Going Grey

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About ten or fifteen years ago vanity and denial got the better of me when I decided to color my hair. I didn’t have much grey but what there was made my hair look mousey – that pale brown, blah color. I thought it made me appear overall dull – no pizzazz, no pep, and decidedly older. This was hard for me because people had always told me that I didn’t look my age. When I was a child and teenager I actually did look younger. This was partly because I was small – barely five feet and quite petite. When I was in my late teens and twenties I didn’t like looking so adolescent because I wanted people to think I was more mature than I really was. As I got older and well into my 30s, I liked it when I was carded in restaurants. “Still looking pretty perky”, I would think with a surge of self-congratulation. Of course, I had nothing to do with my genetic make-up. It came from my parents’ DNA which made me small by serendipity. My brother is close to six feet and my sister is tall by my measuring standards – five feet two inches. Gradually over time, though, waiters stopped asking for an ID and I missed that rush of pleasure when servers looked at my driver’s license and said that I didn’t look my age.

When I began to get grey I decided to color my hair partly because I didn’t like the way it made me look dreary. That was the vanity part. Also, I didn’t want people to think I was getting older. I wanted it to be like former days when I was perceived to be much younger than my actual years. That was the denial part.

I didn’t want to make a big deal about the coloring and certainly not spend a lot of money on it. So, I went to a local beauty supply shop and got advice on what to do. They told me to use this gooey brown liquid with the shade “Honey Brown” and explained how to apply it. It was simple, cheap, and it worked.  Every four to six weeks I put this stuff on my hair, rinsed it out and miraculously, I was young again.

I’m not exactly sure if there was one thing that made me think about giving up coloring but it was a process. First, I began to notice women with wonderful bright, lively grey or white hair, and I thought they looked beautiful. What courage they had to shun the hair coloring and dyeing culture and embrace the natural world of grey. They looked so proud. When I saw them I would rationalize my own reluctance to go grey by thinking they had such nice, full, wavy hair while mine was straight, fine, and sparse. Second, I began to get tired of the routine of buying the coloring stuff, slathering it on my hair, waiting the fifteen minutes to let it adhere, rinsing it, but still having some brownish residue rub off on my white towels for a few subsequent washings. The final decision came when I asked myself who was I deceiving about my aging and the answer was simply me. “Get over it”, I told myself.

So, I stopped. It took several months for my true color to emerge because all of the coloring stuff had to grow out and wash out. At first people didn’t really notice or at least didn’t say anything. They were probably being polite not wanting to point out that I was getting grey. Of course, I had been partially grey for a long time, only they didn’t know it.

Now that I am completely natural a number of things have happened. Amazingly, I have found that my grey hairs are actually more interesting than my old brown ones. They have a little more heft to them and a nice silvery color. Also, my friends are saying they really like my grey hair because it shines a little. The woman who cuts my hair at the walk-in salon says she likes it too. (What else would she say?) She gave me some tips on how to make it even more sparkly. She suggested a shampoo that will make my grey hairs glow, and, just as the woman in the beauty supply shop did, she instructed me on how to use it. I bought the hair-enhancing shampoo. So, here I go again. I seem to have accepted the getting older part but I am still caught up a bit in vanity. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’m now mature, can indulge myself a little, and what’s wrong with emphasizing my new-found pride in going grey?

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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