Why I would imagine that the color of my hair would hold an iota of interest to you, dear reader, cannot be explained other than to say I learned the hard way that it’s a subject that can ignite opinion, solicited or not.
I was serving as parliamentarian for a civic organization a few years ago and during a meeting, one of the members, henna-tressed, suddenly blurted out “What are you doing to your hair?”
“Nothing, really. I’ve just decided to stop coloring it.”
Stunned silence. Or as the hipsters say, “Crickets.” Just like that I was able to stop the proceedings of our monthly meeting. What power.
The president of the group, a woman in her mid-70s with expensively highlighted blonde hair, then offered this little gem: “But Barbara! You’re much too young to go gray!”
Tell that to the melanin levels in my hair follicles, please.
And as I looked out at the women around the table, I realized all but one had dyed hair. More power to them. The extent to which I Don’t Care about the color of their hair cannot be overstated. But their appalled reaction, and those of other women I met during the process of going “silver,” was a major wake-up call. And an irritating one.
By the time I was in my early fifties, I was sick to death of coloring my hair. Devoting three hours a month to having assorted chemicals smeared onto my head, the obscene cost, and the never-ending cycle of touch-ups was getting old. More than anything, I was curious what was actually under all those expensive highlights. It’s only hair, I reasoned. If I ended up battleship-gray or some other ghastly color, it would be easy enough to go back to the salon. I checked with Beloved Husband, he of the eternally brown hair and he was all for it, so full speed ahead.
Besides, Jamie Lee Curtis rocks that head of silver hair. Why couldn’t I?
During the dreadful stage of growing the hair out, the disbelieving and disapproving remarks from casual acquaintances and others began rolling in. Not everybody, to be fair, but many more than I ever would have imagined.
You see I had underestimated the reaction in the female tribe when one of us goes against the flow. It’s not appreciated. It’s perceived as threatening somehow. I had broken an unwritten rule.
We are to strive for a youthful appearance above all else. Even if it renders us unrecognizable.
Silly me, I was operating under the impression the color of my hair was a personal decision. Little did I know how freely some incredibly blunt opinions would be ventured right to my face. Good grief, woman, I don’t tell you NOT to color your hair, why on earth do you feel free to tell me I should? What possible difference does it make to you and why do you feel so passionately about it?
Middle sister, affectionately known as the “fashionista” of the three sisters, surprised me by sending this book in complete support of my little endeavor. And did it ever help me understand just what I gotten myself into. You see, it’s about more than hair. It’s hair as symbol of how we choose to age.
Striving to look younger has never been my goal as my looks started to….well, let’s just say change, okay? I have always just wanted to be the best 45, 50, and now 58-year old version of myself possible. I don’t kid myself into believing that the looks I used to get would suddenly return were I to start dyeing my hair again. But that’s my choice. As strongly as I feel about it being my personal decision, not doing so might be yours. And that’s okay. I just wonder why we’ve bought into the concept that looking our age is somehow a sign of failure. We even say it, don’t we? “She’s really starting to show her age.” Like it’s a bad thing.
My sisters were wonderfully supportive. As were my close friends. I wish I could say the same for many others in my circle. Here some remarks which I haven’t blotted out of the memory bank yet:
“Oh, you’re so brave, Barbara!”
Brave? Really. No, brave is being a foster mother. Or working two jobs as a single mom.
“I’ve always wanted to do this, but I’m waiting to be a grandmother first!’
Because somehow then you’ll be ready to throw in the towel?
“No. I don’t agree with this!”
Actually I don’t recall asking for permission.
“You look so distinguished now.”
Okay, now THAT could almost make me go back to the salon. EGAD.
“My mother always said when a woman stops dyeing her hair, it’s the first sign she’s letting herself go.”
Oh, okay, Forrestine Gump. I’m letting myself go, all right, away from you and your dated ideas!
Yeah, these old broads have really let themselves go, haven’t they?
Men, on the other hand, were awesome about it. If any of them really noticed or cared, I never knew. I think men respond to a woman who is confident, happy, and takes care of herself. We women are the ones who put all the pressure on ourselves to adhere to some ridiculously unachieveable model of youth and beauty.
Beauty is such a complicated subject , isn’t it? It brings out the best and worst in us, something I’ve known all my life. This experience just reinforced it. One of these days I plan to write a bit on the subject, but I might be too busy letting myself go…..into the garden, the lecture hall, the museum, the cockpit of a little Cessna, the rescue kennel, and whatever else is around the corner for this Silver Sister. Rock on, ladies.
Thanks for reading,