Gray hair don’t care

Gray hair is not actually gray but silver or white or pewter or salt. It only appears gray from a distance against a backdrop of pepper. Gray hair (that is not really gray) can be coarse and wiry but is also shiny and healthier than any dyed hair I’ve known. Some mornings I catch my reflection in the mirror and realize gray hair don’t care.

It has been 15 months since my last dye but only 11 months since highlights, which helped the transition or prolonged the inevitable. Either way those months are a blip in time. I finally got so sick of the demarcation line betwen new and old color that I had a big haircut. I got compliments and didn’t hate it. In typical fashion I thought well if short is good, shorter must be gooder and I got more cut off next time. I spent the next 6 weeks hating my short gray hair. In typical fashion I thought well if feeling bad about yourself is what you’re into you might as well gain 7 pounds too. It was around this time my husband put a family photo from  3 Christmases ago directly in my line of sight when I watch movies on the couch. We had a wall painted so I don’t think he did it to trigger my breakdown, but I not only had to stare longingly at people on the TV with normal hair but now a previous version of myself. Between you and me, I think my old color looked brassy, though maybe it was more Tawny.

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Not really me. In case you were wondering.

And one night we were watching a movie and I saw someone who reminded me of, well, me in the mornings. If you don’t recognize the image below, sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion and if you still don’t know what the hell I’m on about, just know my husband and I are in an unspoken competition to use our most favorite-forgotten phrase because after two decades of living together, we forget things but still know how to party. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us who feels like this.

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Not really me. But much closer.

I hadn’t counted on it taking this long to decide if I like gray hair on me. I don’t recall loving my brown or Tawny hair so maybe it’s just a case of me still being me. Gray definitely makes me feel older, especially in those moments when I’m already feeling insecure. I keep thinking to myself just wait til summer, I assume because my hair will be longer by then and because there will be ice cream and I’m easy to distract that way. Mostly this waiting thing reminds me a lot of sobriety and how long that took to feel natural and comfortable, and finally like Home.

I did not love being sober in my first year. I did it anyway and loved bits and pieces, but still drooled over everybody else’s ability to drink normally or abnormally but without all the pain and obsession. Sometimes I felt like a freak and a failure. But I kept doing it because I am not a quitter except when it comes to drinking.

And over the months and years, my not drinking became not only something I did quite well on the outside but inside as well. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and one day looked up and wondered when was the last time I missed drinking anyway. The next week I missed drinking because that’s how it works, but the pang left just as quickly as it came and stayed away even longer. Here I am today so full of love and zest for life that I have the mental energy to grow out my natural hair color and obsess over it.

I said something to my husband about the picture of me and my old Tawny hair and he joked “it’s like Dorian Gray in reverse” and I laughed but then said “hey wait, aren’t all portraits like that?” We’re supposed to get older and get gray hair and crows feet and laugh lines and other adorably named things that mean we’re dying. What I did was super-accelerate the ageing process and all the insecurities that come with it, especially for a woman.

What I did to soften the blow of getting old (not really) super fast is I started working out again and cancelled my last haircut. In order to celebrate my real hair color (which, how insane is it to feel the need to hide the natural color of our hair? think about that for a second), we picked new vinyl siding for our house and went with the color swatch named silver-gray. Just kidding – pebblestone-gray cost extra – but in the end it’s just siding and it’s just hair. Gray hair don’t care and hopefully I’ll get there myself some day.

 

 

 

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9 months gray

It’s been awhile since I posted about going gray, though I think about it every day. It reminds me a little of going sober in that way, though one will give you your life back and the other is just hair, afterall. Still, returning to a color I’d never actually seen before has turned into a real eye opener and a much slower ride than expected.

I wasn’t prepared for how long it would take to grow out my old color, which was some variation of dyed brown with blond highlights. The girl who used to cut my hair said she had a client who grew her gray out in six months (and then promptly went back to color). What I failed to hear was her client also had very short hair.

Hair grows at a rate of about a half an inch per month, or six inches in a year. Shoulder length hair is longer than six inches on most people. Nine months in, I can see a clear demarcation line midway down my head, so I’d guess I’m about halfway through growing out the old color if I keep my current length.

I actually just had it cut a couple of weeks ago. I changed stylists to someone that doesn’t talk down gray and who listened and steered me towards a shorter cut that I really love instead of more highlights.

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I’ve had a few people say “love the blond!” which makes me feel like a liar. I could counter with a lengthy actually I’m growing out my gray and dark brown and technically the blond is old highlights bleached out by the pool and sun but thanks anyway! But it’s just facebook.

Some days the gray makes me feel old and invisible. Did you ever read Flowers for Algernon? It’s a short story about a mentally challenged janitor and lab mouse who both get supersmart from an experiment, but later slide back to their former states and worse. What’s even worse is they know it’s happening to them.

