Hair of the Blog

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!

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16 responses to “Hair of the Blog

  1. Reid, this is so interesting. I started going grey in my 20’s, thanks to my grandma’s Irish genes. I’ve considered dying my hair for nigh on two decades now, but I could never justify the expense or the commitment. Plus, I’m not good at other beauty stuff, so it felt out of character to try it. I’ve played around with wash-out colors, but never went for the full coloring. However, now that I’m single again after spending almost a decade with the same person, I’m more concerned about my appearance. I’d like to date, and I’d like to be found attractive, but I also want to be authentic, and I don’t want to dye my hair or go on a crash diet to lure someone in only to have to maintain that lifestyle once they’ve been lured. I guess I’m leaning more towards truth in advertising, but that’s risky because I’m not following standard beauty norms.

    • Ms. Kreamer’s research, including the two Match.com profiles (gray and brunette), showed a decided male preference for her authentic grayness. However, her image consultants did have some useful advice about her everyday wardrobe. In preparation for dating, I say do whatever you need to to feel confident. Cull your wardrobe and only wear the clothes that best highlight your assets. If you don’t have enough of those, buy more. Similarly, evaluate your haircut and determine if you want to go with a slightly different look (don’t go too radical initially, especially if you mostly like your cut). Do you want to wear a bit of makeup? Work out more? Often the exercise (especially lifting weights) is a huge boost to one’s confidence, without losing any weight at all. But I wouldn’t recommend the dye, if it doesn’t feel real to you.

  2. Reid, You may be aware that there is also the debate (not sure if it was part of the book you read) about older women and long hair–whether it is flattering, etc. I have plenty of gray and it has never occurred to me to color–I think, in part, because my mother was gray and it was beautiful, and, in part, because I’m not sure what color I would be. In younger days I liked the highlights and when I started turning gray, it almost seemed like highlights–for awhile anyway. 🙂 Glad to know that by being gray I’m more accepting of getting older! It does come down to do it yourself fixes when you have childcare (and college tuition). I even go back and forth about having a hairdresser. I have one I really like now but each haircut is different and when I do it myself, I’m just as unhappy as when I spend the money….. vicious cycle.

    • Deanna, I DID see the Dominique Brown piece about long hair on middle-age women. I really liked her perspective. And I’d let my hair grow longer but it always seems to get too shaggy and Cousin It-like. Kreamer’s argument that women who go gray naturally have an easier time with aging rang very true for me. It sounded a lot like the problem very beautiful women sometimes have as they age–trying desperately to hold on to the looks of their youth instead of accepting that SOMETHING must change as you age. It’s inevitable.

  3. Well, you know my story: streaks of gray by age 11, started coloring in my late 20s, gave up coloring a year ago for so many of the same reasons you have. Now, at 43, I get more stopped-on-the-street-by-strangers compliments about my silver hair than I ever got about any aspect of my appearance in my younger years. Nature really knew better than my stylist what color my hair should be. I love it, and I don’t know why I waited so long to drop the grinding, time-sucking, confidence-draining routine. Besides, if 40 is the new 20, why shouldn’t silver locks be the new cool look?

    • Of course, you’re the friend to whom I referred, who’s gone gray and (more) fabulous. I think one of the problems with being prematurely and completely gray, and dyeing it, is that the growing-out process can be a bit more radical and painful than if you’d done nothing at all. And the upkeep on a largely-gray head of hair is pretty intense in terms of time and expense. And, as Kreamer notes in her book, it has a hint of addiction to it since you must dye so frequently to maintain the illusion of a naturally (other color) head of hair.

  4. When I grow up and grow out of hair dying (see also: never), I’m going to dye it gray/silver/whatever. My grandmother went cold turkey and it didn’t look like much fun.

    • Has anyone done that? It always seemed like a good idea to hop over the “major gray roots” phase, but I don’t know anyone who has dyed her hair completely gray to ease the transition. Maybe they’re hopeful that there is less gray than they thought? I’m not sure why.

  5. Hi Reid! Well, you know how I feel about the whole thing. For what it’s worth, Jamie, my hair’s pretty short, and it should be totally gray in about a month and a half (I started growing it out in August). If you’re willing to go shorter, it’ll take much less longer, of course.

    I have to say, a lot of the reason I’m doing this *is* vanity. I haven’t found a dyed haircolor that looked good on me, really. And if it did–if it wasn’t too dark and oversaturated–it oxidized so quickly that it quickly, well, didn’t. Plus I never thought the tone was right for my coloring. What I’m seeing so far of the gray hair is, I think, much more flattering to my skin tone.

    As it’s growing in, I’m actually a little disappointed that it’s not as gray as I thought it was by now!

  6. Anne Kreamer pointed out something I’d never before paid attention to: When women habitually dye their hair a dark color, it also inevitably stains the skin, which is visible at the hairline. So if you don’t artfully arrange your bangs, you get a line of demarcation that’s not so natural looking. After reading this book, I can’t stop noticing this on women. It makes me feel both somewhat superior and vaguely voyeuristic. Once you read 200-odd pages about hair, it makes you quite conscious of other people’s hair. I’m hoping the effects will fade with time.

  7. I’m acutely aware now of artificial color. Weird.

  8. Funny you should choose hair now. I put a rinse through mine and love it. My Mommy always said avoid dying as long as possible because once you start, it can be a one way road. I like the lift the rinse gives to me and it fades over time so you don’t get those lines… but alas, that doesn’t work for all. And gray can look great.

    Here’s what’s funny. I recently bought hair extensions to have long hair once in a while without the daily fuss. I love them. I’ve had rave reviews and it’s a fun change from the shorter me.

    Just saying.

    • Oh, extensions! I don’t know many women with the chutzpah and glamor to pull them off–but you are, of course, among them. And extolling the virtues of rinses makes me want to give that more temporary solution a try. What brand and type do you use, and what is involved? How much time? I do remember my mom used to “wash that gray right out of [her] hair” for many years. And looked great to me. Though I probably would have thought she looked great in any case.

  9. Hi Reid,

    This was so fun to read. The book sounds like fun too. I love this phrase of yours: those unbleached gray hairs can be kinky, rebellious so-and-sos.

    I wrote an essay (never published) about that exasperating five-month post-partum hair loss as well as the frustration of dealing with mom hair: should you chop it off like everyone else does after giving birth? go with the perma-ponytail? bother with styling and hairdrying, or just let it go?

    I too stopped dying my hair (red) when I had baby no. 1. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with all that mess anymore! I’ll have to re-evaluate when the gray starts coming in big time. And maybe read this book to help me decide. 🙂

    I like your blog and look forward to reading more.

    Sincerely,
    Amy

    • Amy, thanks for visiting my blog! I thought your hair looked great when we met. I think one of the problems with a frequent schedule of dyeing is that one becomes habituated to looking a certain way. And when life happens and you can’t get to the hairdresser, you feel bad about yourself because your “roots are showing.” You feel you’ve “let yourself go.” And that’s the trap–to have a ritual of maintenance that you must keep up or you feel unkempt and not very pretty. If you’re a Hollywood actress, you have the time, staff and money to devote to looking a certain way–in fact you must. Me, I don’t have so much of that. And giving up highlighting has taught me to mostly accept myself as I am, at least in the matter of the increasing grayness of my hair.

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