Embracing the Grey

Most people go grey at some point in their lives. (Though I do have an old friend from college whose grandmother’s hair was naturally black, straight down to the roots until the day she passed away.) “Old age,” stress, environmental factors, genetics. I grew up in the era of Nice ‘n Easy and Just for Men, but I feel like women were targeted more for their hair turning grey. For men, grey hair made them “silver foxes” or they “had a little salt and pepper going on.” These terms weren’t used often with a negative connotation, and the words themselves are appealing and a bit sexy. They denoted wisdom and experience in men, instead of decrepitude, or something to be covered up.

Women, on the other hand, were obsessively fearful about grey hairs. “Look at all these greys,” they would say, holding out strands of their hair, “nothing covers them.” They’d blame work, stress, troubles with their spouses, inferior gene pools, and on a few occasions, things along the lines of, “Have kids, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.” Going back as far as I can remember, there was a negative stigma about women having grey or white hair. It was considered “unattractive” until the gap closed and they became grandmothers. Grandmothers, we thought, somewhere in the back of our minds, were older and wise, like the wise women spoken of in passed down stories of fairy tales. They should have grey hair. It was okay. It looked right.

While all of this was going on; the 90’s were swirling around us and advertising “reverse effect” and preventative hair products, I was already battling my own greys. And yes, I am only 34. My greys started to come in pretty early, probably later on in grade school, I would guess, but not super noticeable. There weren’t a millions places to point fingers at, when at thirteen years old, just a few weeks before the start of junior high school, my mom noticed that while my hair was a sandy, reddish blonde, all of my roots were growing in a dark grey. It was clearly my dad’s genetics. He himself had started to go grey at just seventeen. I had a short, pixie style haircut at the time, so remedying this was easy: my mom sent my dad to the store for a box of red dye, and after dinner, I sat at the kitchen island and she coloured my hair for the first time.

This went on for many years. I learned how to do it myself without making a mess (I wear glasses and have been legally blind in one eye for as long as I can remember). During my sophomore year of high school, I started dying it black and cutting it into a banged bob a la Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. As I got older, I bleached and dyed my hair countless wild colours. I caused some major damage to my hair. And in my early 30’s, I stopped the damage and longed at the idea of not having to colour it so much, of not getting pissed when the dye faded out too quickly, or when my roots grew in more quickly during the summer heat. I started to wonder, could I go grey? Was I old enough now? I had pulled off many of what some people would consider insane shades, but would this one look stupid? I bought a grey wig. It was cute, but much more silver than my own greys, which are more the colour of a somewhat burnt down charcoal briquette.

At the time, my mother (now retired) was a personal and business secretary for a psychiatrist. Sometimes, on days she worked in the office, she’d come home (I was living with my folks at this point while I underwent some surgeries and procedures for my fibromyalgia) with older copies of magazines from the waiting room. Usually, they were titles like The New Yorker or Rolling Stone, but on occasion, she’d bring home a beauty magazine or a copy of GQ if someone I liked was on the cover or had a prominent article in the issue.

I remember the day she brought home a stack for me that included a copy of Allure. On the cover was Helen Mirren, looking completely gorgeous in all of her grey haired glory, and an absolutely devious shade of red lipstick. It looked as though she was laid back on a bed of roses, but all around her you could see the strong, tattooed, arms and shoulders of five or sex men, most of them at least half her age, holding her up. I was inspired, and it was then that I decided I was going to go on the hunt for my shade of grey, and get back to basics.

I’ll admit, it took a while. All of the greys on the market were too silver, too bright, too likely to wash me out; nothing at all like the darker charcoal-like grey hair my dad and I had. Even my older sister, who also went prematurely grey at sixteen had a lighter tone.

Finally, I started to grow out my roots to be about three inches so that I could attempt to properly colour match them. It was an interesting look — my hair had previously been a pretty and vibrant emerald, but quickly faded to a sea foam green that looked more and more murky with every wet wash.

I’d had a particularly rough year and a half, losing my father and having to start over from scratch because I lost almost all of my possessions in the (unrelated) burning down of my childhood home, where I had been staying. I think in some ways, my mom realized more than I did how much I was lacking in self confidence, and that self care and hobbies had even become a chore. So, as an early holiday gift, my mom sent me to a salon in my city and paid for the full deal: the perfect colour match, cut, style, blowout, and eyebrow wax. I finally had all of the hair the same, true colour it grew in.

It gave me a huge confidence boost, and even though the holidays and my birthday can be very difficult now without my dad (he was the fixer, the mediator, the one who always made everything better), they went as smoothly as they could go, and the New Year seems to be bringing a lot of really great things to the table for me. Part of that has a lot to do with the people in my life, the amazing people I’ve met in the last year or so, who don’t pass judgements or bail the second things get tough, and part of it was taking the first step to get back to the person I wanted to be. And I’m still walking the rest of those steps.

I decided to write about this today, funnily enough, because I saw a link posted on Facebook about how Sharon Osborne had gone to her 100% white hair after colouring it red for nearly twenty years. When I saw the before and after photos, I was amazed. I never found her to be unattractive; she just looked like anyone else’s foul mouthed mom (and I knew plenty of those — though my mother isn’t one of them. I get that from my dad). But with the red stripped away, you can tell that white is definitely her colour. She honestly looks stunning, in my opinion, and losing the red took fifteen years off of her, at least. She’s never looked as good as she does now (at least not that I remember, and I remember The Osbourne’s well). Their daughter, Kelly, isn’t the only one making a comeback.

So what was the point of all this? To tell you that it’s okay for your hair to be grey, white, silver, whatever, and for you to be okay with it. To not mind. Love it, even, like I do. Helen Mirren and Sharon Osborne are not the only famous faces that are rocking strands of previously undesirable shades. And that is fucking awesome. Every time I see a woman loving life with a head of grey or silver or white, it makes me incredibly happy. Yes, Mirren and Osbourne are older, and they were my frames of reference for this. But I’d bet you woudn’t have to throw a pebble very far to hit a pretty head of grey hair, about my age.

SPRING/SUMMER UPDATE: with salons having been closed and a bit of set aside stimulus money, I’m getting my groove back with wigs again, too. I don’t have another 30, like I used to (yet), but I am happy to report that I have re-started my collection: lime green (Snotgirl inspired), Irish red curls (think, real-life Merida from Brave), a red/orange/yellow firelike combo (can’t wait for the next Wildfire!), a blondish-yellow/turquoise/emerald combo (one of my boyfriends says it reminds him of King Triton’s colour palette in The Little Mermaid), and a shorter blonde wig with gentle waves (because everyone needs a little Marilyn in their lives). 💖