Around the time I turned forty, I started dyeing my hair. I didn’t have much gray, but the strands that suddenly appeared freaked me out. I didn’t feel like I was ready. Maybe when I was fifty I would be ready. I have really dark hair, so just a little gray showed up a lot. To me, anyway.
Remarkably, that was the first time in my life I’d dyed my hair. I got a semi permanent dye, and no one noticed the change. I was so annoyed, I started pointing it out. People squinted at my head and still didn’t notice. A couple months later, my hair developed a brassy, orangey-tint. It was subtle. Again, no one I pointed it out to noticed (or at least that’s what they claimed) but I didn’t like it. I missed the darker color. So I started dying my hair just to get rid of the orange.
What a waste of time. What a waste of money. What a bore checking my hair for signs that it was time to go back to the salon.
After two years of dyeing, I stopped. I am so happy to have my hair back. Seriously. I feel so grateful. I did not like that orange hair. I love my hair color. Maybe my mind will change. I don’t know. This whole process is a giant mystery. But I doubt it. I always thought that when people said they earned their gray it was bullshit. Maybe the joy I feel when I look in the mirror is only because I’m happy that orange hair is gone. But also, I like the gray now. I think it’s pretty. Confused at my reaction, of course, I turned to books.
Going Gray is by Anne Kraemer. At 49, she saw a photo of herself with her dyed dark hair and thought she looked awful. She let her hair go gray and when she did she felt happier, sexier, and comfortable with herself in the world. (I’ll post her before and after photos when I have time, this is another two minute blog before I wake the kids.)
I also read a book called Healthy Aging by Andrew Weil. As many of you know, he’s got a big gray beard and he’s bald. That’s OK, of course, because he’s a successful man. I was curious what he would say about gray. He wrote about his dog. He’s a dog lover and he’s lived with dogs for years, going through their life cycles with them from puppyhood to old age. At the time Weil wrote his book, he had a beautiful, strong dog with a shiny coat. He writes that while stroking the dog, he notices gray hair on the animal’s chin. That starts him worrying. He knows what’s to come. The dog will get older and more frail and eventually he’ll die. Weil starts to think about his own death. All these feelings sprout from seeing a few gray hairs on his dog’s chin.
Weil writes about how our fear of death is manifested in the physical evidence of aging that we see. That’s not rocket science obviously, but as I read on in his book about the healthy aging process, I started to think about signs of aging as signs of health instead of signs of death. Physical health and also emotional health. Weil writes, as have others, the ever growing use of botox is affecting us. Babies learn from facial expressions. They’re mimics, and that’s how they process information and how their brains develop (and that’s the problem with Lego marketing ARGH, but that’s another blog).
When babies cannot see emotions in frozen faces, they don’t learn the way they’re supposed to. Not only that. Emotions are meant to be felt. That’s why we have them. Wrinkles are signs that we feel. Wrinkles are healthy. Not for a twenty year old but for a forty year old. Gray hair is healthy as well.
I blogged a couple months ago about a book I loved called Fifty Is Not The New Thirty. I don’t know about fifty yet, but so far forties have been one of the best times of my life. When you see a wrinkle or a gray hair, try seeing it for what it is: you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. That relaxes me.
Update: I haven’t been able to find the before/ after photos of Kraemer on the internet that are on my book cover. If you do, send them along and I’ll try to keep looking. When I didn’t find them immediately, I started to think: why post them? She looks gorgeous, but maybe part of the gray hair phobia is that we don’t look the same way in photos (and on TV) that we do in real life. Dyed hair often doesn’t look brassy and weird on TV the way it can in reality. Altering real life looks to make them look “good” for a TV/ photo lens is part of the problem. Maybe its better not to focus on a photo even though hers happens to look good. Speaking of gray, I just saw Emmy Lou Harris two days ago. Talk about beautiful– her voice, her hair, her presence. Wow.
OK, got the photo. Thank you Prof Prog Strumpet.
Since I caved on posting that photo, here’s one of Emmy Lou too. But remember, it’s not about the photos, it’s about LIFE.