On Going Grey

“Isee white hairs!” my nine-year-old niece proclaimed while staring at my hairline last month.

“I know, baby,” I said, trying to reconcile my niece’s now-shattered image of her auntie as the eternally-youthful, glam queen brunette. “I’m going to grow out my grey.”

“I don’t know why people always want to cover their grey,” she responded, while looking toward my naturally-white haired mother. “Look at Yiayia—she’s rocking it!”

“She is, sweetpea, you are right about that!” I nodded in agreement. Now this is a child after my own heart, I thought. How well-adjusted and sane she is. Shouldn’t we all be that way?

A Snapchat photo taken on June 18, 2016.
A Snapchat photo taken on June 18, 2016.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to our next visit. My roots are proudly on display. This time my niece tells me she wants me to keep growing it out.

 Then she looks up at me, enormous brown eyes searching mine, and asks, “Are you scared?” 

This girl. Wow. What a question. She clearly knew this was not the natural order of things, and therefore slightly terrifying.

“No,” I answered. Then I really thought about what she was asking me. Am I scared? What am I scared of? But I already knew the answer: looking OLD.

“Well maybe, a little bit,” I added.

Fast forward another couple of weeks to yesterday. That whole “going grey” business? (I mentioned it in the video in my last post, where you can clearly see my roots.) Well, it’s going…going…GONE.

After two months and nine days of growing out my grey roots, I called in the reinforcements: Mom, Clariol 5NN, and a fresh bottle of 10-volume peroxide.

I know I told my niece and all of you that I’d rock the grey, but I caved. I’m OK with that, though. The whole process was one hell of an eye-opening psychological experience, to say the least. Here’s why I did it, why I stopped it, and what I ultimately learned…

 

Why transition to grey…in my early 40s?

I’ve been coloring my hair since about age 28…to cover my grey. Mostly single-process to match my natural dark brown color, with the exception of some blond highlights a couple times, and those red streaks in 2013. When I first started coloring my hair, I could get away with a touch up every six weeks or so. Now, it’s more like every three weeks, four weeks max. I was kind of sick of it, which is silly, because…

As most longtime G&G readers know, my mom has always done my hair (she’s a pro), and it has never cost me anything more than the cost of the color, although she very often has covered that too, AND she does it for me at home. (I know, I mean, BONUS! What’s the big deal, right? It’s practically no-cost, no-effort upkeep.) Clearly it wasn’t the cost, and not really the 45 minutes a month required to process it, as much as having to conceal the roots with mascara or root coverup every. Three. Weeks. It was the hiding, hiding, hiding. Hiding the grey from the eyes of the world.

Also I kind of felt bad asking my 70-year-old mom to do my hair on her days off, and still do. (Yes, she is 70 and yes she still works. She’s an O.G., tough as nails, and if you don’t believe me, you definitely need to read this.) But she has assured me that keeping the grey at bay is no biggie. In fact yesterday, as we sat side-by-side at my kitchen counter, my hair under a cap with 30 minutes to go, she with her iPad, Candy Crushin’ (OMG, she is a total GAMER), she said to me, “It’s so nice to have a daughter.” Aw. Thanks, Mom!

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because you are my LIFE, honey,” she said. And that’s why I’ve had 44 years (on Thursday) of free hair service. I’m not making this stuff up. She’d peel her skin off for me, not that I’d ever let her.

But anyway.

I needed to know what I was really dealing with.

Vogue UK Features Editor Sarah Harris. Image via Google.
Vogue UK Features Editor Sarah Harris. Image via Google.

Since I haven’t seen more than a 1/2″ of virgin hair for 16 years, I needed to know exactly what is hiding under those layers of faux color. Am I more white or more grey? Or salt and pepper? My mom had already told me that I’m not as grey as she was at the same age, but that didn’t really tell me anything.

And I’m not going to lie—I’m obsessed with Sarah Harris and Kristen McMenamy, who both went grey-to-white very prematurely, and very fantastically, I might add. (I mean look at SARAH’S HAIR!!! → She is an absolute grey goddess.) I felt like I had a decent amount of grey going on under that brown camouflage from what peeked through every four weeks. In my soul I was praying for shocking whiteness or at least really evenly-dispersed grey. The only way to really know was to grow it out.

