27 November 2007

Shades of Grey

Your comments and Emmie's post got me thinking more about the grey hair.

I think women of all ages look lovely with grey hair. One of the women in my dorm my sophomore year in college was at least 50% grey and never colored her hair, and it looked great. My family is not by nature of the hair-coloring type. I always figured that going grey was just a part of life and time marching on and something to wear with pride.

The thing is, I never thought I'd be a widow at 35.

Something in Emmie's post really struck me:
[ . . . ] I started dreading the 2 or 3 hours and $60-80 it took to get the look back. And now, now that I am a mom, now that I’m pretty content with my lot in life and I know my spouse could care less about my hair color [Ed: emphasis mine], well, I just can’t really justify it anymore.
John didn't care what I wore or how I did my hair. Make-up, no make-up, it was all the same to him. He wanted me to feel confident and happy with my appearance, period, end of sentence. If he were still alive, we'd be laughing about my grey, about having escaped for this long, wondering how many of the silver strands were from Riley and how many from Maddie. I would not be giving the grey a second thought.

Alas, it's just me, the young widow. Nothing will make you feel old like having the word widow as part of your identity. Well, nothing except parenting two active, amazing, challenging, talkative, rowdy, curious, beautiful toddlers on your own. And then going grey from it all.

The thing is, I'm not old. I feel old, but I'm not. I'm 35. I'm young and smart and damn if I'm not pretty good looking. I have lots of interests and friends and ideas. They grey hair is hiding that. Not really, of course, but it feels like it is, like if I get really grey no one will know that I'm young and smart and filled with ideas.

To break it down/sum up:
1. Women should color their hair if they want to. But they shouldn't feel like they have to.
2. In theory, I don't want to.
3. But in practice, I feel old on the inside, and I feel like the grey makes me look old on the outside.
4. If my husband were alive, I would not care.
5. But he is not, so I do.
6. So perhaps I will color my hair.

I can't quite articulate everything I want to say. It's a mess of jumbled up beliefs and ideals and feelings. For now, I'm going to sit with it all and see where my path leads me. Which aisle will I turn down at Walgreen's next time I'm there?


k said...

When I read Emmie's post, the line that you mentioned ("I know my spouse could care less about my hair color") jumped out at me immediately.

I'm glad you addressed it.

And I totally get what you are saying and your mixed feeling about it.

Jen said...

Have you seen the John Frieda Color Glazes? My dad predicted that I would go grey at 21 (I am 26 and so far only have a couple of grey hairs) because it runs in my family. These color glazes add a bit of color to your hair after you shampoo. They are meant to keep hair that is colored from fading too fast, but I don't color my hair and have just been using one in the hopes that it will hide my greys. So far, it has been doing a good job (and it adds shine and other good stuff) and I don't need to go to a salon to get it done. I don't know if it will work for you, but it might be a simple fix.

Becky said...

I'm certain that whatever way your path leads, you will look beautiful.

(I've been going slowly grey since I was 20).

Karen said...

I just want to suggest that if you are going to do it, get it done professionally. There is nothing worse than someone sporting a bad home dye job.

But I agree that as long as you feel young and pretty on the inside, you put that out to the world.

figlet said...

You have compelling arguments for and against. Another downside, though, is that once you start it's hard to stop. I drag it out to once every three months but by week 10 or 11, I always wish I'd made an appointment sooner. On the plus side, it's a nice lift every couple of months and a nice opportunity to sit in the salon and read trashy magazines (unless you are brave enough to color at home. I am not).

Julia said...

I found that grieving people often go for some change in hair. Color, style, something. I think this might be our way of establishing some measure of control. Over something. Because there is a whole lot that we have no control over.

Sylvie said...

Isn't it amazing how oddly simple things can bring up so many issues? I totally understand your ambivalence. Having a husband vs not having him would also affect my view of the grey issue. But it is complicated.

In a sort of related issue (but much less emotional), when we moved to Mexico 2 years ago I started wearing WAY more makeup than I'd ever wear in the US. Women here are super made up all the time. I just got sick of everyone thinking I was either 12 (I'm 35), or that I didn't care enough to get "cleaned up" properly to go to work. It feels like I have gone through more tubes of mascara in the past 2 years than I had for all the years prior. I like a natural face much more than a painted one.. but I've accepted that sometimes circumstances change and the external view of how others see us can become important for a time. One of my favorite things about spending the weekend in the US is no eyeliner!

mar said...

