When I was a child in the 70’s and teen in the 80’s, being supermodel-thin wasn’t a desirable body shape. I grew up hating my very skinny body, freckly face, and most of all, the misshapen nose I received as the result of a break that didn’t heal right. My crooked, lumpy nose, which I still tend to hide with well-placed glasses, was the butt of more ugly jokes and taunting than I care to remember. Add in my awkward social skills and second-hand clothes, and my bad self-image was a sealed deal until after I graduated from high school. The one thing I discovered I had going for me was my hair.
I have great hair, my husband of nearly 24 years, tells me. (He’s also been telling me I’m beautiful for all these years too, but I don’t believe him yet.) I’m a naturally dark brunette, and I wore my hair long with bangs when we met. That was 1989, and girls like me spent nearly 1 1/2 hours a day with Clairol hot rollers and a 1” iron getting every curl just so. These were the post-Aquanet days, but big and plentiful hair was still the look many desired. The more Playboy it looked, the better. My self-image became rooted in my hairstyle. I felt like my soft brown hair was the one pretty thing about me, so I played it up. Over the years I’ve worn my hair long, layered, bobbed, pulled back, braided, up-doed, curled, pinned, headbanded, and straight. I love to trend current styles and imitate them. Over the years, the compliments I’ve received on my hair and/or hairstyles have finally outnumbered the ugly comments from peers that left their mark years ago.
I remember noticing my first gray hair when I was 19. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s though, that I started coloring my hair. I’ve either colored my own or had a stylist dye my hair for probably 10 years or so. Underneath that color, I am almost completely gray, my stylist told me recently, as she looked at the new growth on my scalp. I’m 45 years old.
Can I just say how much I have grown to loathe coloring my hair? I hate the time it takes, and the expense. The color, even when done by the last awesome stylist who did my color, never looks quite right to me, through no fault of hers. It fades, I have to worry constantly about getting exposed to the sun, have to touch up roots every couple of weeks. The home chemicals burn my scalp, getting it done at the salon is great but can be expensive, I have to wait to shampoo for a couple of days, the list goes on. But that’s for sure, no one knew I was gray!
In the last couple of years, my beautiful sister, 10 years my senior, has let her hair go natural. She had nearly black hair when she was younger; a thick, coarse hair that looked absolutely stunning on her. But now, with her naturally gray hair and eyebrows that are still dark, the contrast is still stunning! I love how she looks. She is a role model for going gray with tons of style.
Then I saw an article on Facebook a few weeks ago, posted by another friend who doesn’t color and has beautiful naturally graying hair. I’m guessing she’s also about my age. It was about middle-aged women (and older) who didn’t color their hair. Some are celebrities, notably Emmy Lou Harris and Jamie Lee Curtis. I was stunned by the pictures of these women. They are beautiful! They don’t look old to me. They look natural but not unkempt, down-to-earth but not ‘earthy’, elegant, and real. I was sitting in the choir loft at Easter Mass and saw a lady below who was gray. The patterns and ombre blend she had from her gray to the dark brown she had underneath could probably not be replicated in a salon. And nobody else has exactly her hair color; it was unique only to her!
I began to read a little more and cruise the internet looking at pictures of women with gray hair. I was curious on how to accomplish this transition without looking like I have a skunk stripe in the middle of my head for a year or more. Some of the articles I didn’t like. They recommended cutting off one’s colored hair when the natural growth was long enough, leaving a short cut that is not desirable to me. I decided that if I’m going actually going to do this thing, I am NOT cutting my long hair. It was time to see my stylist.
I went in for a trim and talked to my stylist about the best approach. Turns out, I am deciding to do this at a very good time. Gray hair is in style! Celebrities such as Kelly Osbourne, Lady Gaga, and Pink are dying their hair gray. My stylist suggested letting my hair grow out until I couldn’t stand the look of the skunk stripe any longer, then she will begin adding gray highlights, incorporating and blending the natural gray in with what’s left of the color. So it’s settled. I’m going to give it a try. Yes, I’ll still be coloring for awhile yet, but this will be a means to an end.
My decision to attempt this has been met with mixed reviews. When mentioning my plan to friends and some family, I’ve received everything from strange looks (daughter) to polite smiles, to a private email from a friend telling me to go for it. “It’s so freeing,” she said. She is a few years older than me, has naturally curly pepper-and-a-little-salt hair, and it’s lovely.
Now, my perspective about the age-old battle against age is starting to change and I’m seeing things in a new light. So many of us have grown up in a culture that emphasizes the unacceptability of showing one’s age. I see ads for the “real housewives” series and it strikes me how silly some of those women look, with their big fake boobs, botoxed faces and fat lips. I mean for heaven’s sake, who do they think they’re fooling? They still look their age, only done up like sad caricatures trying to hold on to something that’s not meant to be. In the process, I think they’ve lost some of their dignity. Why has this constant quest for the fountain of youth become acceptable in our culture, and what are we ultimately teaching our children?
That is not to say that all of a sudden I’ve become anti-hair dyeing! I help our teen daughter color her hair; she is a beautiful “red velvet” right now. Most of my friends color, and they look great. Both my mom and mother-in-law, both in their 70’s, still color and they’ve chosen colors that compliment their skin tones and age. But for ME, right now, in 2015, I just want to try being the natural, gray, me. I would like for it to be ok that I want to be my natural self if I want to, without modern culture looking down its nose at me for “looking too old”.
And I’m curious. What have I got under the faded red-brown? There’s some history on my head, the history of me! As my roots are growing out, I’m starting to see a lot of white, which is scary only because it’s so shockingly different. But I’m also starting to see my natural, more ash-brown color in there too. I’ve missed that color, and it’s still there, some of it. I’ve got a distinct white streak, which I know I’ve had for some time, starting to show just above my left temple. My cousins in France have the same streak, and I’m curious to see how this grows out and whether or not the “streak” is in fact a family trait or a fluke. A few years of health problems, two teenagers and all the ups and downs of raising them, an active lifestyle, healthy eating, and some unhealthy eating too, have certainly affected what my natural hair color is now. Exactly how many shades of gray will I have?
I hope to continue to update you on my progress and transition to the natural-colored me. I may change my mind again, I don’t know. Right now, I’m pretty stoked about giving it a try.
Here’s a view of my hair from the back. I’m still having a hard time imagining what it will look like naturally gray.
Well here they are, about two-three weeks worth of roots that I would never have let show before. There’s still a few strands of my natural brown in there!