Last night, as I was running my fingers through Miss C’s hair, thinking to myself how fast she’s growing up, I said outloud, “Your hair is going to be sooo fun to style for prom.” This made her smile, and she asked if I would style it for her when the time came.
“Sure!” I said. “I used to style my friends’ hair for prom all the time.”
This weekend was so wonderful, I wore a dress. A short-sleeve, silk house dress with slippers. It’s been months since I wore a dress! I had all the windows in my house open and there was a constant breeze that lifted the curtains in the sunshine. I hung up laundry and blankets outside, and even dragged out the kids’ mattresses, too, and let them air out in the sun as well.
I admit, they have thin, Euro-style mattresses that can be rolled up, so this wasn’t nearly as crazy an endeavor as it sounds.
[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]t’s been eight months since I made the conscious decision not to dye my hair anymore, and more than three months since my last update. I intended to update about this sooner, but I blame the long winter. And this blog’s redesign. And the fact that I’ve been distracted by life in general lately and simply lost track of the time.
But whenever I check my blog analytics, I notice I get a decent amount of traffic nearly every day from my Pinterest post about growing out my gray hair, or search engine traffic from people searching for “growing out gray hair” on the Internet. And just the other day, I got a lovely email from a new blog reader, Sarah, from Wisconsin, who found me via that Pinterest post.
[quote type=”center”] Thank you for posting and following up about choosing to go gray gracefully. I’m a few months behind you, and in finding your blog, I’ve found a role model of sorts. Keep posting updates … you look great! – Sarah in WI [/quote]
When I started doing this, I genuinely had no idea that gray hair was such a conversation starter (either online, via Facebook/Pinterest, or in person). For one thing, it’s just my hair. I’ve never really been attached to any one hair style. When I was younger and in the military, I wore my hair short or medium. I’ve only worn it long a few times.
At the moment, it’s pretty standard fare: thin, medium length, brown … and a little silvery.
For something that I considered so flippant a decision at first, I’ve since learned that people — mostly women — definitely have something to say about gray hair and hair coloring. This has brought forth some pretty strong opinions both for and against the acceptance of gray hair.
It’s really made me think a bit more about things like aging, beauty and expression, American society’s expectations and youth obsession, and the way language and imagery is used to form those expectations.
Let me be clear: I’m not anti-coloring.
I love hair color. I love new, bold looks … and even new, subtle looks … and I can’t say for sure that I won’t wake up one day and decide I need some fire-engine red streaks in my hair again, like I had when I left the military.(At least, I probably won’t any time soon, but I kind of like the idea of being that grandmother with the red streaks and leopard print tights …)
What I am against, though, is the ridiculous notion that gray hair is something to be covered.
And women are reminded of that notion everywhere! It’s only when I stopped coloring that I realized just how often and how strongly that message is projected all.the.time in so many ways.
For example, these hair product commercials. Of course, this is marketing for a hair color product, it’s gonna come on strong here, but just consider what this man is saying … and implying.
And consider how often you see a commercial like this on television, on the Internet, in your Facebook sidebar, in your magazines, on the radio … you get the picture.
Et tu, Tina Fey!?! My spirit animal for all things feminist and empowering?!?!?!
Earlier this year, this list of the Top 10 Most Important Social Innovations of All Time popped up more than a few times on my Facebook home page and Twitter wall. It’s not exactly a compilation coming out of Harvard, but it was circulated across the Internets.
Hair dye made the list. So did a picture of a 90-year-old labeled as a 45-year-old.
A joke, of course.
But isn’t it funny how women are supposed to leap from 18 to 60 when it comes to their hair?
Or in the case of the commercials above, 5 years old to 60 …
Even Oprah herself jumps on the bandwagon against gray hair in her Gray Hair Bible, a beauty section that’s supposed to be championing gray hair. Yet, it’s funny to me that a woman [or a writer on her team] whose whole platform is about being one’s most authentic self can’t even get into the first paragraph about natural gray hair without painting a desperate picture.
[quote type=”center”] And when the gray starts coming in fast and furious: Do you dye, highlight, or throw up your hands and recklessly let it happen in a fit of gray abandon? … A growing number of women—courageous, rebellious, or just exhausted by the tedium of coloring—are going brazenly, vividly gray. – Oprah’s Gray Hair Bible [/quote]
I’m no mid-lifer.
