionista, I do have enough self-esteem to want to look my best.  But it takes a certain courage to go gray.  I am conflicted in how to go about this.  Should I just let my hair grow out?  Should I just dye it white?  Or, should I buy a wig and literally try on a new look?

If you are interested, you can Google “wigs for older women”.  You will come up with 18,200,000 hits.  The irony is that most of the models used in these pictures are in their 30s or maybe 40s.   And, modeling these gray/silver wigs, they look like they are maybe 30 or 40 in a gray/silver wig.  Hence, my reluctance to consider a wig.  Prices range from lowest $39.95 (70% off!) to over $300.00, and I am sure they would make a useful adjunct to any women’s wardrobe.  Please do not think me insensitive.  I am keenly aware of the many women of all ages who have undergone cancer treatments and have lost their hair.  I understand how wearing a wig can contribute to restoring a sense of self and beauty as the healing continues.

I am happy that I live in an era when women of a certain age are no longer constrained in what they wear or how they look.  I admire friends who have a sense of fashion and who wear their clothes with flair. I used to make fun of older women who wore knee-high stockings.  Now I buy them by the box.  I delight that I can wear slacks, yoga pants, and leggings in almost any venue.  I still own one dress, but I haven’t worn it in a long time.  I wear comfortable shoes and can’t imagine wearing high heels ever again.

I am not ready to go gray just yet.  I will continue to dye my hair for a while longer, at least until I screw up the courage to grow into my elderhood and claim my spot among the Gray Foxes.

FIVE PILLARS OF AGING5_Pillars

Beauty is the confluence of compassion, wisdom, life experience, and love.  It has physical attributes, but ultimately arises from within.  Health and beauty are not separate categories.  The healthier you are, the better you look.  What is essential is that you continue to exercise, eat nutritious food, get good quality sleep, and cultivate a positive attitude.

5 comments

  1. I am a gray fox, having decided in my 40’s that I would not conform to the auburn army of middle aged women who died their hair, what seemed to be the exact same shade. I’ve never regretted the decision although I realize as my gray turns more white each year it require me to wear more makeup and richer colors to maintain some sense of vibrance. There are so many changes happening all at once these days, I’m grateful I can at least live with what’s happening to the top of my head.

  2. I remember you having reddish medium brown, but not quite auburn hair when we were in high school, Mary. Even without the dye or the gray, our hair color does usually change (darken) somewhat as we age. Regardless, do what feels “right” to you, Mary. I related to your statement that: “The gap between my chronological age and my felt age is almost 30 years.” My own “self image” sometimes in my mind still has long straight chestnut brown hair, is still 5’8″ tall and weighs MUCH less than the person I see reflected in mirrors or store windows; though it IS gradually shifting to more often and more honestly reflect my current physical appearance (now 5’6″ tall, a short wavy halo of white hair in front with salt and pepper in the back, and far too many lbs. to feel comfortable mentioning here! LOL). Generally though I figure I am who/what I am, so why hide it? I never even considered dying my hair…probably because even after he died in 1977 I could still hear my father’s voice in my head saying “the natural way is the best way”; and, the thought of exposing myself to all of those toxic chemicals when my family has a strong cancer history, just seemed the wrong way for me to go. I know many women who dye their hair and look absolutely amazing because their skin is in good shape or they’ve “had work done”—more power too them for being able to look like they feel. There are others, though, who don’t realize they look far older than their actual years BECAUSE their bad dye jobs are the wrong color for them and their lack of physical fitness belies the gray-free hair color. No doubt they are also trying to look their best. There may also be an underlying reflection of attitudes regarding aging at play here. If the culture is saying to you that only youth is valuable/beautiful, people will want to appear to be as youthful as possible in order to continue to receive respect and feel they can still be perceived as “productive” in their work environments. But, if older adults are valued for their experience/wisdom and their “weathered” appearance is seen as showing fortitude/character/a different kind of beauty (e.g., laugh lines as a reflection of a beautiful spirit), then our gray hair and wrinkles become a badge of honor to be proud of, because we’ve survived the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and came out stronger and wiser for having experienced them. My decision to specialize in Medical Anthropology and Gerontology was in large part driven by my exposure as a child to many extraordinary older adults who were highly regarded in my extended family and their social community. You, Mary Flett, are a valuable and valued, loving, intelligent, caring and capable human being and friend, REGARDLESS of what your hair color is…so do what works for YOU! As for me…I see your heart and spirit, not your hair color.

  3. For years, I vowed that I would not dye my hair. When my mother moved here, she urged me to dye it so that SHE would look younger. I always replied that I had earned everyone of my F***ing grey hairs and would not dye it. But then people started asking me if my mother was my sister and someone actually offered to wheel my carry-on sized bag to the check-in counter at the airport. That did it. Dye it, I do. Recently, three people in as many days guessed my age as 10 years younger than it is. I guess that damn dye does work! Still, I am conflicted. My feminist self wants to leave it go grey, to embrace my salt and pepper hair, but I am not ready to be put out to pasture by others. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter.

  4. there are also RED foxes-they are wily, graceful, mischievous and oh so elegant…..just sayin
    sometimes these foxes also change their colors to BLUE and SILVER
    why not have them all-streaks are in round here-very discreet yet shine in the right light
    you know how to make that light shine Mary

  5. Another of My Friends Has Let Her Hair Go Gray

    Bleach it blonde, keep it red
    But, damn it, keep a color on your head!
    We won’t have the choice to linger
    When the lady crooks her finger

    Hospital gowns are not so glamorous
    How will anyone know we were amorous?
    So bleach your hair, why let it fade
    Before the clinking of the spade

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