Here’s my reality: I have a killer white streak at my left temple which I will absolutely rock one day (yay!); a big patch of mostly dark brown slightly left of center at my forehead; a sprinkling of grey around the sides of my head; and white/silver along my right temple and part. (I’ve always said I am super right-brained, so this kind of doesn’t surprise me. All that right-sided cognition has literally singed the color right out of my hair.)

In other words, this wasn’t head-turning, Sarah Harris hair. It was mostly uneven, shit salt-and-pepper. Based on my mother’s white hair, however, I’d say there is potential for some Sarah Harris hair. When I’m 70.

Then I started to not feel like myself.

At the second month mark, I felt both completely rebellious in my decision to grow out my grey, and also completely paranoid. I did not make the decision to grow out my grey—or cover it up—easily, or without my husband’s support. He was totally on board no matter what I decided, because he is awesome and smart. But with a solid inch of uneven grey growth, I started to feel like I didn’t know who that was staring back at me in the mirror.

 Some days I’d look at it and brazenly think, Hell yeah. Most men don’t even think about covering their grey. Why the hell should I? 

Other days I wasn’t quite so self-assured. I’d look in the mirror and feel…ugly.

The grey made me question everything. My age. My mortality. My identity. I am so married to my brunette identity…it’s why no other color ever sticks! I always come back to long and dark. I couldn’t even look at my makeup or clothing the same way (no more bright lippie…so garish, or patterns…there is already so much going on on my head; it would be more than my minimalist soul can take). I suddenly felt like I needed to eliminate half my wardrobe, and dress as rock-n-roll as possible—to invoke the cool factor on every level—so as not to be confused for a lazy, unhip, middle-aged woman.

People never believe I’m in my 40s, thanks to gallons of sunscreen and a pretty fit, clean lifestyle. But with the grey now sprouting out, would I get she looks good for her age instead of she doesn’t look her age? Was I ready for that?

Everyone had an opinion about (my) grey hair.

Just about this same time last year, after my usual month of growth, I had lunch with a friend and told her I was flirting with growing out my grey. Her response? “NO! You’re not ready,” she said. Don’t do it. I dyed my roots the next day, right on schedule.

This year, emboldened, undeterred, and about a month-and-a-half into the grey, I found myself in BCBGMAXAZRIA trying on clothes. I slipped on a sexy little caramel-colored faux suede dress that was a bit short. I made a joke to the saleswoman about it being too short for a woman my age, grey hair and all that (though I must admit that it looked superb because my bod was looking pretty good/lean that day). I explained to her that I was growing out my grey (you feel like you need to let people know that you’re not just slacking on your root upkeep). The saleswoman looked at me, perplexed, like WHY?, then asked if I was married. “Yes,” I answered, “I am.” She breathed a sigh of relief and actually said, “Oh, that’s OK, then,” as if to say that if I was NOT married, the grey would NOT be a good idea. Clearly, she was worried about my marketability. WTF?

And then one day Hubby jokingly said, “Yo Nana,” to me and I almost lost it, especially since I am childless by choice and will clearly never be anyone’s “Nana.” He didn’t repeat that one again. Another day he called me a silverback…uh HELLO, at least call me A SILVER FOX, not a MALE GORILLA…you BETTER GET THAT ISH STRAIGHT, HONEY! He meant it all in fun, and never once said anything derogatory about my appearance, but then I started wondering if people would see us together and wonder: What’s he doing with that old bitch? I’m six months older than him; we match. How would my choice to go grey now reflect on him? Would he still find me attractive if I looked 54 instead of 44, and we hadn’t arrived at that visual point in time together?

It takes serious courage to go grey under age 65.

If I hadn’t tried to grow out my grey at mid-life instead of old age, I would never have realized that Going Gray Is a Fierce Act of Bravery. There are no two ways about it. Look around you…all those women who are sporting the grey? THEY’RE the ones with rock-solid self-esteem, not all us fakers with our perfectly colored coiffures. It takes tremendous fortitude and self-worth to let the biggest marker of age (whether you are prematurely grey or not) show in the most prominent place: on your head.

I have mad respect for the silver foxes now. Mad, serious respect and admiration for all those grey haired ladies who have chosen not to hide their true colors from the world or themselves.

I will rock the grey…one day.

