Marking the Cost of Going Gray


All 50 shades of it…. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

As I get older, the question of hair color becomes more relevant than I ever thought it would.  I used to play with hair coloring all the time as a teen and in my early twenties.  Blonde, purple, red, you name it, it was a form of accessory.  It was something I did because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to.  I expected gray hair to present itself when it did for my grandmother and mother.  My grandmother was white headed by 35 years old, nearly completely.  My mother headed for salt and pepper by then and started coloring her hair in earnest a few years later.  As she likes to say, “We don’t go gray; we go blonde.”  LOL.  Except I sort of hate that color on me.  So, I’m a little surprised that at 35 years old I’m not in the same situation.  I don’t know why, except that maybe genetics doesn’t have anything to do with it.  Who knows?

When it came to the question of having to, I was mostly against the idea.  I felt like there were not enough role models for young women about how to age with grace and power.  We’re taught to fight aging as though it were public enemy #1 (and possible in the first place).  From all the ads fighting wrinkles and “signs of aging” and everything else, I really hated the notion of treating a normal part of life as though it were a combat zone.

Of course that was before I was really starting to drift into that combat zone.

Now my hair stylist says I’m about 20% gray.  And I have a decision to make.

I’ve realized that the “vanity” option is really more than just that.  It’s not that I want to look “old.”  I just don’t want to look like I’m so much older than I feel (or am).  I don’t want to be treated differently because people perceive I’m older than I am (for example for job hiring purposes).  This is ironic, because for years people thought I was much younger than I really was.  Even still people make comments, which I’ve learned to accept graciously and just fork over my i.d. so they’ll shut up and move on.  Maybe in the dim lights they can’t see the gray.

I think that for two reasons I’m not going to start coloring my hair and just see what sort of silverback gorilla I become.

First, getting your hair colored is expensive.  My hair falls to the bottom of my shoulder blades and I have a lot of it.  To hide those gray roots, you’re looking at upkeep of every 6 – 8 weeks.  Sure, you could do it out of a kit yourself at home.  But I’ve never been a fan of many of those looks on older women.  It looks so obviously fake in many cases (and I find this to be just as true of many professional coloring jobs).  If I didn’t like it, that’s a heck of a lot of hair to grow out for a while and probably a very weird color scheme to deal with in the meantime as it grows out.  It’s not very budget friendly.

Second, there is more of a “cost,” in my opinion, associated with buying into the notion that we must all be fearful of gray hair and run from it at first sight.  It costs more in personal worry and fear than if you just accept this is a normal part of life and figure out how to rock your gray hair.  And, if I may be a bit preachy, it costs society when we as women promote that fear of looking our real age.  Now this is not to come down at ALL on women who choose to color their hair.  I’m a big fan of personal choice, and I would want no one to tell me what color my hair should or shouldn’t be any more than as a grown woman I want someone to tell me what I can and cannot wear.  I do wish, though, more women would talk about coloring their hair with a sense of pride as a fashion statement.  My mother, for example, and a close friend of mine discuss coloring their roots as though it’s a desperate secret they must maintain.  Newsflash, we all know that your hair isn’t naturally that color.

Maybe if younger women saw more models of women with beautiful hair in various shades of gray, they would get over the thought that they had to “fight” aging and turn around and fight something else that was far more important.  Like stagnant wages, or hunger and homelessness or something.



One response »

  1. Depends on what color your hair is to start with. I think dark brown or black hair that’s streaked with gray or white is very handsome.

    The woman who founded the humanities council here had long, very dark hair that she allowed to go gray naturally. It was very handsome…but I’ll say, I never saw it down. She always wore her hair pulled back in a bun.

    My great-grandmother and great-aunt were natural snow blondes, and when their hair went white the difference was probably not noticeable. My mother’s hair, however, was kind of mouse brown, and with gray it looked pretty drab — she really needed to do something to color it, but of course they couldn’t afford any such thing.

    A good color job is terribly expensive…to say nothing of maintaining it.

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