After years of coloring her hair, the author decided to go gray — and heard lots of opinions about it.
As I sat in the colorist’s chair in a high-end salon, I could not help but admire how young I looked. My gray roots had just been obliterated with a $300 Chernobyl of Deep Chocolate Mocha and Buttery Caramel lowlights.
But I knew my hair high would be, as usual, a short-lived buzz. Within days, my mane would oxidize into Roadkill Orange and a telltale gray stripe would appear on my part, demarcating fact from fiction.
That skunky striation was always a surprising betrayal. Just when I’d tricked myself into believing that maybe I really was a 60-something sprouting a Starbucks palette of richly hued locks, the emergence of Witchy White, Grim Reaper Gray and Silver Scythe sadistically reminded me that the house always wins.
A sudden realization
My pilgrimage to the salon was a well-worn ritual. The welcoming, intoxicating mix of ammonia and gossip, coupled with required reading of trashy tabloids, made it, if not a religious experience, certainly close.
Where else could I go for salvation, maintaining my professional mien and reading up on Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux? I was getting older by the minute and dyeing my hair was one way to temporarily make the ever-encroaching reality of the final blowout disappear.
Until I met Tyler.
Tyler was a newly hired, fresh-faced television producer who would now be assigning and editing my stories in the newsroom where I had worked for almost 30 years.
I could report to a Bob, an Ed, a Phil, a Larry or a Linda. But a Tyler?!
The bell was not only tolling, it was booming, blaring, thunderously clapping.
Old enough to be Tyler’s mom, I asked myself: Who exactly was my outrageously expensive brown helmet fooling?
Tyler, and all the Conors, Kayleighs and Madisons lately populating my office didn’t give a toss if Mommy’s hair was brown, gray or green. And if my colleagues didn’t care, maybe I shouldn’t either.
And so I canceled my next hair appointment.
Which is not to say I made the decision lightly.
I started to notice chicly shorn women of a certain age with silver strands who looked gorgeous.
More than that, they seemed fierce and even proud. Gray hair appeared to confer erect posture, a purposeful stride and an unshakable sense of self. Was this true or was I wildly projecting?
Everyone weighs in
As in every other stage in a women’s life, there’s a barrage of unsolicited advice as constant and contradictory as those Glamour magazine “Do’s and Don’ts” of my teen years.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when my Tawny Sunset Blonde and Hazelnut Brûlée Brunette friends weighed in.
“You’ll be invisible and look like Grandma!”
“Mark will dump you for a younger woman!”
“You’ll torpedo your career!”
Social media also turned up the tyranny with admonitions and warnings.
“Don’t attempt to grow out gray yourself — you must consult with your stylist!”
“Gray hair drains color from your face! You need a bold new lipstick!”
“Limit your wardrobe to black and white — never ivory!”
Gray Instagram influencers — now called “Instagrannies” — relentlessly proselytized about being their best gray selves, living their best gray lives, relishing every gray moment, practicing gray self-care and doing so with a stylist, photographer and nutritionist on standby.
Rarely could I find Instagram accounts of ordinary gray-haired women.
Even before deciding to go gray, I had already been feeling a slight but unmistakable shift inside. As I hauled around my snail shell of a life, inscribed with layers of sediment and time, older women, like the 80-year-old I once watched gingerly push her walker into the salon for a touch-up, elicited a startling recognition about where I was on the timeline. Edicts about how to look or how to behave, regardless of hair color, were losing their resonance.
So I ignored all the advice and just let my gray hair grow.
A surprising result
I was fascinated by the glittery tresses my body produced. How they caught the light and shimmered. I detected not 1 percentage drop of interest from my husband (the aforementioned Mark). There were no inferior work assignments or loss of love or friendship.
Shockingly, I just felt pretty.
As for that unshakable sense of self: As Jennifer Aniston herself might tell you, some days you’re up, some days Justin’s just moved on.
My gray hair is a gift from Mother Nature, who unknowingly thought a long life should be celebrated with a silver crown.
Once I quit the bottle, I didn’t look back.
But I do miss the magazines.