Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Uncovering/ Uncoloring My Hair

It's time for me to let my gray (silver?) hair grow out, I decided last November. My hair stylist, Troy of Troy Michael Salons in Sebastopol, CA, has been helping me "transition" since then, letting my gray/silver emerge while the brown/blonde recedes. At my last appointment, he cut off most of the still-colored hair, revealing me as a 65-year-old, mostly gray/silver-haired woman. (Thank you, Dan Goldes, for the photos.)

I'd wondered for years what color my hair would be if I stopped coloring it. Shimmering silver?All gray? Salt and pepper? Old looking?

When I wondered aloud to Robert, he examined my roots with an artist's eye and said, "I don't think you'd like it -- you'd look ten years older." He wouldn't mind the ten-years-older part, but he was sure I would, being in the public eye and representing zesty sexuality after sixty.

Then after Robert died, everything that mattered before no longer mattered. As I grieved, I found myself re-evaluating every decision, big and little, from whether I could say no to writing deadlines for a year (yes, I could) to whether I should continue coloring my hair.

Bottom line: we don't have the option to stay young. We can either get old, or we can die first. I wish Robert had been able to get old rather than die at 71. That brought it home for me that we only have these two options, which make looking younger than I am seem sort of silly. The point is that we can grow old with vigor, pride, and sensuality -- we don't have to pretend to be young.

I've always valued authenticity. My hair isn't brown with blonde highlights. It's ... I don't know yet, some combination of gray and brown, or maybe all gray. I always insist on telling the truth, so shouldn't I be showing the truth, too? I see women who look beautiful and radiant in their sixties, seventies, eighties, with snow white hair, or silver streaked, or any combination of their natural colors.

You could argue that authenticity doesn't hinge on hair color, any more than it hinges on whether we wear "shaper" bras or let our sagginess show, or whether we bother to get dressed or wear pajamas to the supermarket if we feel like it. We do put effort into looking good because it reveals how we feel about ourselves as well as how we want the public to see us.

And, truth be told, I don't feel brown-haired-with-blonde-highlights any more. I'm looking forward to shining silver.

August 2009 update: Here's my hair now:

Speaking of gray hair, see my review of Going Gray by Anne Kreamer. It's an interesting read if you're wondering what to do (or not do) about your hair color, looking at the social, psychological, aesthetic, even political implications.

I find it fascinating that the original, hardcover edition of Going Gray was subtitled, "What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters," and the paperback reprint edition is subtitled, "How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style." I prefer the first subtitle. Which do you prefer?


  1. I like the first subtitle. It's more specific.

    My mother never colored her hair, and she went white very early (in her forties, I think). I think that sent a strong message to me and my sister about aging honestly and gracefully. Now my hair is turning white early, too, and I'm looking forward to when it's all as beautiful as hers.

    Also, I'm going to read Going Gray--I just ordered it--thanks!
    --Christina at Onely

  2. Joan, it looks like your hair will be beautiful. And as far as "sexy" goes: I once interviewed a white-haired woman in her sixties who told me she had no trouble finding men even though she didn't color her hair, diet, or use more than minimal make-up. Men seemed to get a sense from her that she was a sexual and sensual being -- and she had no shortage of interested men. I liked Anne Kreamer's book. I also like her photo gallery of women who have stayed gray or gone gray. Interesting topic -- especially since I went gray very early and stayed that way for years until I threw in a few scarlet highlights, just for fun.

  3. "We can grow old with vigor, pride, and sensuality--we don't have to pretend to be young." Joan, what a great rallying cry, and you exemplify this vision--thanks for the inspiration!

    Yeah, the first subtitle is gutsier and more interesting.

  4. Here's a tip for anyone considering coloring their hair. If you have long hair and want to keep it long, and think you might one day want long silver hair, don't get stuck using color. Just don't go there.

    Once you color your grey or silver you can't make it instantly silver again. You have to grow out enough silver and get the colored hair cut off. (If you're like Joan and look good with short hair you're fine.) Also a responsible hairdresser will refuse to bleach out all your long hair. Beware of one who says they can and will do this.

    I get my hair done by these two great guys who used to do professional photo shoots for fashion magazines, really know what they're doing, and have settled into a less stressful life in a small town in northern Alabama with a small European style salon. They won't even lighten me a few shades, and after my initial irritation at this, I understand why. They're all about protecting the health of their clients' hair, and don't even do perms.

    In a fit of vanity about ten years ago, I started coloring my hair, which was getting white here and there. I did my own color for years until I decided I needed good haircuts and found my salon. Keeping this up is time consuming and expensive, although I do enjoy my beautiful long expertly colored brown hair a lot. One of my hair guys is a color specialist, and we're going to start transitioning me with highlights, so that eventually I can grow in more and more silver and won't have to go there as often for retouching. I have long healthy hair and want to keep it long. I really feel fortunate to have a good hair salon who will help me with this in a responsible way.

    The colorist's partner is a genius at good haircuts, and they're set up so the whole salon works as a team, being three in all.

    A couple of years ago i was in New England and met two ladies with silver hair. I thought, "how beautiful! I could do that." One of these women actually lives in Los Angeles, is married to a man in the film business, and told me she thought she was the only lady in town with silver hair. She suggested using a temporary hair color until the grey grew out. She also told me that there are great products for silver hair now, hers is gorgeous and shiny.

    A much younger friend of mine, in her twenties with spectrum colored streaks and an avant garde haircut, was the first person to suggest to me that it would be "awesome" to let my "silver" show. The younger women of today really deserve a lot of credit for changing and opening up our ideas about what's beautiful.


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-- Joan