Do I really need to start dying my hair to hide the grays? Why are the physical signs of aging so traumatic when the wisdom that comes with age is profound? What can we do about it?
Amy: My hair started graying at the age of 18. It was fairly traumatic since being 18 and as a freshman in college trying to make her way was in and of itself traumatic. At that time, I started dying it. I chose burgundy rather than a natural hair color. I remember thinking, I hate this but “wow! Now I have an “excuse” to try something new and be daring.” It’s funny that I wanted to express myself as different from my peers with my burgundy hair when my gray hair would have had the same effect. Dying my hair became part of my self-care routine. I looked forward to the salon as “me” time that I would not sacrifice even while in grad school with unwieldy academic obligations. To now stop dying now seems like “letting go” of something that has been a conscious decision to splurge on myself.
Donna: I have dyed my hair for fun and variety for close to 20 years now because I like to change it up a lot. My father is prematurely gray, and I did find my first gray hair in my teens, but for me, the gray was certainly never the impetus for the hair color. However, I think the physical signs of aging are traumatic for several reasons– one of which is the sudden, very annoying realization of one’s own mortality!
Rosie: I found my first gray hair in an airplane restroom at age 28. There I was washing my hands in that dingy light when I noticed three grey hairs, each about an inch long, sticking up in my part. Without even thinking, I yanked them out. I’ve never dyed my hair. It’s jet black, and I am worried about all the products it would take for a hair color to set. I covet other hair colors, mainly for the variety and different effects they create— I am a creative and so I pine for that aspect of personal flair, but I am also practical. So my approach to my gray is helped by the fact that I haven’t ever dyed my hair. It’s easy for me to say, “Just let it be (unless one is sticking up in my part. I still feel the urge to yank anything out that seems to be flipping the bird to my reflection in the mirror) because dying has never been in my repertoire. Actually, I find gray hair really beautiful. I had a teacher in middle school who went completely gray at 19. She was tiny, four foot 10 inches, and weighed about 90 pounds, and she said that going gray was the best thing that ever happened to her as it made her students take her more seriously when she started teaching. Aging is profound, and I like the idea of my gray hairs telling the world where I have been.
Crystal: You don’t have to hide your gray. What you do is personal choice. Of course, that’s easy to say…given the constant barrage of advertising and marketing that tries to tell us otherwise. I color my hair. Here’s my reason: Thanks to my DNA and avoiding sun burns, I look younger than my 43 years. I think the gray would make me look older and tired. I’m good with wrinkles, age spots and the effects of gravity, but I haven’t embraced my gray. Yet. What can we do? Make a personal choice and stick to it. No matter what the ads and magazines tell you.
AC: Our consumer culture’s value on youth and the ability to purchase the products necessary to achieve it renders aging traumatic. The answer is not for all of us to stop dying our hair to demonstrate we are comfortable with aging. This is in my mind is a way that we can pressure each other to conform to an agenda of appearance and, to this end, I do not view it as a solution.
Janine: Once I turned 30-something, I found gray hair ‘down there’ and my first thought was “How weird? Is this normal?” Well, 10 years and dozens of gray strands later, I’m so over it. I like my gray hair ‘down there’. It’s part of being a grown up, mature. I used to fight getting older, trying to figure out how to keep that young, fresh face and tight ‘bod’, but have since concluded youthfulness is an attitude! And that I can still be young at 40. I don’t have to ‘nip and tuck’ my body to death for the sake of ‘looking hot’ to some twenty-five-year-old. I can just do the things that keep me feeling young like learning the latest dances with my 9-yr old niece, blasting my car radio every now and then, or chugging a beer. I think women should spend less time counting gray hairs and more time enjoying the view ‘down there.’
DS: But there is a real cultural pressure to ‘fight aging all the way’ which, to many people, means to try to look as young as possible under any means necessary. It’s funny to me that you very rarely hear anyone saying ‘boy, I wish I was a teenager or in my twenties again!’; instead what I hear people say is ‘I’d go back (in age) if I could go back knowing what I know NOW.’ As badly as it’s phrased in that context, it does speak to the point that the knowledge gained over time is important. So, for all birthday celebrations where aging is sure to be the favored topic at hand, I prefer to focus on the positive, non-physical aspects of the aging process. I do not give over-the-hill gag gifts or attend those types of parties for people if I can avoid it– to me, even in jest, this sends the wrong message. It makes so much more sense to me that these events should celebrate where you’ve been in your life for the past year, and who you’ve become, and share the lessons learned with each other. Then you are truly respecting the journey and where it’s led you.
What do you think?