I'm 33 and have a good chunk of grey hair that is still disguisable by highlighting (which I get done professionally). I always wait too long to do it (time and $ not in great supply here) and feel SO great once I get out of the salon. As far as mood-enhancers go, i think it's fairly safe and relatively cheap. Go for it -- and I second the earlier suggestion that professional care is worth it. at least for your first foray, so you'll have a good base expectation for any future home treatments.

Anonymous said...

A middle of the option road to consider is non-permenant hairdye. There are good dyes out there that last 8-12 weeks.

I've had friends who used them while growing out their gray hair.

Anonymous said...

COLOR YOUR HAIR...DO this for you. If it makes you feel good, then do it. If it doesnt then dont...I think you will be suprised that a couple of hours of pampering is worth a million bucks to feeling good about your appearnace...I was grey at 20 and would write a bad check to get it done...ok maybe not :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm brown-skinned, so my choices for hair color are limited (if I don't want to stretch the realm of possibility). But, if I were of European descent, and different hair colors were "possible", I've always that it would be great fun to try different hair colors. Might this be an opportunity for you to take a walk on the wild side of hair?

It does sound like it's a pain to color hair, though (one of those things that looks cool from the other side).

Lori said...

People (who I don't know) are forever telling me that my prematurely gray hair is cool and to leave it alone. Normally, I like it on other people, but, like you, it makes me feel old and, frankly, frumpy. And since I have a whole lot of the stuff, I've been asked three times in my 2 year old daughter's life if I'm her grandmother, and that actually pisses me off. I'm 41, my skin is dry-but-otherwise-good, and I'm not her grandmother.

So I dye it. Right now I'm using Clairol Herbal Essence - the most neutral shades of the bunch, which leave a little of the shadings of my own hair (= looks more natural). At the end of the day, it's what makes you feel better.

tree town gal said...

Snick - You're gorgeous, young and yep, should do whatever might make you feel great. I struggled with the hair color thing around 39 yrs... updo for a wedding and wow, too much gray made me feel quite blah. Oh, the first time I had a de-whitening at Douglas J./Aveeda school salon, I nearly needed a valium. But it was a breeze... and I loved the color and texture. Maybe check and see if you have a Douglas J. school near you. It was inexpensive ($35) and I felt pampered. I don't adhere to their suggested schedule for touchups but wander-in every three months or so. Completely rejuvinating.
Take care, Tree Town Gal

Anonymous said...

In your shoes I would do a temporary color. (If you decide to do anything). Colors the gray and gives hair gorgeous shine. And if you decide to stop you will not have the horrid roots a permanent color will give you.

winecat said...

I'll just post what I posted at Emmies.
I always thought when the time came I'd just let mine grey because my grandmother had such beautiful grey hair. Until one day it dawned on my that she was my step-grandmother so I was not likely to inheirt her genes.

I've colored mine for years as I always wanted to be a redhead. When I lost my hair last year during chemo I thought I'd just let my hair stay it's natural color. That lasted until it grew about an 1". It came in SO grey and as I looked in the mirror I thought I'd not a grey girl. I could hardly wait for it to get long enough to get it colored and then even longer to get my streaks back. I think it was all the trauma associated with breast cancer treatment that made me want to look "normal" again. Or what ever is normal for me.

Angela said...

I can completely understand feeling all jumbled up inside. I know you will make the right decision for you, do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, God knows you deserve to take care of yourself and feeling good about your appearance is not being superficial or vain. So whichever aisle you choose at Walgreen's, hope it makes you happy.

lulliloo said...

My mother dyes her hair, my 95 year old grandmother dyes her hair, and when time comes, I too will dye my hair. I suppose I have inherited the vain gene.

Everything I do to my body is really for me. Otherwise I won't keep it up. I shaved my legs consistently for about one month after I got married, then I gave up. However, I do get a very neat bikini area because I have to feel clean. Never factored my husband's (or anyone else for that matter) opinion in my personal grooming.

I figure it will be an easy decision come time the greys start emerging on my head. I hope the decision will come easy for you as well. Grooming yourself should be a luxury and a pleasure. If coloring your hair is something you think would make you happy (like a massage or a mani/pedi), then do it. If it's a chore (like getting a pap), then don't.

