All the women in my office dye their hair. Nay, all the women in my profession (university development, aka fundraising) dye their hair. We aren’t investment bankers, but we are not terribly different culturally. Being a professional means fading into the background enough to highlight the seriousness of our purpose. Standing out with grey hair, though biologically normal for my age (46) is not culturally normal anymore. Everyone dyes. Sometimes it seems like we’re not allowed to go gray anymore.
I’m seized with the fear that I’m the equivalent of John Travolta at the Oscars — befuddled by names, clinging to my fading youth, dyeing my hair too dark and becoming the butt of office jokes. I’d rather go willingly than try to pretend. I’m not sure what “aging gracefully” means exactly but it seems like the opposite of John Travolta.
For years, I’ve been beating around the bush with my hair stylist, Vanessa, tentatively questioning her about what it would be like to go gray. “As I get older, will I look silly if I keep dyeing my hair this dark brown color?” “Won’t it be obvious that I’m trying too hard?” Vanessa, undaunted, replied that I was too young to go grey (I was 42 at the time) and that these days, women could do whatever they wanted with their hair. It sounded liberating. It sounded like I was free when I colored my hair.
A feminist all my life, I never imagined that I would ever dye my hair. But, upon seeing grays in my early 30s, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my youth, my sex appeal, my identity. I’d never been one to experiment much with my hair, apart from a few misguided cuts and a lonely purple dye job in high school.
When I arrived at the salon for my monthly appointment to dye my roots, trim my hair and receive periodic highlights, my stylist immediately stated, “Ok — let me mix up your color.”
“No, stop,” I replied.
“What, are we doing something different?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m going to let my hair go gray.”
Vanessa sat down in the chair next to me, arms flopping aside as if I just commanded her to sit because I had bad news and was afraid she would faint. After much discussion, Vanessa decided that my next step would be to get some lighter highlights and “ash it out,” effectively removing the red tones and washing out the color with a rinse that would blend the roots with the dye a little more gracefully. When finished, it seemed at once not all that different, but at the same time like a completely new me.
Decision-making was painful, and slow. Years in the making. But, I’ve finally arrived at a point where I feel curious and excited about my potential new look. About the possibility of becoming someone new. I’m pleased with my icy temples. Not as pleased with my snowy crown but that, hopefully, will change over time.
The first time I told someone I was growing out my gray, I felt like I was coming out of the closet. Afraid to tell. A little excited. Mostly, trying to convince myself that I could face whatever was to come. Now, I’m telling more and more people. I’m getting lots of compliments about my new ashy shade, which is hardly gray yet. Whenever anyone asks what I did, I tell them I’m trying to grow out my roots. The women in my office are all fascinated by the story. Lots of people are curious to see how it goes. Some women, even ones older than I am, are using me as inspiration or as a test case. One thing I’ve learned: there is a sisterhood of dye-haters. Mostly, we’re tired of the expense, tired of the time that it takes to upkeep and tired of trying to look younger than we are.
So now’s the time to let it grow.