Only the Good Dye Young

Senior Couple Sitting On Bench By Sea TogetherAs we age, parts of us change color.  We want our teeth to be white, but not our hair. We want our arms and legs sun-kissed and bronzed, but certainly no brown age spots on our faces. It is a problem we women “of a certain age” deal with every day.

A few weeks ago I was visiting my father who lives in a retirement home. Another resident saw me in the hall and asked, “Are you a new resident?

This is my life now.  I have been eligible for AARP for five years and have earned  the right to buy the Senior Portions at Bob Evans.  I consider myself young, even if the fine folks at the grocery store ask me every week if I’m eligible for the senior discount. In my mind, I’m about 37.

Notwithstanding my “50 is the new 30” outlook on life, about four years ago I gave up coloring my hair to see what God hath wrought.

I can’t afford $80 every four weeks for the Magic of Being a Blonde.  I had my own sorry history with Color-in-a-Box and decided to let it go.  Within eight weeks, I was quite gray — well, let’s call it sexy silver.

Genes are, frankly, not my friend except in the area of skin and hair. My maternal grandmother and mother both aged with beautiful skin and silver-to-white hair, and it appears I’m on that journey.  With her beautiful white hair in a bun, my grandmother was mistaken for Maria von Trapp in Stowe, Vermont.  She loved the attention and did not correct  the mis-identification.  Had she been asked to sing, her cover would have immediately been blown.

My mane began to lighten when I was in my late twenties. I colored my own hair for many years, except for the nine months I was expecting. (Hide those hospital-with-baby photos.)

Coloring your own hair is a challenge. Women who say, “Oh, it’s so easy” are lying or have a sister-in-law who is a stylist.  Mark my words.

And while the hair gets whiter, the teeth go in the other direction. I’ve never been blessed with sparkling white teeth like those Chiclets Suze Orman sports. My choppers were already yellowing when the orthodontist pulled off my braces in 1968. Yes, I am a coffee drinker, and I know this compounds the issue. Without the pleasures of white sugar, flour, and real Coca-Cola most of the time, don’t try to take my coffee away from me.

So what to do? On a friend’s suggestion I recently tried activated charcoal capsules, a homeopathic fix. My friend emptied capsules of activated charcoal in  a paste or “slurry.”  This may be an old wives tale, but I’m an old wife. Apparently the charcoal is quite corrosive and removes plaque.

I’ve never tried to open a capsule before.  There must be a trick to it, but I didn’t know it,  so I cut it open with cuticle scissors. Surprise! Immediately after opening the capsule, black stuff was everywhere on my white countertop. “Activated charcoal” is code for “black tar that sticks to everything.” I opened another pill,  enough to make a paste. Leaning over the sink, I put my brush into the  ebony stuff and rubbed it against my ivories.

Having worn braces – both upper and lower bands and a face bow – for five years, I brush well.  Apparently too well, and with too much vigor.

Are you aware that if you  are brushing  with an inky material, said inky material may fly over the walls, the mirror, the sink and the counter top?

But,  that wasn’t the end of it. In the mirror, I saw black teeth, a black tongue and black lips. And silvery white hair. I brushed and brushed, and the black came off my teeth. This might be the secret of the activated charcoal.  Is it possible your teeth are so tarred with the charcoal that you brush and brush like you’ve never brushed before, resulting in the cleanest teeth of your life?

White hair, black teeth, not exactly progress. Want to hear about my sunless tanning experience last October for boarding a plane to Italy?  The sunless tanner tech said to me as I went out the door into a rainstorm, “Don’t sweat and don’t get wet.”  Telling “Don’t sweat” to a post-menopausal woman is like telling a rooster not to crow.

As for my legs, they are normally so blindingly white that small children hide their faces when they see me in my Capris and summer sandals.  Last October I was the hit of the crowd round Rome’s Trevi Fountain with my streaking skin.

Silver hair, black and yellow teeth, white pasty legs and arms–I think I’m the “thing” in the saying, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana writer whose column “The Raven Lunatic” runs in a dozen newspapers and magazines. Amy specializes in health writing, with a passion for rehabilitation and disability issues. She also enjoys writing about politics, travel and the arts. Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth, at her web-site or as  Bernadine Spitzsnogel on Open Salon.  She likes to hear from readers at

Image via iStockphoto/Catherine Yeulet

  • This cracked me up, Amy! But I’ve seen you in recent pictures, and can say that you are a beauty inside and out.

  • My mother had maybe 5 gray hair when she died at age 83. My father was totally gray by the age of 26, I’m told. Of course, I inherited his genes..go figure.

  • rebecca pelley

    …again, no one serves up laughter in a taco shell of truth better than you do! Funny, and made funnier by being infinitely true!

  • Leysa Lowery

    I have the white legs curse … used to tan, but dermatologist made that stop. Luckily my daughter is a stylist and colors my hair — I pay her phone bill. It’s a good trade! I know there’s lot of white under the strawberry blonde! I refuse to join AARP and I’m mad every time I see their envelope in the mail. That’s for OLD folks, not me. LOL!

    I remember the first time the kid who helped me with my groceries called me ma’am. (Do they even have kids who do that any more — carry groceries or say ma’am?) It shocked me to realize I was actually an adult. Sigh. I was only 25.

  • Beverly Uhlmer

    Amy, I was laughing out loud through this delightful post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anne Born

    My kids are all so impossibly white it’s a wonder they aren’t mistaken for copy paper. I used to burn a lot, so I have more freckles than anything else. My aunt used to say, if all her freckles ever got together, she’d have a terrific tan!

    So happy to hear you aren’t coloring your hair. At least now there’s two of us! Thanks for making me smile, showing the choppers God gave me.

  • greenheron

    You are too funny! I’d pay to see a picture of the black teeth!

    My own blinding white legs are accented with a decorative pattern of varicose veins. Supposedly, they can inject these with saline solution and the veins will die and disappear. They can also be surgically stripped. No thank you to that, but I might be persuaded to try that charcoal slurry business. You did not say…are your teeth sparkling white now?

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