BYW I think you are absolutely amazing and beautiful! I do love your blog.

MJ said...

I'm 45 (for the next six days!) and almost all grey. And I colour my hair. I started going grey in my late 20s or early 30s. (It's so long ago now that I completely forget when exactly.) I think you should do what you want but I'll tell you why I've chosen to colour my hair.

I'd decided in my early 30s that grey didn't matter and I wasn't going to colour my hair anymore. And then I started getting comments about my age. They were subtle. More along the lines of "oh, you must remember..." and I'd have to say, "No. Because I wasn't born." Then, I decided to colour my hair and my belly dancing teacher looked at me and said, "You know, you're much younger than I thought you were. I was fooled by the grey hair."

This lead me to realize that most people are fooled by the grey hair and that no matter how young my face looked or how great I looked or how confident I was about myself or my body that I wasn't ready to be old (or to have people think I was old) before I was.

Now that I'm older I'm still not ready to be old although the constant colouring can be a drag. Like another poster, I look upon it as a couple hours to read Hello! and other trashy magazines. I've also thought of going platinum blonde to mitigate the need for the constant colouring as this would hide the grey more.

Now one of my neighbours has long grey hair (she's about my age) and she looks fantastic. Maybe someday I'll be ready for that but still not yet.

Elaine said...

I don't have a problem with gray hair yet (I'm blonde, so it hides them, though I'm of an age to start getting some), but I do put in blonde highlights. I would never have thought I'd do that, but my hair kept darkening as I got older, and I realized after I tried it once that in my heart, somehow I'm blonde. Being blonde makes me happy. So I highlight.

Yes, it's a pain in the neck, it takes time, and I never do it often enough, but it's something I do for me.

I think it's kind of unfair that gray on a man is somehow distinguished in society's eyes, but gray in a woman's is old.

Maggie said...

I started growing gray in my twenties and have done everything from semipermanent to permanent to highlighting. As I got grayer just lots of highlighting did the trick, didn't require too much maintenance and gave me the opportunity to spend middle age as a blonde. This works as long as you're not determined to cover every gray hair. Now that my hair is mostly gray I just have one of those color glazes applied so it's blondish.
Lots of approaches can work. The only thing I think looks really bad is trying to maintain a solid very dark color--it's ageing and looks phony. Good luck. I tend to agree with your connection of graying to grief. I got a lot of my gray hair after the death of an infant daughter. The rest I acquired during the teenage years of my living children!

Karen O said...

Here's the thing: it's hair.
It's a renewable resource.
Try coloring it. You can change your mind. You can stop and start, you can highlight, lowlight, tint, glaze, permanent, semi-permanent - whatever - it will keep on growing and growing. So whatever you do, it doesn't have to be forever.

A wise friend recently said to me that what you see in the mirror is how you feel. If that applies to you, go ahead - try it out and see how YOU feel!

I must agree, however, with those who recommend going with a pro . . . .

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I think your feelings make complete and total sense. I find it interesting that when I was dealing with the uncertainty and pain of infertility, it was important to me to look young, healthy, and, I dunno -vibrant? on the outside. I needed that desperately, because on the inside I was a total mess, and felt like my chance to have my body do something other than let me down was slipping away. It is only now, now that I have those children, and now that I come from a relative place of strength, with the support of a loving spouse, that I can accept how my body changes and see it as something other than a betrayal. There's a lot that's not settled for you right now I'm sure, a lot of unknowns and a lot of new territory. I think if you'd feel better getting your old hair back, than you should go for it without hesitation, and with an open mind about how you might approach it at any point the future. Thanks for the reminder that we all come at these types of dilemmas from different places and for different reasons.

Anonymous said...

I'm 48 and the grey has been creeping in for the last 6 or 7 years. I get it done professionally - semi perm ("one process") cause then you don't get that line where the roots grow in - it fades more naturally. I go every three months or so. I tried the do it yourself stuff, but I really think that my stylist does it better - I can't figure out why, she must be using something I can get ahold of, but I have just kind of given in to it all. Otherwise I am very low maintenance as far as hair and make up goes - so the 90 bucks every three months does not fit "me" but - hey - sometimes it is good to step out of your box.

Now, I can tell you from experience that the WEIRDEST thing is when you look down one morning and notice that you have grey pubic hair!!!!l


Snickollet said...


