First let me say, before I begin, that I indeed feel quite shallow writing this. I am deeply aware of the vanity of hair and appearance and always have been, but none more than when my sister and a few really good friends have had to sport turbans to cover their baldheads while they went through chemotherapy. That brings home our obsession with vanity more than any hard ball sent flying into your heart. It has been particularly ironic with my most recent friend’s cancer treatments since she and I spent many a downtown lunch together discussing hair. “Do you think people are noticing my gray hairs from afar?” she asked. “What? You’re hair is beautiful. I don’t see any grays.” I responded. My husband says I need to find someone else to discuss my hair with because I have become obsessed, so you’re it.” She said. We talked options though I still didn’t really see the issue. The irony of course is that now she too, sports a turban with no hair gray or otherwise, though in due time it will indeed grow back, and then maybe we can resume our conversation all over again, but likely not.
I began coloring my hair back to its natural dark brown shade several years ago, though I cannot remember when. I held off for a long time because I am very convinced that all the chemicals we use on us and in us, are responsible for the majority of illnesses and maladies we have. But, when I felt that the grays were winning I began coloring on my own first and then, succumbed to the outrageously expensive salon visits. I never did give into permanent hair color though, as I dreaded that famous “line of demarcation” where the gray roots grow in and you look as if you might be bald in the middle, where the contrast of dark and light show up. So, I stubbornly insisted on “demi-permanent” so that it could “fade gradually” rather than “grow out.” This worked for a while, but, as it turned out, I had to keep my hair pretty dark then, in order to cover the increasing gray It looked faker and faker all the time. I wanted lighter rather than darker because even my very vain Aunt Shirley warned “always go lighter as you age.” She was in her nineties when she said, “As your skin lightens, so should your hair.” I agreed, but the hairdressers always struggled with my requests to avoid permanent color giving me some hairdresser jargon about the color being absorbed as opposed to coating as opposed to layering??? Whatever.
There’s little need to mention my struggles with long hair vs. shorter hair vs very short hair, because most of us deal with that. I once grew my hair long so that I could cut it off and have it made into a wig for my best friend, going through chemo. When I proudly announced this to her she said, “I don’t even like your hair. It frizzes in the rain” I cut my hair. She bought an expensive wig.
Finally, a few months ago, I decided that I wanted to get real. I hated the dark, fake colored hair on my whitening, wrinkling face and since no one seemed to volunteer to make me a lighter haired/blondish woman, I figured I would just go au naturel and be gray. I looked on Pinterest. I Googled “Older women with cool gray hair styles.” Mostly Emmy Lou Harris came up and then Jamie Lee Curtis (really?) and always Helen Mirin. I am not even remotely like any of them with Emmy Lou’s lustrous locks (how does she do that?), Jamie ridiculously cropped, and Helen with very thin hair (that looks more blond than gray to me,) while mine is coarse and thick . I searched high and low for a stylist who would NOT say to me, “I can cut your hair however you want.” I wanted input, professional, experienced, input. I found my girl in a salon downtown when she said, “I think you would look good in short hair. Let’s do it.” All the leftover, grown out color fell to the floor and I was officially, predominantly, gray. I felt proud, emancipated and in months to come, would be richer not shelling out $100 plus for each coloring.
So, about two months ago, off I went with my new short gray hair. How am I doing? Shitty, actually. Besides being shocked every time I walk by a mirror, which I try very hard to avoid, people are definitely treating me differently. My kind husband even glances at me differently, but wisely, says nothing. I am a lactation consultant and work with of course, young women and their partners. One of the earlier comments was, “I thought we were seeing that consultant on your website with the reddish hair.” “That’s my site and that’s me,” I responded. “No way” the new dad said. Then, there was the dad who when I picked up mom’s backpack and diaper bag as I always do said, “Whoa, hey that backpack looks good on you, ha, ha.” Huh? As if I never carry a backpack? Am I too old for a backpack? I didn’t know that.
A few weeks ago in church there was this guy who looked just like he had been in the movie, “Cape Fear.” He had on this black vinyl jacket and when my husband and I were walking out of church, he kept sticking his arm in my side. I just didn’t know what to do and kept thinking he wanted me to feel his jacket or something. Finally, I realized he was extending his arm so that he could help me down the stairs, to assist an old woman! Oh God.
At work the other day, we had a potluck lunch. We gathered in one of the practitioner’s offices and I comfortably settled on the ottoman. “Oh no, you should sit in the chair,” another said. I said that I was fine where I was but of course, wondered why she felt I needed a real chair and then within seconds, I realized why… It was the gray hair and the wrinkling up of every part of me….
I’m telling you, everyone is acting differently towards me and it feels “creepy” as my 16 year old twin sons would say. “YOU have 16 year old sons??!!” Okay, enough already, my point has been made.
So, I am at this crossroads, not knowing what to do. Frankly, I study older women’s hair in church, in women’s groups, in libraries, etc. and I have yet to see fabulous gray hair. Oh that’s not true really, because at a wedding a few weeks ago there was this huge mane of gray hair all bouncy and curled and amazing, but I doubt it looks that way on a daily basis. Besides, now it would take me at least 10 years or more to grow that and they would be 10 miserable years for sure.
But, my gray hair is short and always dull as gray hair tends to be and there are those dry, fly away pieces which my 24 year old stylist does not acknowledge or understand. She adds “gel” or “shine beads” etc. In fact, she really doesn’t understand any of my angst and says silly, girly things to me when she is uncomfortable about our age difference. So far, she seems to cut okay, but she has not ventured into color with me. Perhaps she is afraid, which frankly, I would be too. It is not black or white, but as they say, the gray place no one wants to be.