Saturday, September 02, 2006

Giving Up the Bottle

After years of internal debate, I've spent the past year growing out my gray. Last week I had my hair chopped off short so that the only hairs left on my head are the salt and peppers ones--granted, still more pepper than salt!

Growing up, I swore I'd always go gray gracefully. I love the look of beautiful silver hair. My dad's side of the family is full of prematurely gray folks, so I knew odds were good that I'd have a fair sprinkling by the time I hit 30--and I did.

While I was okay with silver hair I was not okay with boring hair, and so I started coloring my hair around age 16, and I didn't stop until last year. Redhead, brunette, and even sort-of, kind-of, if-you-really-stretch-it, Blonde. I've done it all. Hair was just another fashion accesory. Clairol was the way to update my *accessory* wardrobe.

Fate threw a twist in my plans for graceful aging, as the proliferation of gray coincided with finally becoming a parent. After a few too many people congratulated me on my adorable grandchildren, I gave in and went back to the bottle. The final straw was when someone met my husband, came back to our house later that day, and introduced himself by saying that he had met my SON earlier that day. It wouldn't hurt as much except that my darling good husband is actually 12 years older than I am. Did I mention that my family goes gray PREMATURELY? Bad enough to be thought of as my babies' grandparent or my husband's mother, but especially ego-damaging when I'm still in my early thirties. Hey, *early* can be however I define it.

My rationale for backsliding was that it really wasn't fair to my kids. They deserved to grow up with a mom who didn't look like central casting for Little Red Riding Hood's granny. If it were just me, I'd go natural. But I have to think of my kids.

The only thing is, it's so obnoxiously complicated to keep up with dyed hair, especially when those pesky grays keep popping up in the roots, and my schedule is jam-packed with working and being a mom to a handful of rugrats. A year ago I just gave up. It was the experiment--for the first time since age 16, I was going to completely let it go back to my real, authentic, totally natural color. No cheating by weaving in what the stylist thinks might be my natural shades. No waiting 6 months and then getting so sick of roots that I buy a box of dye at the grocery store at midnight and go home to put it on that same night. My resolve nearly broke when I saw my mom for the first time in several months and she said , "Wow--you do have a lot of gray--far more than I do." Great--my mom, my husband-- apparently going off looks alone I now qualify for Social Security.

Last week I went for broke and had the last dregs of previously colored hair cut off. The new haircut is short, kind of sassy, a little more hip and cool--okay, I couldn't even write that without laughing-- I've never in my life been hip and cool; it ain't gonna start now. But I like it. The sprinkling of silver just looks like artful highlights. It's incredibly low maintenance and no fuss and I didn't have to book a return visit to touch up my roots. It also feels fabulously authentic.

As I was waiting in the salon I was flipping through magazines. Every ad, every feature, every article seemed intent on telling me how to look, feel, and act younger. We are youth-worshipping culture and nowhere is that more evident than in women's magazines.

And that emphasis on youth brings out a bit of the gray-haired rebel in me. I wouldn't go back in time, ever. Not for a million bucks. I didn't have a horrible youth--I just really, really like what each successive part of my life has brought. If gray hair and wrinkles and sagging skin come with those experiences, bring them on. I'm getting teeny wrinkles in the corners of my eyes and I hope it's because I spend more time laughing than crying. I joke that the gray hairs truly started multiplying and replenishing my head once I became a mom, but the truth is that I'll gladly take the stress of parenthood over the alternative of missing out on the whole experience. When I look at people a decade or two ahead of me in life's journey I don't think, "Gee, that person is so old!" I find myself thinking of how wonderful and exciting it must be to be at that point in life, to have the richness of experience that the passage of time brings. If my life has been successively better I can only imagine ten, twenty years from now.

I am claiming my hairstyle now as my nod to social activism. I am making the visible statement that maybe aging is not the fate worse than death that women's magazines seem to imply. I thought as a child that gray hair was beautiful. I still do. It represents things that our culture doesn't seem to value very much--depth of experience, surviving life's vagaries, longer perspectives, increased understanding and hopefully compassion, and perhaps even the gaining of wisdom. Those things matter to me. I hope my children value these things more than fashion trends or social fads. They'll certainly have the opportunity to grow up seeing beyond gray hair and wrinkles, because like it or not, their Mommy's got 'em.

If hair color is my fashion accessory, this look is the real deal. I've traded in my colored, costume jewelry for genuine silver. Maybe I'll change my mind next month. But for right now, it feels good.

1 comment:

Holly said...

You go girl! I remember reading a quote from Sister Hinckley about the best age being (50 or 60 can't remember which) because that was the age when most women stop competing. I love the concept. Here's to throwing the competition out the window earlier!!

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