Well, ladies and gentleman, we seem to have reached that special time that comes once ever two years or so when we again become aware that having gray hair is a "thing." A silly trend piece is written about how some women have made the bold decision not to hide the deeply shameful sign that they are basically decrepit corpses-in-the-making and instead they flaunt their silver status—even if they're not that old. Of course these women have heartwarming stories of somehow still managing to be a success in life, and they inspire other girls to let it go gray. We all realize we've all been foolish to expend so much energy covering up our little white secret for all this time, even though the very same article always drones on about the endless discrimination gray-haired women face. It'd be confusing enough to turn your hair gray, if it wasn't already that way.
This time we are treated to an AP article that introduces us to a bunch of middle-aged women who are showing their true color:
She is among a new type of gray panther, a woman who aspires to do well and get ahead on the job while happily maintaining a full head of gray.
Panthers? Are they supposed to be like silver cougars? God, it's so confusing to know which kind of predatory big cat you're supposed to identify with these days. Anyway, even while introducing these "panthers," this article takes pains to point out that also a lot of women don't like to go gray because they fear they'll be discriminated against. Salt-and-pepper-haired men, on the other hand, get all the good stuff, so don't even worry about them—unless you're just worried about wanting to fuck them, in which case, how about that George Clooney? He's so delicious, amirite?
Anne Kreamer is the author of a book called Going Gray and is an oft-quoted resource in this type of article. She says there's a phenomenon called "hair-colorism" which seems to be sort of like racism except nothing like it at all. She maintains that whether you can go gray and get ahead depends on what industry you work in. She went to Harvard, as the AP points out, and is therefore endowed naturally with the gift of being right, so no need to dig into that statement any deeper.
Psst! Wanna know a secret? It's true that gray hair is often associated with lacking youth and vigor and all of those other hip, happenin' qualities, and that sucks. It truly does, because your hair has nothing to do with who you are inside. But here's the thing about appearances in general: they do matter, whether we like it or not. And when it comes to going gray, it's a lot like gaining weight or going bald or really any other change that happens to your appearance. In most cases, you'd rather it not happen, but you often have very little control over it. It can happen at virtually any age. For some people it's gradual; for some people it happens suddenly. Some people are totally confident in their new appearance and look great; some people hate the way they look and that shows too. There's no one standard emotion that everyone feels about going gray or getting heavier or losing their hair, but, in every case, it is no one else's business. And, of course, there are ways to cover it up if you want to.
For that reason, these "be happy about going gray even though going gray is clearly going to put you at a disadvantage" pieces are a bit of a mindfuck. You would never write an article called "Ten Bald Guys Who Are Surprisingly Hot" or "Look at These Inspiring Fat Women Who Still Managed to Get Jobs!" (Unless you wanted to be run off the internet forever—though you would go down in a blaze of pageview glory...) So why does it seem fine to do the same thing about people with gray hair? To insinuate that being "comfortable" with your gray and embracing it is somehow an evolved state—the next step in self-acceptance is, frankly, total bullshit. Yes, some people might be happier fading to gray and spending less money coloring their hair. And that's fine. But there are just as many of us who like the way we look without gray hair. And there's no shame in that game either.
In case you haven't guessed it by now, I have more than a few gray hairs on my head, and I started to go gray in my mid-20s. Am I deeply ashamed of this? Nope. Do I worry that people won't want to fuck/marry/hire me? Not at all. Do I dye my hair anyway? Yes, and here's why: Because I have darkish brown hair, and there's just enough gray hair that it makes my head look kind of dusty. And I find that distracting when I look in the mirror. So I get it dyed once in a while to make it look "normal" to my eyes. But I dyed my hair all the time even when it wasn't gray, just because I'd get bored and want a change. Does any of this mean that I hate myself and am succumbing to the pressures of a patriarchal society? Umm, I don't think so, but you'll let me know if I'm wrong.
So then why is dying your hair being presented as being dishonest by these "gray is great" pieces? For instance, our friend Anne Kreamer says, "We only fool ourselves about how young we look with our dyed hair." Oh, we do? What if we actually are young when we dye our hair? And do we also fool ourselves with how blonde we look when we bleach our hair? Are we then pulling one over on ourselves when we wear lipstick to make our lips look more kissable? What about Spanx? C'mon. People play with their appearance for any number of reasons, and it's nothing to fret about. And, conversely, is it really that bold a statement to go around with a full head of gray hair? For certain people, it might be. But it's not exactly like you've gone insane and tattooed a picture of yourself over your own face. It's just gray hair, for Christ's sake. Millions of people have it.
The bottom line is this: there is no one correct or "trendy" way to handle going gray. Society already does enough to make us worry about every facet of aging. We don't need to create a special kind of guilt about what we do or do not do to our hair. And nobody gets on you if you boost the red in your hair or dye it black, so why should it be a no-no to cover up a color you don't like on your head if it happens to be gray? Should women feel free and unashamed to let their hair be its natural color, whether that's gray or brown or green? Yes, absolutely. Is it nice to see women looking gorgeous with full heads of gray or white hair. It sure is. But do those of us who are going gray need to be encouraged with patronizing trend pieces every 18 months? Not so much.
Image via NinaMalyna/Shutterstock.