As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have more than a touch of gray and I don’t dye my hair – haven’t for more than 4 years. Well, I’m happy with my choice, and here are my two cents in the dialog about going gray.
First of all, it’s clear that not all women would agree with me that going gray is O.K. I think that everyone has a right to an opinion about the subject. And, as to my reading of the different viewpoints out there, I see that they run a range from:
-- Going gray is fabulous and chic
-- Maybe acceptable in some circles (if somewhat grim).
-- God forbid! You’ll look like your own grandmother.
-- It may be your choice, but don’t expect everyone to like or respect you for it.
A bit of gray history
In all fairness on the subject, I decided to do a little researching about the process of graying. This is what I found out for sure:
1) Going gray is a natural part of aging. Everyone who lives long enough will go gray.
2) More than 40 percent of the U.S. population has a little gray hair by age 40, and almost 100% of people have some gray hair at 50.
3) Women in the U.S. have progressively adopted hair coloring to cover gray since the 1950’s. (Back then – the fifties --, the meager choices of hair coloring for gray created a generation of pink- and blue-haired, little old ladies. (So, it’s no wonder that only a minority of older women dyed their hair at that time!)
4) Today, hair dye products have improved and 50%+ of the U.S. women, ages 13-69, color their hair as a part of their beauty routine, and the percentage of users go up in the older age groups -- presumably because they hope to cover up their gray.
Some reasons cited for not going gray
For a majority of women, the train of thought seems to go mostly like this: We live in a culture that applauds youth and belittles old people, so why put up with that? Though aging is unquestionably natural, we don't have to like it and don’t want to appear as old as our years. We’ve heard from a multitude of sources that hair color can make us look better, and since we aren’t sure if the men in our life want a “mother, mistress or caretaker", we don’t want to take any chances. And just as we look for medicines to combat our worst menopausal symptoms, we consider wrinkles, waist-line expansion, and graying hair as morbid annoyances that need to be taken care of. With frantic hopes of looking younger, we take up diets, exercise at the gym, and buy scads of products advertised to help us slim down and shrink the ravages of time. Unfortunately, most of these efforts don’t lead to our longed-for results. But hair color is chemical, and if all your hair doesn’t fall out because of it, then you can have gray-free hair (at least most of the time, depending on your diligence).
Now, until quite recently, U. S. men didn’t seem to mind going gray, but today a growing fraction of them have started using hair color products. We have to presume that men are dyeing their hair for similar reasons that women do -- to feel younger, to have a more pleasing appearance, to not look like the oldest guy in the office, and, for those who are married, to remain on par with a younger appearing wife, or, for single men, as aid in the hunt for an attractive partner.
My take on going gray
Even though it’s been a while since I stopped coloring my hair, I do remember the reasons I did it. It was getting to be costly to buy the product at the store every 5 weeks (the time it took for me to clearly see the gray roots coming in), and there was no way that I could afford the $80 or more that it was going to cost me at (even a cheap) beauty salon.
Also, although I tried a number of hair colors brands at the supermarket in succession, I was unable to find even one that didn’t leave my hair feeling droopy and brittle. In time, I also became aware that a lot of my hair was falling out, and I developed an itchy, peeling scalp. So, it seemed to me that I had 2 choices: go gray, in a dignified way - or not, or go bald within a short time. My husband told me he actually liked gray hair and thought it would look good on me. I’m not sure whether that was his honest opinion or not, but he was sweet and supportive at the time I was making the decision.
My Mom, past this world and gone to her glory by two decades, had let her hair go gray after age 60, and I always admired her for it. Also, she had the great luck to have lovely and almost purely white hair some years before reaching age 70. In my vain wishes, I hoped that I could also have gorgeous silver locks and would rather quickly jump from what I considered the awkward salt and pepper stage to all beautiful white. (Five years later, I am reminded that the awkward stage can last a very long time for some women. Oh, well, I guess I can continue to wait and hope…)
On the downbeat side of affairs, some of my female friends and family members weren’t at all supportive. They made comments about it most likely being a mistake – that going gray makes you look older – “beyond your years.” They whispered of the specters that haunt older women about husbands leaving wives for younger gals or not looking professional (a damaging image) in the workplace. Their suggestions were for combining better dyes with a myriad of costly hair softening and strengthening products or for returning to the salon at any cost – something like it would be better to cut back on food and utilities than to cut out those trips to the hair stylist.
But, as you might imagine, I have my own opinion and I think I can back it up. So, here are my reasons for saying that gray is to way to go. (I’ll leave it up to you as to whether or not you think going gray is chic.)
-- Gray saves time and money – having a natural gray is effortless and doesn’t involve expensive products and services, thereby helping to save us from unnecessary consumerism.
--Gray celebrates our wisdom and maturity. Embracing our gray is our starting point to say that women over 50 can be attractive, strong, and happy. Most of us remember our own grannies (or, at least, if we don’t - somebody else’s grannies) as elegant old ladies. And at this time, many, if not most, female lawyers and doctors go naturally gray as they age. Hey, even Hollywood is changing somewhat on this question - what with Jamie Lee Curtis and Meryl Streep!
--Gray is healthy and eco-friendly. Hair dye box labels show a wide variety of unpronounceable chemical substances. When these are applied to the head, some of it permeates the scalp, and there are realistic fears that this may be a cause of cancer. Even if we think that not all hair color products are extraordinarily dangerous for users, few can deny that we surely harm the earth by throwing all those dyes down the drain where they concentrate in our groundwater.(We're talking about more than 100 million users, here.)
-- And finally, going gray is what you make of it. When you reach retirement, you’re undoubtedly of the age to have some very special people calling you grandma or grandpa, as the case may be. (I, for one, would like all my friends and relatives and particularly my grand daughters to see me as a healthy, mature person, who has most, if not all, of her faculties, and is prepared to grow old naturally without fear and loathing.)