It is a truth perhaps not universally acknowledged that women love to talk about their hair. It’s one of the reasons we go to salons–so we can talk about our hair with a professional who cares (as opposed to our husbands, who maybe don’t care so much).
And so I indulged recently by reading Anne Kreamer’s 2007 memoir Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Really Matters. In case you can’t tell from the title, Kreamer decides to give up her longtime habit of dyeing her hair every two or three weeks–just as she is on the cusp of 50. Not only does she grow out her own hair, she engages in various stunts to try to determine others’ (especially men’s) real reactions to women with gray hair. She posts a profile on Match.com (with the permission of her husband), in different cities, both with gray hair and with brown hair. She goes out to bars and tries to see if she could find a man to pick her up, in all her grayness. She interviews many women about their hair. She talks to hairdressers. And she conducts a reasonably scientific survey designed to suss out people’s attitudes about gray hair on women.
Kreamer’s book flatters those women who, like her, choose to go naturally gray. Her observations and data tend to validate her own decision to accept herself as she is. (She does, however, visit a few image consultants and gains valuable wardrobe advice that thoroughly improves her look, as you can see in the before and after pictures on the book jacket.)
I felt a good deal of guilty pleasure reading this book because I grew out my blond highlights about four years ago. Or was it five? Anyway, long enough ago that several of the details are fuzzy in my memory, and I didn’t even bother to record them in my journal, much less write a book on the subject.
Here’s roughly what happened: I became pregnant with my first child and out of a combination of first-trimester sensitivity to chemical smells and caution about putting the peroxide muck on my scalp, I stopped getting highlights in my hair. And once I had my baby, I had less time and money to invest in highlights. I went a few times, but it was expensive. Yes, it was expensive before the baby, but the expense seemed more insane once I also had daycare to deal with. Then I got pregnant again, and the jig was really up: I had even less time and money for highlighting and just stopped entirely. (And thank goodness my hairdresser supported my decision. Otherwise I might simply have tried to do it at home, which, from past experience, I know would have been either disastrous or just pretty bad.)
And I’ve struggled with my hair from time to time–those unbleached gray hairs can be kinky, rebellious so-and-sos. But I haven’t gone back to the highlights. Right now, from what I can see, I’ve got gray scattered throughout my hair, and especially at my temples. It’s distinguished, right? (Sure, Reid, sure.)
Kreamer offers a few illuminating points in a fairly slender, easy-reading package. One is that women who do not dye their hair tend to accept aging with more equanimity. They are less depressed at the changes of age because they face one of them in the mirror every day.
I’m not sure, by the way, if this observation applies to women who go completely gray in their teens or twenties, since they don’t have any age to really accept. I mean, who can blame them for not wanting to look decades older than they are, at least from the back? And, on the other hand, you have people like my 80-year-old mother-in-law, who has fewer gray hairs than I do–naturally. (Yes, she otherwise looks her age, but being a mostly natural brunette is a rather impressive feat. Maybe none of her five children gave her any trouble, so barely any gray hair?)
So, to sum up: I am pretty darn authentic, yessiree. And I’m in good company. A dear in-real-life friend let her abundant gray hair loose, and she looks divine. One of my favorite writers, Alice Bradley, has decided to grow out her dye. (She posted photos, but inexplicably several of them are missing. Just take my word for it that she looks good. Not so gray at the time of the photos, but pretty.)
And the fun of it is, this going-gray business, or reading about going gray, gives me another excuse to talk about my hair. Which, as I said, women love to do.
How about you? Are you ready to admit that you’ve got some gray? Or other follicular issues you wish to discuss. Please do!