If you’re following this blog, you know that a few months ago I made the decision to let the artificial color grow out of my hair and to explore the silver subtleties of this season of life. It’s been an interesting process—with plenty of moments when I want to run screaming to the store for a box of color! But as the process has unfolded, I’ve discovered multiple layers of reasons to push forward and multiple “points to ponder” along the way.
First, I’ve been thinking a lot about the beautiful, strong, white-haired women who are part of my heritage—my mom and great-aunt Helen on one side of the family, Grandma Helen on the other. Somehow this process feels like a way of honoring them and the gift that they have been in my life. Their spunk, their feisty courage, their mischievous smiles, their no-need-for-makeup beauty—what treasures they are! My mom is the only one of these women still living, and I wouldn’t change one white hair on her lovely head. (Love you, Momma!)
A surprising element of this process has been the number of people who feel compelled to give me their (usually negative) opinion of it! Men, women, family members, friends, mere acquaintances—there has been no lack of voices expressing strong judgment about what a mistake I am making. One comment in particular struck me with forcible irony: “Why do you want to pretend to be something you’re not?” (Granted, the sub-text of that was, “You’re only 50-something, why do you want to look 70?” We’ll come back to this.) Um, who I am is a 50-something woman with silver-white hair, who’s been pretending to be the same redhead she used to be! That word “pretend” kicked off some blinders for me—one of the reasons that I am cherishing this process is precisely because it lays aside pretense and false appearance. We’ve recently experienced a season filled with pretense in many subtle and insidious guises—subterfuge, dissimulation, charades, facades, duplicity, and disingenuousness. And, as my younger friends would say, “I am so over it!” Although this process didn’t start out as protest, it has become, at least in part, my own personal rejection of pretense and a symbolic embrace of radical authenticity and honesty.
Going back to the comment about 50-somethings and 70-somethings, another thing that has been much on my mind is the prevailing concept of beauty and aging in our culture—and the strong double standard embedded in that concept. What is there that makes salt-and-pepper or silver hair look “distinguished” or “handsome” on a man, but leaves a woman “old” and “ugly”? And is it that same dynamic that makes people feel so free to give commentary on a woman’s appearance-related choices, when it would never occur to them to offer a man the same advice? Again, “I am so over it!” Another level of protest mode has strengthened my resolve!
Gorgeous gray? Well, it remains to be seen just how gray and just how gorgeous—will the end of this process be an interesting mix of silvery shades, or the stunning white crown of my matriarchs, or something in between? But I am daily more settled and content with my no-pretense choice (and it is, after all, my choice, and I respect the different choices that others make). For those who have only known the feisty redhead, fear not—feisty is not going away! (In fact, I’m tempted to post a warning on the home page of all my classes: “I was once a redhead. Choose your words accordingly!”) For now, to quote another young friend, “Just keepin’ it real!”