Grey Matters

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The moment I turned into a teenager, the first thing I wanted to do was dye my hair. It represented rebellion — what can you do to assert yourself in an Italian American family that prizes long, dark, feminine, traditional hair? Dye and shave parts of it off, naturally! It also represented creativity — I didn’t only want to make works on canvas or paper, but wanted to embody them. It was the 1980s — did I want Nina Hagen red? Siouxsie black? Something else? By the time I was in my 30s, I had dyed my hair many varieties of red, burgundy, black, and plum (the bleached streaks were a one time thing, never to be repeated! SO not a blonde).

Sometime in my late 30s this changed. My life was what I made it into — no need to rebel. In fact, I was reveling in it! I was so immersed in making and doing that dyeing my hair seemed like a total drag and waste of time. Rebelling at this point in my life would be to stop doing the thing I lost interest in.  I still felt the need to express myself through my appearance, but what I wanted to say changed: I felt impelled to communicate that aging was a natural, beautiful, and valuable thing. I was also becoming concerned with the environmental and health implications of commercial dyes. Did I want to continue to put these chemicals in the waterways and on my body?

What changed everything was my train commute.  I get horrible motion sickness, and can’t read. So, I sit and daydream and people watch. There I observed the Silver Fox.

She wasn’t always a Silver Fox. She was once a Reddish Brown Fox. She wore beautiful, creative clothing, always carried a bag full of books and work over her arm, and had a competent, stately air about her. One day as I sat behind her, staring at the back of her head as commuters with motion sickness do, I noticed the telltale silver line in her part. As the weeks progressed, it got bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, the crown of her head was silver! Within a few months, she bobbed her hair, and just a few inches on the bottom retained color — it looked pretty cool. After a few months of that, she got some layers and cut it a little shorter, and her transformation into a Silver Fox was complete. Now, her hair is back to shoulder length with bangs, gloriously silver.

I admired the hell out of her — she made the transition with style and completely without apology: she wore her metamorphosis proudly. I had a secret mentor and this dyed little caterpillar was ready to become a silver butterfly! I stopped dyeing my hair two years ago and never looked back.

Alas, I am not a Silver Fox yet. I have grey strands throughout the front of my hair. I have some killer cool grey streaks on the sides of my head.  My bangs are pepper with some salt. I’m still rebelling and communicating with my hair, each silver strand I earn as time passes allowing me to say things louder and clearer: aging is a natural, beautiful, and valuable thing. I care about what goes on my body and in our waterways.    I honor how I feel, instead of covering it up in a socially acceptable way.

Grey Matters.

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5 comments

  1. Absolutely spot on Jackie! I’m the same – did everything from a short spiky blonde cut to a Siouxsie black bob. But I got fed up with pouring chemicals on my head too and now my hair is au naturel – which sounds quite like yours, a mixture of salt and pepper with some white streaks. I’ll be happy when it’s all one colour but now I don’t really think about it – it’s just me! And why should we conform to society’s stereotypes? There’s a woman I see through work who from the back looks about 20 – long blonde hair, girly pink dresses that kind of thing – when she turns round she’s older than me and it looks just – weird! Be yourself, I say!

  2. I love this… And how it resonates as I’m inching closer to ditching the dyes forever. I by contrast never dyed out of rebellion. In fact I didn’t start dyeing my hair till my mid 30s when the grey strands really started to proliferate – ageing aside, wishy washy grey hair and porcelain English skin are just not the most attractive combination. But once I’m 80% silver (about 10% to go), I’ll be ditching the chemicals and the fortnightly grind of dealing with roots!

  3. I just had to come back and re-read this post as I’ve decided to embrace grey. My hair is I think so grey/white that it doesn’t take colour properly and roots -even when coloured- look different to the rest. Maybe it’s a hint to go with grey roots till they grow out… 😉

    It also feels, as you say, like an act of rebellion as I’m surrounded by female friends who refuse to talk about age/maturing/life as an older person in a society obsessed with youth & with a failing social network. Their response is to brush the age topic away with “you’re not old”, which misses the point. I’m not scared of it, I just want to explore some scenarios.

    1. Good luck with your exploration! Like so much of what we both do, it’s pretty much the opposite of what is going on in the rest of our culture, and I think it’s even more of a challenge for women — which makes it 520348234 times more compelling to do 🙂 You may decide to color your hair again and try the transition in a year or more. You may never color it again. But I think it will be really interesting to examine how you feel during this experiment! If you poke around the internet there’s quite a bit of “going grey” support (inspiration? not sure of the right word) that I found anchored me when feeling a little doubtful. I wish that you could find your very own silver fox locally (but if you don’t — just think — you will BE someone’s silver fox in the future!)I

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