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Going Gray

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After giving up hair coloring more than a decade ago, the time has come for me to address the subject. Going natural, whether it means gray, silver, or bald, is fast becoming the hottest hair style for boomer gals, so if I don’t speak up now I’ll never prove I’m not just another trend follower (the faithful know how I feel about trends!). I saw signs that  gray was becoming trendy a while back, but  Silver: A State of Mind,  a new photographic collection by Vicki Topaz of women who allow their gray hair to show without shame or chemical disguise, finally pushed my must-write button.

Actually, pushed isn’t the right word: inspired is more like it. I’m not worked up to an angry froth, but blown away: visit the site and you’ll see what I mean. The heads that make me most envious are those with white or silver ponytails. White or silver, these are the colors to which I aspire. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get there, though; after all these years, I still carry a mix of shades. The problem can’t be genetic if my female forebears are any indication: My mother, gone since 2005, and my Aunt Janice, now in her late 80s, bleached for most of their lives, but when their natural color proved lighter than anything their potions could produce, they dumped the whole stinking mess–and incidentally gave me the courage to someday go gray myself.

Aunt Janice, in wheelchair; sister Linda, second to right

On the other hand, my sister Linda vows to bleach her way to the grave.

Unlike my relatives, I was never a blonde wanna-be. Neither was I happy, though, with the mousy brown bestowed on me by nature.

Brenda Starr

I was a redhead in my heart, with Brenda Starr,* girl reporter, as my role model. I started coloring at 16, went natural during the hippie years, briefly flirted with blonde later on, returned to red, tried henna, tried French ammonia-less dye, and finally, fed up with the stink, the burning scalp and rumors of cancer, went cold turkey and gray.

Unlike some of the women in the exhibit that I heard speak on NPR, I didn’t get flak from anyone except for my haircutter. She kept harassing me, and had no shame: told me I looked ten years older than necessary. I kept threatening to stop coming to her for haircuts if she didn’t stop. She didn’t. And I stopped going to her.

My mother, of course, was supportive, and assured me that someday my hair would be as white as hers. As for jobs and that sort of thing, I’m self-employed and try not to need too much from the kind of people who’d dump on me for gray hair.

I was also somewhat surprised by the meaning some people read into the decision to stop coloring one’s hair. Going gray just hasn’t been that big a deal for me. I tell people, and it’s no joke, that one of my reasons was so the kids on the bus would give me their seats; unfortunately, they still don’t.  I’m not saying I’m totally cool with aging; right now, in fact, I’m downright devastated by a sudden swelling of my ankles. I’m not proud, as some women seem to be, to have survived this long. But neither am I about to lay down and die before I’m forced to do so. It’s certainly not that I don’t think about aging: I think about it more than most of my peers. It’s just that, to me, gray hair is the least of it.

So what’s not the least of it? Um, let’s see, oh yeah! Getting closer to death, that’s a biggie. Also, I worry about awful diseases or amputated limbs or losing my mind (evidence it’s happening already!) and might have to live like that for decades. Already I hate living without cigarettes and a few other things the bod can no longer tolerate. Then there’s losing people who keep dying, from close friends to Dick Clark.  Yep, hair is the least of it.

I’ve always had what they call a “rich interior life” and these days, or years, the mind is working overtime. It’s not just worry, though: there’s a lot more, but I’m not about to empty my brains onto the screen in one fell swoop. Let’s just say it’s not easy being me. I know I’m not the only one, that it’s just not easy being human, and the older we get the harder it gets. As Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.”It sure ain’t, whether you’re gray, silver, blonde, or red!

* Do me–and yourself–a favor: Click on the Brenda Starr link and go read the Wikipedia page on her. I knew almost nothing about my childhood heroine; after reading all this, my worship of her has been not only validated but revitalized.

One response »

  1. Is it pathetic to comment on my own posts? I don’t care, I’m doing it!
    Don’t any older women read my blog? Surely you gals out there have SOMEthing to say about the current state of your hair, whether gray, dyed, or gone. Come on: Hair’s always been one of our top ten favorite topics…or so I thought!

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