Sunday, 10 January 2010

Thoughts on age: grey hair

Pixie Geldof's voluntarily grey look

Taking after my father, I got my first grey hairs in my late 20s. I used to use henna or toners to add interest to my dark brown hair, not to cover the grey hair, particularly. Around age 35, after a few stressful years, I realised that my roots were, well, grey. What's going on under there, I wondered. One evening after work I had my hair cut short to reveal the true colour of my hair in its full glory - a shocking, terrifying grey.

Rather than frighten my workmates, I found another toner in a drawer, slapped it on and went to work with my hair-colour half way between what they were used to and what it really was. They were still shocked. I was shocked. It took a while to accept what had happened. 30 years a brunette and now...

Why don't I dye my hair? The reasons are practical and political.

On the practical side, I think there's something quite undignified in looking like a badger, with a grey stripe down the middle of your head when you haven't had time to get your roots done, but that's what sometimes happens when you routinely dye your hair. Aged 35 I didn't fancy having this anxiety - and the expense of regular dying - for the next 40-odd years. OK, if you start dying when you're 50, maybe you have the money and the patience to keep up appearances for a while. I didn't.

On the political side, there's also something deeply undignified about not being able to own up to the fact that you have aged, you are older, not necessarily that you are old, although that is alright by me, as well. At the time I faced the 'to dye or not to dye' dilemma, I worked with an extremely capable woman in her mid 50s, who was the publishing director for a magazine. She had raised two pleasant children by herself. I used to feel aggrieved on her behalf when I heard her making an appointment with her hairdresser: 'that's right, cut and colour'*.

It was never just cut. It had to be colour as well. Why? What did she have to hide or be ashamed of? Likewise, why did I suddenly need to feel embarassed for being what and who I was? I haven't dyed my hair since then; it has produced all sorts of reactions, from uncomprehending disdain to complete indifference. Some people even like it. I must say, I do, sort of. It's certainly true that I'm in a small minority of women, and possibly even men, who don't ultimately reach for the bottle. I find this collective act of mass self-denial utterly inexplicable.

I shan't pretend I'm holier than all these people and don't cheat at all. I discovered quite late in life that, alas, the more money I spend on my hair, the better it looks. I get it straightened now, and spend ridiculous amounts on a purple shampoo which, if I overuse it, gives me a purple halo. (In the olden days, it was called a blue rinse.) But I won't succumb to the ridiculous amount of pressure there is on people to 'hide that grey'.

* The phrase strikes horror in my heart, especially as it's usually pronounced 'cut 'n' colour' which makes it sound that bit more common and awful.

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