I protested. “I will love my gray hair because I love how I feel inside.” I made a grand gesture with my arm so she’d see that I was serious. “I will own it, girlfriend.”
She rolled her eyes toward me and shook her head. “You don’t even have enough gray to go gray.” When I didn’t respond, she straightened up and inspected me.
I watched Erica’s eyes scan my roots. She put down her phone and sighed. “Come on back, let’s talk about this.”
You probably already know I live in Texas. “Au naturel” is not big here. “Big hair” is big here.
I can’t shake this, though. I started noticing hair color after spending two hours in January with image therapist Liana Chaouli. Talk about natural beauty! After watching this lovely woman with jaw-dropping, two-toned white and black hair advise on natural beauty, this west Austin gal was altered forever. Liana, take note, has lived in multiple countries and speaks about six languages. She is sophisticated beyond words, and she has a mane to match. It looks like she dyes her hair white and black…for dramatic effect. To go with her cheekbones. Mais non, ma soeur, it’s the real thing.
No one in the salon disagreed when I suggested I might have to leave these parts of Texas if I stopped dying my hair altogether. They giggled, but didn’t disagree. I thought I heard someone murmur, “Bless your heart.”
Although no one actually asked for clarification in the salon, I’ll tell you. See, when I see other women my age, I’ve been noticing robust color — rich, laugh-out-loud color — at a deliberate stand-off with lovely skin that’s, well, fading a bit. Skin that isn’t exactly singing in tune with the hair color.
Like hearing an instrument that’s slightly flat in an orchestra, once you notice it, it’s all you hear.
Every time I see something in someone else, though, I know it’s not them, it’s me.
GroupThink on Going Gray
So I floated it out there. Crowdsourcing a safe circle of moms-of-teenaged-daughters, I mentioned casually, “maybe we could just let it come in.” Stacy bobbed her head. “Will someone please lead the charge? Can we finally stop with the color?”
I heard the angels whispering my name.
But every other woman of a certain age at that table either wrinkled her nose or stared off in the distance as if imagining a far off land. The consensus: Not yet.
We sisters in our late forties, we’re maturing nicely in other areas. We work out, eat well, accept, even if we don’t exactly embrace, our jiggly parts. (I named mine “Bread” and “Butter.”)
But the hair color? It’s the last to go. We’ll fall on our own sword before we admit our artificial color isn’t exactly fooling anyone. It still looks pretty; it just doesn’t match.
And besides, hair color keeps us from becoming invisible.
Invisibility: It’s the thing that aging women warn young women about. “You just wait. You become invisible when you age. I speak and nobody hears me. People look right past me.”
Then there’s this from the book Survivor’s Club: Older, heavier women do not survive plane crashes (chapter 3). Yeah, it’s profiling, but stats don’t lie.
What Does Superwoman Look Like With Gray Hair?
Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I’m in any hurry to go gray. It’s just…well, I’ll tell you what it’s not.
- It’s not the money. I already promised Erica (ten years my junior) that I’d have my hair fashionably cut and blown out — even professionally glossed on a regular basis. She quickly got over my declaration of (dye) independence.
- It’s not a back-to-the-woods, hippy mama quest. I embrace artificiality in so many other areas! I’m okay with Botox, teeth whiteners, nail polish and makeup. I would die without mascara, and you know the crap they put in that stuff! (Well, I can guess, anyway.)
- It’s not about bucking the system to start a new trend, although I do fantasize about other women following suit after I embrace my silver hair(s). I like style and fashion.
The truth is nearer to this: as I near my 47th birthday, I feel like a challenge. It’s time to brace for — for what? Something bold, permission to be emboldened on the inside. A silent proclamation of ownership. Curiosity. Something completely different.
I figure if I hate it, I’ll dye it shocking blue as a 50th birthday present to myself. Then again, I could shave it, or start wearing an elegant turban. I can bring it back to my “natural” color, too.
What I’m hoping is that I love it. Better: that I’ll love myself gray as much as with chestnut brown hair. I’ll stand taller, speak with a more resonant tone of voice, smile more and let my smile lines sing the chorus. I’ll have a head start on my peers and cheer them on, if and when they choose to go gray.
Fringe benefit? I’ll stop noticing hair color.
UPDATE on Oct. 25, 2016: I went back to a lovely brown about 3 months into my gray experiment. My colorist is a miracle worker and my hair looks better than ever. 😉