Some of my best friends dye their hair. Correction. Most of my best friends do. And there but for the grey of God go I. You might say it’s a natural consequence of being female and over fifty – to which I would answer, Say what?
It doesn’t seem like so long ago, I could estimate the average age of a crowd by counting the grey heads. Now I can only gauge age by counting grey-haired males. Counting grey-haired females gives me a tally of my allies.
When did going grey gracefully become the exception? And why didn’t I get the memo? Okay. Maybe I did get the memo, but chose to ignore it.
The first time must have been twenty years ago, when the very nice woman who used to cut my hair randomly asked, “Been painting?” She’d discovered my first white hair. She sputtered an apology. I laughed it off.
And I continued to laugh it off as the white hairs increased and the hairdressers’ comments became more frequent, and less oblique.
“We can take care of those pretty easily.”
Meanwhile, more and more of my peers were going the opposite route. Some said they did it because their boyfriends or their jobs demanded it. Others felt it was necessary for acquiring a boyfriend or a job. Most simply preferred their hair not to be grey, and saw no point in not looking the way they wanted.
None of this reasoning applies to me. I am happily married to someone who likes my hair the way it was, and where it’s going. I don’t have to worry about my job, because no one cares what writers look like. These are lucky facts, because I could never deal with the fuss dyed hair would require. I’ve seen how much time and money it takes to maintain. I have never worn make-up or had a manicure. And I figured out a long time ago how to keep my hair so it doesn’t require any brushing or combing or blow-drying, or whatever the hell it is real women do.
Of course, the personal is also political. Is there really anyone out there who doesn’t think there’s something wrong with a culture in which men who show their age are considered wise and distinguished, while women feel compelled to look perpetually young? Raise your hand if you think the Academy of Motion Pictures would have handed an Oscar to an eighty-something-year-old woman for her role as a newly out lesbian. No one?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with people dying their hair if they want to. What pisses me off is the societal pressure that makes so many women want to look younger than they are.
The upshot, for me, is that my greying hair now makes me the exception, rather than the rule. When I see a woman who wears her hair grey, I’m grateful. When I see one who does it beautifully, I think of the lining that makes a storm cloud not so bad, the forks and knives that mark a special occasion, settings for turquoise in the Southwest, classic photography, the newspaper of record before it caved in to color. And I’m riveted.
I find it hard to believe I’m the only one.