Since I wear my hair short, I get it cut fairly often to keep it out of my eyes. I’ve been going to the same salon since the ’90s. My stylist knows me and I know a fair amount about her. I look forward to catching up with her because she’s smart and fun. But unfortunately for her, I’m kind of a meat and potatoes sort of a hair client. If I had my way, I would only get my hair washed and cut. But I don’t want to hurt her feelings, so when she’s done with the cut, I let her blow it dry. It’s not my style really to have poufy hair filled with product, but I can wash it out in the morning and style it my way after that.
Every time I get my hair cut, she tells me I have gray hair. She combs through my hair and points out the gray. I know I have gray hair, but the exercise is to remind me while she is blow drying my hair, so I might consider coloring it at my next appointment. I don’t know anything about coloring hair other than my simple observation of other people’s colored hair which to me always looks dyed. I think if you are going to pull it off, you need to start coloring your hair regularly the minute you see the first gray hair. That way, if you are lucky, you won’t look so much like an ad for shoe polish and people might think you aged more slowly. At least, I think that’s the idea.
Another hairdresser once told me that the reason she is a platinum blonde was that if she had hair like mine, she’d be fired. Her salon wants her to look thirty forever. She always looks great, but the hair always looks dyed. It’s dry and stiff and really white blonde even though I know for a fact she’s a brunette. I’m not sure she would have it any other way, but I got the feeling that she envied my primal state, my never-dyed hair. Our gray hair conversation was just a few sentences long, but while I was reaffirming my not wanting to cover my gray, I caught sight of her wishing she didn’t have to cover up hers.
Men wear gray hair better than women, I think. There’s something about looking distinguished, about becoming the senior member of the club with the salt and pepper look or with graying temples. Not so for women or my hairdresser might look more like me. It’s a Hollywood thing that actresses in their forties no longer play ingenues and they have to start playing moms and wives. It was startling and ground breaking when the model Carmen Dell’Orefice started showing up on magazine covers in her sixties and, finally, women TV news anchors were old enough to have children in college.
But none of this impacts my life very much. I like my hair. I have always liked the color, or colors, I guess you could say. It’s brown and red and gray and every third strand is one or the other color. I don’t think of it as a badge of anything or a political statement. I just know I don’t like what dye does to hair, painting it all one color. I don’t want the upkeep of having to keep touching it up. To me, that’s like covering up a lie by telling more lies. I think you have to take me at face value or leave me, and know that when I was born, Harry Truman was still president.
My youngest daughter just colored her hair for the first time. She has magnificent hair with mops of cascading curls of light brown, dark brown, and shiny burnt copper that comes through in the sunlight. But now, it’s blonde underneath to give her some highlights. My hope for her is that she can color it or not and nobody tells her that if she stops coloring it, she could lose her job. Highlights need to be fun, not required.
And gray? Maybe it is a badge of courage.
Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood. While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She blogs on Open Salon and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one. She is the author of “A Marshmallow on the Bus” and a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain. Most of her writing is done on the bus. www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Twitter at @nilesite.
Photo credit: By Philippe Alès (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons