Gray Hair: Trend or Political Statement?

This is a different kind of post for the Spellbound Scribes, but it reflects what I’ve been thinking about lately, so you’ll have to bear with me.

Gray Hair Games
Gray Hair Games

I got my first gray hair when I was about 23 years old.

I started coloring my hair at 24.

Once when I was in my early 30s, I was getting my hair done, and the woman in the chair next to mine started talking to her stylist about “a friend” who plucked all her grays. My stylist looked at me through the mirror and said, “Don’t even think about it, sweetie. You’d be bald.”

That was over twenty years ago.

I let my hair go natural when I was thirty five and pregnant with my first child. FWIW, I didn’t want to expose the fetus to any potential toxins in the hair color. Two years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I did color my hair. Twice. Because thirty six was too young to be invisible.

When I was in my early forties I gave up on coloring my hair for the second time. I was sick to death of trying to hide the roots and negotiating appointments with popular stylists and paying $150 every two months to look like myself.

Except, without hair color, the combination of mostly-gray hair, fair skin, and light blue eyes made me feel like a ghost.

I mean, it’s sort of a fact of life. Most middle-aged women tend to fly under the radar. As a whole, society values youth – an attitude so pervasive, I don’t feel like I need to justify or validate it. And, for all the progress towards equality women have made, men still hold the power cards. So what happens if you’re neither young nor particularly powerful?

No one really takes you seriously. No one pays  much attention to you at all.

If you’ve got a minute, scroll through this slide show of Hollywood actresses who are between the ages of 50 – 60. They all look terrific, but only one – Jamie Leigh Curtis – has gray hair. Most of them have a sentence or two under their pictures, where the prevailing theme is, “but she looks so YOUNG!”

Because god forbid a woman in her 50’s actually look her age.

An actress in her 50’s may be beautiful, but she’s not likely to be cast as the movie’s love interest. Those roles go to actresses who are under 35 – regardless of how old the hero is. Check out this link for a look at the twenty-five largest age differences in movie couples. Or better yet, just ask Johnny Depp how old his costars are.

In the interest of bringing some actual science to the discussion, I found a paper from the journal Frontiers in Psychology that examines facial attractiveness as a perception of an individual’s value or worth. Their study sample was relatively small, only 60 people (30 men & 30 women) but their data supported their three hypotheses:

One study with a small sample shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy. There’s a reason women work so hard – sometimes pathologically so – to look young. And if aging is bad and gray hair is associated with aging, why would a woman decide to go gray?

“They” say gray hair is trendy these days. Here’s a link to an In-Style article with some pretty pictures of twenty-something girls who have “gone gray” (which means they bleached out their hair then put on a silver toner – though I’ll give Kate Moss partial credit as she’s actually old enough to have some gray hair). They look really pretty, but it’s not my mama’s gray hair.

I will say, though, that articles about celebrities who are aging gracefully generally feature women who are ten, fifteen, or twenty years older than I am. Seriously. Except for Jamie Leigh Curtis, no celebrity close to my age has gray hair.

Because yeah, a couple years ago I gave up on all-over color and went with chunky high- and low-lights to blend my almost-completely-white roots. And then about six months ago, when the time for my appointment came around, I sorta forgot to make it.

I can’t decide whether I’m old enough to have internalized the expectation of invisibility, or if the silver-white thing is more striking than it used to be, or if I just don’t give a damn.

The other day at work, I ran across someone I hadn’t seen in a while, and she greeted me with, “hey, it’s another silver fox!”

She’s about my age and her hair is lovely, a glossy, silver, shoulder-length bob. I said something lame about, “well, you got the silver right”, because it’s not in me to admit to being a fox. But maybe I am.

Or maybe there’s some secret bonus to aging that I have, as yet, not appreciated.

Only time will tell.


12 thoughts on “Gray Hair: Trend or Political Statement?

  1. Liberty Blake says:

    I started graying at eleven, though as a twenty-five year old I could still get into movies as under sixteen. I always had super-long, very thick, hair, mid-twenties to about thirty it was below my knees. It wasn’t worth coloring it. Occasionally, over the decades I splurged and got it colored, but since a week later I would have one inch white roots, I didn’t find it worth the money, effort, or time.

    Now I see all these fantastic colors, and my stylist tells me I have the perfect base for it, he doesn’t have to strip out my non-existent color, but I am afraid the deep purple and aqua will fade into dull pastels.

    So I will remain a Silver Fox. 🙂 Unless I decide to go wild and become an Easter Egg.

    1. livrancourt says:

      Yeah, in a FB comment, Beth warned me that a little color (say, pink) goes a LOOOONG way with gray hair. I might to a pink streak for Easter, though. 🙂

  2. Shauna Granger says:

    This is a well-timed post for me. In my earlier thirties but I’ve been dying my hair since I was 17. When I shifted from red to brown over the summer I let my roots grow and the color fade and was faced with the reality that my roots weren’t entirely dirty blond and brown anymore. I haven’t given up on coloring yet, but every time it comes due, I consider skipping it.

    1. livrancourt says:

      The range of comments to this post on FB have been fascinating, from the woman who posted a pic of herself with gorgeous straight silver hair to the woman who tried to go natural (gray) and her husband lost that lovin’ feeling till she dyed her hair back. It’s such a personal thing, but the options for color are pretty broad. I’ll be keeping an eye on your journey, Shauna 🙂

  3. I think I dyed my hair every color in my late teens then I stopped when I met my hubby. Now he protests when I even mention dying my hair and I def have some grays. He prefers I just let them grow in, but who knows, we’ll see.

    Fascinating post, Liv!

    1. livrancourt says:

      Thanks my dear! My hair’s been many, many colors, too. So far, my husband hasn’t any complaints with the current iteration. 🙂

  4. I’ve been going gray for the last few years, enough that I’ve had to think about dying my hair. The price here is $75 a pop, and with my thick hair it takes forever (a good two hours). I looked at the home versions, but I just … well, I can’t come up with a reason other than it’s going gray. I might do something like blue–apparently there’s a special dye for brunettes that looks like colors on an oil slick. I could come up with a reason for that (it’d be cool), but I think conservative DC would have a problem. So at the moment, I’m doing nothing.

    1. livrancourt says:

      “I can’t come up with a reason other than it’s going gray” strikes me as a non-decision that becomes a decision after a fashion. 🙂 I did have fun playing with hair color when I was younger (burgundy/auburn/platinum blond), but it’s too much work any more. Though if you decide to do the oil slick thing, I for sure want to see pictures!

  5. It’s all perception. The older I get, the more I value my women friends of all ages, and we’re not all spring chickens anymore. I don’t “see” the changes in our appearances as much as I see my friends. I used to have technicolor hair but gave up when the recession started because I didn’t have the money to keep it up… and almost 10 years later, I still can’t rationalize salon prices for hair color. Honestly, I look forward to being a silver fox one day. Hennalucent has some great products for people going gray that take the “yellow” out, and they are all natural and pennies on the dollar compared to a salon treatment. I’ll probably go that route if need be. But for now, I’m all natural, silver stripes and all!

    1. livrancourt says:

      “I don’t “see” the changes in our appearances as much as I see my friends”
      What a great point. Much better to keep track of someone’s spirit rather than their appearance. And on a more practical note, I haven’t heard of Hennalucent before, but will check it out. Thanks for commenting, and for the tip!

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