Just not in this decade. Mentally, I’m not there—I can admit that. Also, physically, my hair is not there yet, either. I know there is a lot of grey in my future because as the years pass, there is definitely a lot more to cover, but there’s just not enough to be impactful enough for me right now. I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep, so when it comes to going grey, I want to do it BOLDLY. As soon as the percentage tips to more than 60 grey, I think I’ll have what I need to make a shift toward a lighter, whiter look. But not before 50.

This past Sunday, as my mom, dad, husband, and I lazed around our local pool, we all decided. Well, kind of. With no hat on, my grey roots sparkled in the sunlight, clearly blinding my dad, because he suddenly looked and me and said, subtle as a heart attack, “Hey, what are you doing? You need to color your hair!” (Nothing like a GREYING CHILD to make you feel your own mortality as a parent, right?). So of course the topic was raised and everyone chimed in, my husband making a very valid point:

 “You have plenty of time to be grey,” he said. “You won’t want that dark hair later…it won’t look right then.” 

I had to admit that he was right. I do have plenty of years to be grey, so why force myself into that persona and stage earlier than I needed to? Why say goodbye, now, to that rich, mysterious dark mane I truly love? I turned to mom and asked her if she would color my hair the next day.

And so I am back to brunette…below is a photo of me, mid-Snap, yesterday. All brown. 🙂 Hubby feels like he has his girl back. And I feel…well, I think this text exchange between Mom and me really says it all…

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7 comments

  1. I love this….the whole story…..absolutely love! Vahni, we may never meet in this lifetime, but on a very feminine core level, I GET you! My philosophy for much of my life has been, “Whatever it is you want to be, act as if you’re already there”. I don’t always feel confident, but I act as if. I don’t always feel beautiful, but I act as if. And most of the time, it’s enough. But, like you, the gray in my hair left me feeling so unattractive that I just couldn’t do the “act as if”. I’ll be 50 in a couple of months. I’m totally cool with that and don’t have any age anxiety about 50. I often am mistaken for being much younger, but let’s be honest……no one is mistaking me for 30. I AM aging. It’s a fact of life. The price we pay for not dying is aging and that’s actually a pretty good deal! I was talking to my husband about this yesterday and I told him that, while I’m always going to be prissy missy and love my fixing up, I’d rather be interesting than beautiful. Beauty is common and it fades, but interesting lasts forever! Cheers to your beauty Vahni, but double cheers to the fact that you are an interesting and bold woman!!
    Hugs to you my friend!
    Serene

    1. I just love you, Serene. You are sooooo wise and I cherish every comment you take the time to share with me. And this one, like all the others, resonated deeply with me.

      I say the same thing you essentially said about aging…the alternative is being six feet under! I’ll take the age, thanks. I’ve never felt anxiety at any of my milestone birthdays, I think because my Mom has never ever focused on a number with fear or trepidation. She’s always been like, here I am, like me or not. It’s nice to meet (even virtually) someone like you who is comfortable with who they are, who is sane, with morals and family values, and a helluva great sense of humor about all of it.

      And I do have to say that I think you look superb, and the darker hair absolutely suits you. I think part of not being ready to go grey is because we are both so young at heart…I mean, you have like the coolest, hippest kids…and you’re that cool mom. I think grey hair is gorgeous, but like you, I’m just not ready to take on that persona just yet. And yes…interesting, bold, even eccentric…that’s infinitely more interesting, any day of the week.

      Cheers to you too, my dear! Happy 4th too. xo

  2. What a timely post for me…

    I’ve been covering my grey hair now for about 9 years. I really noticed them when I was about 21. My mother, who is in her mid 60s rocks her salt and pepper. I think she looks fantastic. She thinks I should stop covering my grey because it gives me ‘gravitas’. I’ve toyed around with it, because most of my grey is a pretty silver, but…I’m not ready.

    I’ve never looked my age. People think my daughter is my younger sister and no on ever believes me when I say I’m almost 31. I don’t want gravitas. I don’t need to be taken any more seriously due to my hair color. I feel like myself with a nice, even dark almost black brown. I agree with your husband. We have plenty of time to be grey. Love your thoughts as always!

    1. Hi Whitney, thanks for sharing your perspective! I agree…don’t need grey hair for gravitas. Don’t know about you but my dark hair and general persona tend to scare the sh*t out of most people anyway…maybe another reason to KEEP IT!

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