But I’m here to tell you … it’s not really all that courageous, rebellious, reckless to let one’s hair go gray.
You just don’t dye it.
I doubt anyone is going to be inspired to change their way of thinking when they read that having gray hair is something so crazy, so challenging, so daring, and different. That’s a shame, because the seven gorgeous women they featured, and the advice they gave on how to highlight and enrich their silver strands, is all great information. I may use some of that advice later.
Again, I’m not against coloring or using product to enrich and change up one’s look, to use one’s hair as an expression.
What I’m against is the tradition of women feeling like they HAVE to cover or hide something about themselves. And the tradition that any evidence of aging and maturity in women is not attractive at all. And that overwhelming and overpowering sentiment that grayer, thinner hair is ugly, drab, and unacceptable, especially at my age.
And I just don’t think any of that is true.
I just can’t see the point of spending all that money on hair color — and hair products fixing the damage from hair color — just to keep my brown hair brown when it is naturally brown with a little bit of silver.
That silver isn’t hurting anybody.
And I don’t think I look washed-out or old because of it.
Because I’m not old. I’m 32. And I’m tired. But not washed out.
As you can see in the photos above, the gray is strong at my temples. I don’t have nearly as much on the top, although the strands are scattered throughout. I am majorly due for a hair cut, and will probably be getting it trimmed again in layers all around, similar to how I had it styled in January.
My friend Sarah — who just recently dyed her hair violet — met me for coffee last week , and recommended I go bold with my hair cut this time, removing all traces of my last color session and leaving nothing but my natural color.
The gray is becoming more obvious now, damn it. 🙂 #nofilter
Oh, I’m embracing it! I decided not to color my hair anymore a few months ago, partly to see what happens. And I get a kick out if it! Have u ever considered not coloring? For the record, I love my cobwebs. I was just having fun with my #nofilter hash tag. Heh. Heh.
No lie: my blog and Pinterest stats have spiked since I posted about being in my 30s and going gray. Those who have reached out to me have expressed interest, but worry of how they’d be perceived as old.
I took this picture while Martin was pumping gas into Amelia the Minivan during a stop on our roadtrip from Ohio over the weekend.
At first, the graying process seemed pretty slow going. As the color from my last dye job faded, I could see my natural lighter brown color, and also the gray, but nobody else could unless I pointed out the few strands here and there. Now? They’re becoming more obvious. As I mentioned in a preview post, my sister Jill kept glancing up at the top of my head as we talked this past weekend.
The gray can be seen.
Still, it’s nothing glaring right now and I don’t feel self-conscious about any of it yet, although I’m amazed how quickly my sides are turning.
Though I shouldn’t be.
Check out these genetics.
The man on the right is my father Larry. The photo was taken last year.
The man on the left is Liberat, my great-great grandfather who immigrated to Cincinnati from Germany. That photo was taken in 1910.
Gray around the edges obviously runs in the family, doesn’t it?
PS – My attempts to grow a mustache have failed miserably. 🙂
PPS – Fall of 1991. Age 10. (Miss C’s age!!!) Fifth grade at St. Catherine’s of Siena. Picture Day was one of the few days we did not have to wear the uniform. My young, hip teacher styled my bangs just moments before I sat for this. My mother was thrilled. #TBT
Egads! As I was sectioning my hair just now to take the first photos of my growing-out-the-gray process, I found a section on the side of my head that’s growing in straight-up white. Not some gray strands mixed in with my natural brown strands: these are coming in white!
I ran to Martin in a panic, yelling “Oh my god!!! I’m gonna have Julian Assange hair!!!”
And he was like, “It’s okay, Julie. All you have to do is hide it.”
I’m glad this process brings about it’s own kind of humor.
I was talking with some ladies at work today about this — their ages ranged from the early 30s to 60 — and it was REALLY interesting to hear their thoughts on hair color, the ways they’ve covered up signs of aging for professional reasons, and their theories on how ageism has worked for *and* against them.
Perhaps it is my own ignorance, having never given this much thought, but I assumed my growing out my gray would *maybe* get a question or two about why I’m letting my roots show so much.
However, if the conversations I had today are any indication, there is more of a discussion to this than I thought.
I have no idea what this is going to look like in another month. Only one way to find out!
Also, for the sake of documentation, this is what I look like with my hair down and normal.
I have no idea what percentage of my head is gray. Except for that one spot. That’s 100%. And no – I don’t see dead people. (I think.)
