~ Harry G. Frankfurt,
No, I am not going grey…not yet! But have you considered whether or not you will allow your hair to grey? I hadn’t. (After all, I am still only in my mid-thirties). At least I hadn’t until I heard an interview with Anne Kreamer. She was inspirational. Anne has embraced going grey and turned away from dying her hair, and she lives in the States where pressure to “colour” seems overwhelming. Is it similar in Australia? Do we experience the same pressure?
Personally, I have never dyed my hair. My 4yr old daughter has coloured her hair more than I have in my entire life. It’s not been something I considered – even in my teens. I guess I’ve always embraced the way I look. I love my natural blonde highlights, which were more prominent in my youth (I have to say). So I guess I am going to go grey. Colouring is not an option I’ve considered and I don’t want to present myself as anything that is not me. A different colour simply wouldn’t be me. It would cover me up. “Colouring hair” said Anne’s husband, “is to do with the difference between rebuilding and ‘upkeep and maintenance’". He goes on in the following vein, the beautiful essence is somehow lost when something is covered up. The beauty and the essence of something is how it looks as it ages, consider how we love old European cities such as Paris and Rome.
I like the idea of rebuilding ourselves. To me it speaks more creatively about who we are and how this changes and transforms yet is always positively challenging. Upkeep and maintenance to me is tiring and annoying, am I allowed to say even boring. It shows little value in what is becoming and holds in high esteem that which was; and in the case of dyeing hair, of valuing youth more greatly than age and experience. Somehow we have become colourers of our hair so that we (and others) can’t see that we are getting older. I must question, “why do we not want to get older?" Ann Richards concluded her conversation with friend Anne Kreamer saying, “wisdom and age have value. It’s really important and if all we do is continue this whole business of focusing on youth, we’ll miss that all ages can be wonderful, not only personally but the culture will miss that ingredient as well.” Can we afford to let that go? Do we want to let value in wisdom and age disappear?
I am proud to declare that all the ladies in my immediate family have gone grey – very gracefully I must say. Although let me clarify,…my Mum tried to colour her hair once and the three of us kids laughed voraciously and questioned her “What on earth have you done that for?” That was the only colour I ever saw in my Mum’s hair. She let it grey (starting very young, when she married, with her “Mrs Ghandi streak” as she called it) and it looks lovely.
Our image is important. We want to portray ourselves in a certain way and this clearly speaks reams about how people see us. When I first saw Anne’s book "Going Gray: what I learned about beauty, sex, work, motherhood, authenticity, and everything else that really matters” a friend and I noticed how much more presentable she was with her grey hair than she appeared before she experienced the whole “going grey” process. Even my own Ess agreed. She clearly chose the new and grey image of Anne Kreamer when asked to point to the ‘best lady’.
Anne was surprised when she visited three Image Consultants in New York as an experiment for her book. She expected them to tell her to dye her hair but all considered grey hair was a very distinctive and strong statement. It’s the clothes, not the hair they suggested. Do you have a wardrobe full of unnecessary emotionally-laden familiar baggage? I look forward to being able to discard mine. The sense of liberation will be profound when I can purge myself of these. I’ll feel nimble and light like having my hair cut, or indeed like having definitely decided that my hair will go grey. We are all constantly in need of changing. We need to make advancements and adjustments to the way we look and to our hair and clothes. What works once may not work again later.
Anne also tested responses to grey or non-grey hair online by presenting herself as each (using the wonders of Photoshop) on Match.com. Interestingly she received more interested looks as a grey woman. I think she was seen as more authentic as a grey-haired woman.
So what are the pressures we experience which convince us we need to dye our hair? Is it to be able to further our career, or simply re-enter the workforce, to feel sexy for our men? Is it to maintain some semblance of youthfulness? Do we succumb to the pressure of marketeers who make a bucket-load out of hairdressing practices? Does it become habit to dye our hair and something which we simply do? Almost like my own habit to not dye my hair. Not quite so simply. This is a choice for me. It is a choice about living simply, presenting myself in truth and telling more of the plain truth hoping to encourage society to be truthful. My hair is a symbol of what I am trying to be. Anne says it beautifully for me, “The more we tell the truth in the way we look, maybe, the more we’re inclined to tell the truth in other ways and thus encourage other people to be honest with us”.
And what about men going grey? One man, a CNN anchor, once considered “give in to grey”. I think we can all do better than that – embrace the grey. It shows honesty, authenticity, maturity, confidence, self-control and a willingness to embrace the changes and challenges which life brings.
A French-born Manhattan hairstylist says “Grey makes a statement. It stands out.” He regards “showing your silver as a choice and one of the few truly exciting things a women can do with her hair. A way of breaking taboos.” That’s exciting. Maybe a few of us are changing the world a little and breaking taboos together. I think it will be wonderful when the world realises that experience and authenticity can be attractive. We are all experiencing an intensifying hunger for authenticity. I see this also in the way we are increasingly embracing ‘all things organic’.
Yet how we choose to grow older is deeply idiosyncratic and we are all individually responsible for finding our own comfortable place.