What does it mean to let your hair go gray? To me, it’s like the old ‘60s mantra: letting your ‘freak feathers fly.’ It is acceptance– of not exactly old age (not there yet) but accepting who you are, right now. Even if that means no longer being young and attractive. America runs on vanity, whether you buy into it or not. For vain girls like me, the loss of our looks, plus the elder stateswoman status that gray hair gives us, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
If I’m honest with myself going gray equates with the loss of vitality, of literally life in your hair, your body, your mind. It is, for many of us, the beginning of the end.
[Q: Which came first: the crime writer or the death obsession? 😀 A: The egg. Always go with the egg.]
But lately I keep hearing in my head: “Who do you think you’re fooling?” I am not young. I know that rationally but the mind bucks it. Denial, let us say, is a powerful weapon against almost anything. Ignoring the obvious is not a bad way to go. It keeps you on the positive. And if you say something over and over it becomes ‘truthy.’ (One look at the chaos of this political campaign makes everyone a believer in that, or some other whack-a-doodle notion.) If I deny that I’m old does that make me feel younger? Hmmm. Not really. It only makes reality, when it inevitably rears its ugly head, that much harder.
So who am I fooling? Do strangers and bystanders in my life think I am younger than I am? That would be cool… or would it? I mean, do I really know their opinions (or care) and more pointedly, how does their admiration for my fabulous agelessness make a difference to me? It is simple vanity, and a window into the fear of growing old.
Six months ago I stopped dyeing my roots and began the somewhat painful process of letting my natural color grow in. With help from my stylist and some highlights, I should say. It hasn’t been terrible, possibly because of a talented stylist. I am deep into my Diane Keaton period and am on my way to full Emmylou Harris. Or so we can hope.
Yesterday I looked at a photo from last summer, my nephew’s wedding, where my hair, still a rich brown, looked great. I mean, great. But then I recalled the reason for this journey, the itchy scalp, the reaction to brown hair dye that has been getting worse. I was up to five packets of ‘Equal’ in the dye to keep the itching at bay. (Pro tip: not every stylist knows the trick of adding artificial sweetener to brown dye to reduce its harshness. BYO.) And once a month at the salon, new stylists to be discovered as I move, it was all getting to be a drag.
My skin has always been sensitive. At one point it was described as ‘dermagraphic,’ that you could write on it with your fingernail and it would swell up. The fact that I got through years of hard-core permanent dye on my scalp is a wonder, and I don’t want to push my luck. But the decision didn’t come easily, even though lots of my friends have gone natural. At a reunion two years ago the majority of the fourteen friends were gray (or white.) Only the blondes—and me– kept on. One of my other friends let her hair go natural at 50, hated it, and went full-on blonde. Another tired of dyeing her roots in her forties. Some still dye their hair of course. It’s a personal decision for every woman.
But the emotional side of it, the acceptance of aging and with it the eventual final decline, comes with the territory. Going gray is freeing in a way, from the financial burden and time-suck of hours in the salon of course, but also of the charade of youth. I have my health – knock on wood – but I also have grandchildren. I adore them and would love to have more. So who am I fooling with dark brown hair? No one obviously.
My role models are a bit muddy on dyeing. My mother famously ‘frosted’ her dark hair in her forties to disguise the gray and was very put out that none of us noticed. I doubt she bothered again. (It’s shocking how little I remember of my parents in their middle age when I was living far away and busy being me.) Now 92 her hair is pure white. Many in the greatest generation never learned to handle their own locks; she goes to the salon once a week to get it ‘done.’ My mother-in-law, ten years younger than my mother and gone too early at 78, told me in no uncertain terms to never go gray. Originally a brunette she dyed her hair at home for years, a platinum blonde for most of the time I knew her.
The cool thing about going gray is that is reversible. And blonde-able. Keeping that in the back pocket should I have an emotional crash at my looks. (Oooh, purple!)
I guess it’s time to stop obsessively googling ‘Going Gray Gracefully.’ Don’t bother: there are no answers there. Because the answers are inside, not outside.
This is life, my grays– and Emmylou– tell me. Embrace it.
The Bennett sisters will have to deal with their gray hair soon… or have they already started? Read about them in the series starting with Blackbird Fly. Have you tried your luck at the giveaway for the second in the series, The Girl in the Empty Dress?
Just two more days to enter. Check it out at Amazon Giveaway.
Hurry! Ends Thursday, April 14
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