Martin has a lot of gray, it’s obvious (when it’s not buzzed at BMT, ha!) but he doesn’t look old. Or what we consider “an old man.”
But about women looking old … if more 30/40-year-olds kept the gray just as naturally, it wouldn’t look so … old, right? Because it’d be accepted that 30/40-year-olds have gray hair and it would be normal. Right?
Not advocating we all ditch the hair dye and start a movement. Just food for thought. I’m not turning anti-hair dye, either. Or turning crunchy granola. Just to put that out there. LOL
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my gray hair.
But this is the first time I’ve made the conscious decision that I’m not going to color my hair for awhile. I’m letting the gray hair grow out.
I know. I know. Hardly groundbreaking stuff here.
But for me, this is a pretty big deal.
I’ve been coloring my hair since I was 14 years old. For the longest time, I was coloring my hair to experiment with new looks and styles. There was no need to cover any grays.
And even when grays did start appearing when I was 25, it wasn’t a big deal. I could pluck the onesies-twosies whenever they appeared. Mostly, I just wanted to cover the roots.
I would be partially bald if I plucked out the grays anymore.
And I just colored my hair a few weeks ago, yet the top of my head and my temples are already frostier than Martin’s.
I can’t keep up.
And to be honest, I really don’t want to keep up.
So, I’m not anymore. I’m going to leave my hair color untouched and see what happens.
Fortunately, I’m a genetic clone of my mother, so I do have some idea of what this is going to look like. While she often colors her hair, there’ve been times she didn’t, and I know her gray comes in scattered like Anne Bancroft and Jaime Lee Curtis.
It’s a little here and there, unlike those ladies who are completely gray like Emmy Lou Harris.
Of course, these celebrity examples are much older than me, but good luck trying to find a 30-something or younger celebrity with natural gray hair. (Sorry – Kelly Osbourne doesn’t count.)
I only know of two other ladies in my age range who keep their hair gray. (And they are gorgeous.)
And I did find there is a community of women online who write often about their gray hair HERE, but most of those ladies are at least 15 years older than me. The youngest I found is 37.
And I just adore this blogger How Bourgeois. I think she’s in her early 30s, like me.
So I’m definitely not the first to do this.
Though Martin isn’t one to make a fuss about these things, I did expect a little more hoopla when I made the announcement to him.
“See these?” I asked him earlier this evening, pulling my hair back from my ears. “See these grays? I’m not covering them up anymore. I’m going gray.”
Silence as he stared at the Nats game.
“Going gray,” I repeated. “No more hair dye.”
Still nothing. So I poked his arm.
“You don’t care that I’m not coloring my hair anymore?”
He finally looked over.
“If it mattered to me, I would say something,” he responded. “I don’t care if you have gray hair. I just like it long.”
Well, mostly with no hair, since the photo was taken during the process of getting his hair clipped, but it works for me. There’s another photo of Martin standing in line, waiting to be clipped.
But this photo is now my computer screensaver.
Doesn’t he look so … so … serious?
The photos were taken by the public affairs staff at Lackland Air Force Base, as part of their usual workload. Each week, photographers go out and capture various events for the different flights and post them on the official USAF Basic Military Training Facebook page. Anyone with a loved one going through basic military training can get to the page and see if they can spot their trainee.
I showed the girls the photo at dinner last night, just a few hours after Miss C called me disappointed that the mailbox was empty yet again. I think seeing the photo made her feel better. So did watching an award-winning short documentary about Air Force basic training that was produced by the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron. (More public affairs people!)
She got a kick out of all the training instructors yelling and getting in faces.
“Dad’s getting punished for all the times he’s yelled at me,” she said.
I corrected her.
“No … Dad’s just reliving the early years of our marriage.”
I didn’t really say that.
But I did point out that none of it is personal, that the instructors aren’t really yelling at him, but at the whole group, and that Dad is probably not doing anything that would get him in serious trouble.
Except for the letter-writing. He’ll be in serious trouble with us if we don’t hear from him before too long.
And you know … his girls can be a lot scarier than those TIs.
Here’s the documentary Miss C watched. It’s long, but pretty awesome.
We heard from him last Monday, when he was able to make a 15-minute phone call because there was apparently some sort of scheduling mix-up between the military training instructors, so the trainees were given the time to make family phone calls as they waited for another MTI to arrive.