Right on. As you have so many times, you articulated what I was feeling and couldn't put into words.


Anonymous said...

I have been coloring my hair since my mid-30s (I'm 45 now) and probably won't stop. I have very dark brown hair, and believe me, every gray hair showed up light it had a light shone on it. I've been doing it so long, I probably can't tell you how gray I am now (maybe 50%?) I also like the feeling of being completely pampered every six weeks or so. I love having someone else wash and do my hair.

Anonymous said...

I am 31 and more than half grey! Starting greying in my mid 20's. So I don't feel sorry for you one bit *wink* I started getting highlights about 4 times a year. This covered my grey, no problem. NOW... now I have to go at LEAST every 5 weeks to have my whole head completely colored (at 100+ bucks a pop). I could use it at 4 weeks to be honest. Those grey roots just shine like a lightbulb! The moral of the story is, once you start... you can't ever stop! Good luck :-)

Memphis, TN

glove said...

In the one pic I've seen of you, your hair is v. dark. I also have dark hair, and my one foray into home coloring was a disaster, because of a lot of things I didn't realize about how dark hair messes with attempted color. So. Take no steps lightly. Enlist the help of an experienced friend (I luckily had a hairdresser roommate who salvaged my hair). Choose wisely. And HAVE FUN! Whatever aisle you turn down!

Vanessa said...

I found my first grey hair when I was 17 or 18. I let it go until I was about 30 and then started coloring.

I'm 36 now, and without the color I would be at least 40 percent grey. I've had a couple of friends tell me that it looks cool when the grey starts to grow out, but it just makes me feel old and frumpy (and fat -- I don't know how that's possible, but I feel 10 pounds lighter and two inches taller when I walk out of the salon). So, I bite the bullet and spend the money. Maybe I'll feel different about it when I'm in my 60s, but right now, I'm just not ready for people to perceive me as old.

Anonymous said...

I have hair that is lighter than yours but still a definite brown. I use Light Mountain Natural's Color the Gray which is a two step henna application. I highly recommend this as something inexpensive and natural. A box should be under $10.

It's turned my hair a little redder than natural (though I use the medium brown box) but I get lots of compliments on the color. The gray streaks come out slightly lighter so there's some highlighting. It did take me a little while to figure out a process that worked for me to minimize the mess (using a plastic grocery bag over the provided cap to contain my very thick hair was key).

Good luck with whatever you decide. I think there's something to the concept that so many here have articulated about outer beauty helping you to realize your inner beauty and vice versa. From reading your blog I can tell you have a tremendous amount of inner beauty to work with whatever you decide to do with your hair.

cooler*doula said...

Ash blonde hair hides a multitude of sins... And at 38 I have some!

That said - I've experimented with almost the entire hair color spectrum, and it's generally been a jolly, fun experience... Except for this shade of raspberry, but let's not go there.

I say, go to a salon, try a semi-permanent, and see what you think. See how you feel. It may turn out to be just what you're in the mood for, and it may not be something you want to do again.

Either way, that's fine.

OTRgirl said...

Speaking as a former hairdresser, go professional. There are great long-lasting but 'semi-permanent' color options out there. Anything at Walgreens will bleach your hair a bit in order to dye it, or only work for a few weeks.

Having seen your hair, I would just do a semi-permanent color that will make the grays you have look like highlights. I love Matrix colors though Aveda may have improved since I moved on (12 years ago...)

Anonymous said...

I say go for it, color it, color it a different color than your natural color, so it is not just "covering the grey" but having some fun. The great thing about something like coloring your hair is that it will grow out, or you can change it. These days, so many women color their hair not to cover grey, but to have red hair or blonde hair or black hair.

I started coloring my hair to make it more red, before i had grey. Now I have lots of grey, but I'm not really coloring it to hide that. I'm so lazy that my roots usually are showing way before I get my hair touched up.

The funny thing is that my 3 year-old twin daughter has really really red hair (she's a real carrot-top) and people always say "oh, she gets it from you." (I color my hair a reddish brown, not orange!) I always say "she gets it from my mother, I get mine from a bottle." Someone actually asked me if her hair color was "natural." Can you imagine, someone thought I died my three-year old's hair?

Semi Permanent Make Up said...

Many women feel uncomfortable without their make up and wish they had the natural beauty and self confidence to look good as soon as they wake up, or at the gym or beach. It would be great to save time each morning.