Gray Area

A few months back, I posted a question on Facebook: to color or not to color? I was wondering what the current cultural concensus was about covering up the gray hair. My young son had been hoping that I’d give up coloring my hair for two reasons; first, because of the potentially dangerous chemicals, and second, it was not natural. If my hair was now turning gray, that was how it should be. To Elihu, interfering almost seemed like questioning a divine natural plan. He really wished I’d just leave it be and accept the change… And so for several months I have let it be. I’ve entered into the experiment with an open mind. And after all, winter is a good time to go into chrysalis mode and try things out; grow out hairstyles, lose a few extra pounds, rethink the wardrobe… But each day, when I take a peek into the rear view mirror and see that ever-lightening pate of mine, I wonder. Am I big enough to do this? Am I laid back enough, accepting enough, natural enough? Can my ego handle this, I mean, really? At first I was invigorated – just think how free this will feel! No more roots to stay on top of… my look would be proud, natural, all me… I was beginning to see it… and wouldn’t ya know, there were even folks out there cheering me on! Just not the women.

That Facebook tally? Just about half and half – out of dozens upon dozens of responses, it really was split down the middle. Surprisingly, all the men voted for going gray. And all but just a couple of women voted to keep on coloring. We women just can’t seem to give it up. The thinking is, as best as I can understand, that if we have the means to look younger, and if culture is accepting of our doing so… then why not? Hmm. Well, I guess my kid came up with two good reasons not to. But the more I look at the top of my silvering head in the rear view, the more I falter…  I can understand why the men vote for going gray and the woman don’t; our culture doesn’t really support men dying their hair, so they’re more at peace with the idea of turning gray. (Hell, many of em have to deal with losing all of their hair! Makes going gray seem easy.) When you see a guy whose face says 70 but whose hair is a rich, dark brown – don’t you wonder about him? Don’t you kinda wonder if he thinks it actually looks good? I mean, does he think he’s fooling us? But then again – look at his wife. She’s the same age, and her hair is also an unnaturally dark and even color. But we allow that – and think little of it. Interesting. We’ve definitely got a double standard going. So why would I want to play into this whole charade? Am I really so shallow?? After living with my witchy gray hairs for a few months, I can now answer that question with a definitive ‘yes’.

Another thing about growing out your gray is that it can take a long time. My hair grows terribly slowly, so it might take four years to get to the length it is now. And I really don’t want to wait that long for the ‘complete’ look, nor do I want to cut my hair off. I’ve given this lots of consideration. There have been days when I’ve worn my new gray proudly, but in the end, it aint working for me. There are those for whom the graying process turns into quite a boon, resulting in a gorgeous new look for later in life – but that’s not my story for sure. I am not aging like Emmy Lou Harris here. I had a dear friend who once said that ‘men go gray, but women go silver’, yet despite that gentlemanly thought – and despite my own son today laughing with delight at the way my ‘silver’ hairs sparkled against the dark ones… I’m not feeling it. So I’ve decided that when I’ve lost 15 pounds, I will allow myself the royal treatment; a professional cut and color. And if my wallet can support it – maybe even a blow out. Whoo – gawd that’s gonna feel good. And I’m not a spa kind of gal. Never once in my life had a manicure – never mind a pedicure. Had a massage once, when I was eight months pregnant. No, I don’t spend money on extras like that. But it’s time. I’ll be fifty in May, and my fragile ego needs a good send-off into the second half of the century. A good cut and color should help – and since God apparently means to have me age in the usual way (although I still think there’s been a huge mistake here somewhere), I’m going to need to do what I can to soften the transition. 

So how jive is beauty that is so ill-gotten? Can one have a somewhat manufactured sort of beauty and still maintain one’s integrity? I struggle with this still, but have come upon a few more clues to help me sort it all out… The Waldorf School presents the perfect, supportive environment in which to ‘grow out ones grays’, and yet there are more than a few women there who continue to color – and who make no bones about it, either. We all know that Dolly Parton has been nipping and tucking for years – and has never been anything less that honest about it. And does this woman not have integrity? Good Lord I should say so. Integrity – and wigs, too. That’s a whole ‘nother level altogether.

So I guess I’m feeling better about my decision now. I feel empowered just imagining how I’ll feel with fifteen pounds shed and new, beautiful hair. And quite honestly, I’ve been feeling just about anything but empowered these past few years. I could use a little boost. A little pretty time. So after a good deal of thought on this subject, it’s with great relief that I can now say it’s no longer a gray area for me.

Or is that grey area? Hmm…

2 thoughts on “Gray Area

  1. Honest post. I like it. In general I vote for gray. My wife doesn’t dye and doesn’t wear any makeup at all and I’m glad she doesn’t. But I well understand the impulse and certainly won’t condemn anyone who decides to dye. Interesting that so many men said, “Go gray.” I’ve long thought that most of what women spend their cosmetic money on, and it’s billions and billions of dollars, is more for themselves and each other than for the men in their lives. I very rarely meet a woman who I think looks better with makeup and dyes than without. And usually when I do think she looks better, it’s very wild artistic crazy hair and makeup rather than the usual cosmetic “fix” type makeup and dyes. I have known some women who decided to quit one or the other after years of careful application…at first they look a little weird…sort of pale…sort of exposed…but gradually, as they and their face adjusts to this new “naked”..they started to sort of, I don’t know…relax and “glow” from the inside as they enjoyed the relief of not doing all that stuff and become more focused on who they were and what they enjoyed than on their visual appeal…But I do know other women who love their makeup, are not obsessed with their looks and somehow make it all work…so I guess inner attitude has a lot to do with it. I think most men would agree that a woman who enjoys herself and her life is that much more attractive regardless of whether she uses cosmetics or not. And a woman who doesn’t enjoy herself and her life cannot fix that with all the cosmetics in the world.

    A verse from a recent song:

    This party is dead
    Nobody cares
    Who’s in my bed
    Who’s on the stairs
    Nothing but bottles, makeup and hair
    But makeup can’t cover what just isn’t there

    I like your process here. Anything well considered like this is bound to lead to good stuff.

    PS: Whenever I think of hair dye, I’m always reminded of a little brochure the “Pun Club” back at E.T.H.S. put out…There was this very common little religious pamphlet back then whose cover said, “If you died today…” and when you opened it, it said, “Would you go to Heaven?” So the Pun Club put out their own that said, “If you died today…” “What color would you use?”

    1. hee hee… I, myself, don’t apply anything to my face but for a little mascara if I’m ‘going to town’ (literally, that is). The hair color, I feel, if it is made to look natural (and that costs – box color isn’t as natural but it is cheap) can ‘carry’ me… I don’t feel the need for makeup so much – as I do the need for my lifelong friend of dark brown hair. Hmm. Likely this chapter will one day close too…

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