The decision to go gray is big. Ridiculously so.
It was, perhaps, inevitable that with the much-heralded decrease in personal luxuries like salon visits, some people should forgo dyeing by their own hands and let their hair revert to lower-maintenance gray. As Kathleen Clary Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times, she was tired of the hassle.
But you'll look older!" protests a friend. Guess what? I am older. And I'm tired of trying so hard to deny it. The once intermittent weave has graduated over the last few years into an every-six-weeks procedure that involves low lights, highlights and overall root color. Toxic fumes fill the salon air as I try not to breathe too deeply for the hours it takes to maintain what has, over time, resembled less and less natural blond and more and more an oddly greenish or orange hue, depending on the light I'm standing in.
Although she claims that "this is not about "letting myself go," unless going gray is that," her tone, and that of her friends, certainly conveys the idea that going gray is somehow giving up and giving in. I've heard that attitude before, not least from a chestnut-locked lady in her tenth decade to whom I may or may not be related, and while I support anyone's wish to look in a way that makes her feel good, I think that rationale's outmoded. So is this notion that hair-color automatically makes one look younger, which anyone who's glanced at a tabloid in their lives knows not to be true. Going gray, the author seems to feel, is bold. And maybe she's right: certainly those few who've embraced their silver hair - Emmylou Harris or Helen Mirren - are regarded as ageless exceptions doing something special, besides being the same two examples who people always have to go to. When was the last time you saw a woman with prematurely - or not - white hair on TV? The Golden Girls?
It's true that not everyone's hair goes as beautifully silver as these women's, and many don't want a crop of wiry white strands in an otherwise youthful mane. But going gray, generally, doesn't look that weird or daring. (Obviously no one in the 18th century thought so.) Well, depending on where you live - Miller draws the distinction between her appearance-conscious "Southern California friends" and her home in "the backwoods of Montana now where rumor has it that if you have all of your teeth, you're a beauty queen." So, it doesn't matter, you see, if she looks defeated and old!
My mom is passionate about her gray hair - although it should be said that she's lucky enough to have had it age very uniformly and in a very silvery manner, Like many things in her life, she invests this with an unwarranted sense of moral superiority. And that, is of course, as futile and judgmental and irrelevant as the high-horse parenting debates that clog parenting boards, proclaiming the superiority of all things natural. Unfortunately, the discussion has frequently been couched in moral terms (see: Anne Kreamer's Going Gray of 2007), and I worry that actually impedes acceptance. Hair color is not, nor should it be, a moral issue - we have a bevy of (increasingly earth-conscious) dye technologies at our disposal to help women choose their choices, whyever they might chise. And by the same token, going gray should not be regarded as any kind of surrender to grim inevitability. And maybe as that stigma dies, a little of the perception of all the signs of age as scary and ugly will go away too.