Why Aren’t We Colorblind?
No, this is a not a post about racism in our society, or about that peculiar phenomena of colorblindness from which mr husband suffers. This is about hair color, or in my case, lack thereof.
In all my decorating adventures, I have learned that color is very important. Light and color are the single most important aspects of any decorating scheme, in my experience. The wrong shade on the walls, and even the coolest furniture just looks wrong. But that isn’t what I’m thinking about today.
I am thinking about hair color, and the odd, inexplicable double standard that puts a negative bias against women with gray hair. Men are, always have been, considered distinguished with a little gray hair. Despite what the hair-color commercials are telling them, many of them really DO look better with a little salt in the pepper. Men – don’t listen to those commercials! Women have been falling for this for decades, and really, what have we accomplished?
Why is hair color analogous with youth and beauty? I started going gray in my twenties, and I certainly wasn’t old then. By my mid-thirties I was about 1/2 gray, and now, at 45, I am about 85% gray. Although you would never know it – it is well hidden, at least half the time, beneath a very high maintenance, expensive, and increasingly ineffective dye job. Premature gray runs in the family – my grandmother went blond in her forties because she couldn’t keep up with the gray in her brunette hair. I don’t ever remember my mother, who is a stunning auburn at 66, ever NOT coloring her hair. So I naturally followed suit, coloring at home, and when that failed, making trips to the salon every four weeks, but looking pretty awful after three.
I was warned about gray hair – “It will make you look old,” my mother cautioned, then sited every woman we knew who had “let herself go,” as an icon of dried-up, frumpy old-haggery. (Is haggery a word? is now.)
By the time I turned 40, it was difficult to keep up with the roots, it was becoming a chore, a waste of time and money. I went blond for a while, hoping that would help me transition to gray more easily. The yellow-blond was not flattering, and my mother talked me out of it. I felt too young to be gray haired. After a year, I succumbed to pressure and went back to my “natural” red.
Now I am 45. My dyed hair is about the perfect, natural shade I was born with. But it looks wrong, somehow, the way the baby blue I wore at age 5 would look wrong, too. And the roots are rampant. I’m going through that other lovely change of life, as well, so my skin is changing, and somehow my “natural” shade just isn’t as complementary anymore. Don’t get me wrong – I take great care of my skin, I’m willing to pay a small fortune for great skincare (currently in LOVE with Boots No 7 serum, btw!) I wear makeup, too, every day, even when I’m just at home, apply lipstick several times a day, keep all 20 nails painted, wear jewelry and perfume (Shalimar) , and try to keep current with my clothing, even if it is mostly jeans and platform sandals these days. I may be getting older, but I refuse to become frumpy!
So will gray hair age me? I look at women who dye their hair – they aren’t fooling anyone! And I look at friends who have let their hair go gray – they don’t look older, they just look like themselves. Better, even, in some cases.
Will gray hair make me look old? Older than what? Older than I am? Probably not! Older than 35, yeah, sure, but I don’t look 35 now! I think of the money, time, and worry I have spent on my hair color, and I wonder, what have I been afraid of? Who am I kidding? Answer – I’m afraid of myself, I’m afraid of disappearing, not being perceived as young and vibrant and sexy. Guess what – that has already happened! The last three times I was hit on, propositioned or asked out, each was by a man who was clearly in his late fifties, or even older – one was an octogenarian! Clearly, having dyed hair isn’t fooling anyone but me!
For that matter, what’s wrong with being older? I didn’t want to stay 5 years old, or 15 years old. I was actually relieved to be considered an adult at 21 (especially since I was already a mom!) and I appreciated the respect I began to garner once I was past my 30th birthday. Everyone ages, so why is it such a bad thing? Beats the alternative, my grandfather Morgan used to say, and he lived until he was nearly 90.
I am 45. I have decided to quit dying my hair. I am more than just a hair color, a number on a scale, a symbol of youth and fertility. That passes for all of us, men and women, and there is a lot more life still to come. Like childhood, that part of my life was just a stage, and I’m ready for the next one. I’m really not afraid of aging.
Turning 40 freaked me out, for about 2 weeks. All my life, I kept hearing from friends and family members, “wait until you turn 40 and _____ will happen.” fill in the blank, you’ve all heard the warnings – can’t lose weight, get wrinkles, won’t have energy, sex drive drops, blah blah blah. So I turned 40, none of that happened, and I quit caring.
What did happen when I turned 40? I landed my dream job at the museum. I realized I had completed several of my ten-year goals I had set at age 30. I was living in a house I liked, in a city I like, working a job I LOVE, with a husband I LOVE. I was old enough to be taken seriously and still young enough to enjoy it. I no longer needed to worry about what teenagers thought of me. I had no one to impress.
Five years down the road, I was actually happy to turn 45. It felt right, like I had earned the right to middle age. Not a shawl and rocker, thank you very much, but the right to quit caring so much about things that do not matter, to spend my energy focusing on things that are important. I’m not pretty anymore. I’m not ugly by any stretch, but I’m 45. I take care of myself, I want to look good, but I don’t need to worry about being attractive to the other sex (other than mr husband, of course!) I like pretty things like handbags and bracelets and pedicures, so the money I free up from the salon can be used for fun things instead of hiding those dreaded roots. The money I spend in one year could probably pay for a pretty nice vacation, too!
Here is a picture of my hair now, two 1/2 weeks out from coloring, just for reference:
And I have decided to drop at least 10 pounds, too. Yes, weight bias issues at work here, as well, but I’m not going there! I don’t care about getting older, I do care about being healthy and active!
It is strange to me how the decision to go gray-haired ellicts such strong reactions in other people who, frankly, have no stake in the matter. Gray hair just scare people, I guess. If I announced my decision to go blond, or start wearing green nail polish, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but go gray, and somehow everyone flocks in to offer unsolicited advice! Mr husband is okay with it – he says it’s not permanent anyway, and if I am unhappy I can always dye it again. My best friend is curious to see what it will look like – the roots are a lovely shade of platinum – but I suspect she is secretly hoping it will make her look younger next to me! My mother, whom I have not told, will be anything but supportive. Maybe she is afraid it will make her look older! I am nervous about the grow-out period, but hey, I like hats!
Going gray is a little scary, but it shouldn’t be. It’s just dumb to obsess that much over something like the color of my hair! But gray hair, at least in our society, means something, its a beacon of something else that we wish to avoid. And it is a scary realization. This is by no means the most difficult or important decision I have taken in my life, and yet, its one that does scare me. Which is exactly why I am going to do it! So if you see me on the street, say hello. I’ll be the one in the hat!