Six years ago, I lost upwards of 40 pounds. Talk about finding newfound power and confidence. I went from feeling invisible to invincible. Graying reminds me of the invisibility I used to feel when I was overweight. When I’m out with my lovely teenaged daughter, I especially notice how we’re all captivated by youth and beauty. I know I’ll never look young again.

The unexpected side is how gray makes me feel more youthful. Since I don’t care about protecting expensive highlights from the elements anymore, I’ve been swimming more this summer than in years. I don’t cover my hair with hats in the sun and I don’t have to buy special color-safe shampoo anymore. Not having to color every 3-4 weeks is freeing, even though I admittedly gaze longingly at pictures taken less than a year ago when I had color.

I love the way the front of my hair is turning out to be streaks of silver. The young woman who washed my hair before my last haircut said her mother keeps hoping the few gray hairs she has will turn into a lightning bolt streak. She says she’d kill for what I have. It’s odd what feels like a compliment when you’re going gray. It’s wonderful how kind people can be.

My husband has been my biggest cheerleader from the start. Anytime I make him swear to give his honest opinion, he carefully tells me he can hardly tell where the old and new color meet. He has a fair amount of gray that he never considered coloring, and of course being a man, he wears it wonderfully. And really, anyone can.

I’m probably about halfway through the process and hopefully through the worst of it. I’d say months 4-8 were the hardest because I couldn’t tell what it would look like but felt the fallout of looking older. If anyone reading this is in that in-between place, hang in there. It definitely gets better.

3 months gray

It’s been about 3 months since I last covered my gray. I look in the mirror and feel excited by the white shining at the top and temples. It’s my brightness. I kick myself a little for ever covering it up.

I search terms like how long does it take to grow out gray hair and pour over posts by pioneers in the gray revolution, especially those with pictures. I check books out of the library on going gray. There are only three, so this doesn’t take long.

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3 months gray. Selfies already embarrass me, and this is what I used to go to great lengths to cover and hide. But I’m showing this to document the process. This selfie is for science.

 

I feel like it’s going to take forever. I get a little worried about what’s ahead. I see the still relatively small strip of new growth versus old color that looks brassy and fake or blonde and fun, depending on my mood. I don’t miss my old color, probably because it wasn’t really mine. But sometimes I miss the way it allowed me to blend in.

This excitement and anticipation feels awfully familiar. So does the impatience and fear and feeling like I’m driving on the wrong side of the road.

It turns out that getting sober was a great primer on how to go gray.

I jumped into both headfirst, not realizing how gradual and slow the process would be. Fortunately, the early signs of progress were/are rewarding and motivating. I already learned that nothing ever goes as expected. I’m still learning patience. Going gray should help a lot.

It is normal to question why I’m doing this. Swimming upstream isn’t easy, especially when you’re only 1/8 of the way there. How will gray hair look at the beach in August? has become my new How will I have fun at the beach without beer?

I worry (unnecessarily) what other people think about my decision. Some probably are staring at my roots and wondering what the hell, but most aren’t thinking about me at all. Same with drinking or not drinking.

Some people do have an opinion and won’t understand why I’m doing this. I’ve met women who wouldn’t dream of skipping hair color but never wear makeup, which I feel naked without. Now, choosing not to drink can literally be a life and death issue, so I’m not comparing it with a cosmetic decision. I do know from experience that I can’t always explain my decisions or beliefs in a way that makes sense to others. The good news is I don’t have to.

I’m hyper-aware of what others around me are doing, but this will pass. In the early days of not drinking, I could tell you who drank what, though not necessarily how much unless it was a lot. I sensed a kindred soul in those, though now feel the same affection towards abstainers. I also notice every silver head in a crowd. They are shining beacons of hope.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. When I read a blog the other day recommending pretty headbands and temporary hair paints and powders to camouflage new gray, I thought why on earth would I want to hide anymore? Some people go cold turkey, and more power to them too. Maybe one of those approaches will appeal in a few months. Options are probably the best thing to have.

I’ll save soooo much money. I’m probably going to put it towards an island made of chocolate. It’ll have to be somewhere cold and I don’t really like the cold, so there are kinks to work out. With all the money I’ve saved on beer and now salon visits, I’d better hurry up.

 

 

 

 

 

One month gray

On Saturday, I tell my hair dresser I want to go gray. She barely bats an eye and rattles off the best way to go about it. She tells me she saw another client through the process, only to have her go back to color when the last bit was growing out. I hope that’s not me, though it very much sounds like something I would do.

My grandmother used to visit her hair dresser every Friday morning. I think her hair dresser’s name was Jo and I think I played Mr. Mouth with her daughter once, though I could be mixing up memories. I’ll never forget the can of Coke and pack of peanut butter crackers I got when I tagged along to a hair appointment. There was nothing tedious about it to me. I sat on a dryer chair, shoving in dry, day-glo crackers, and watched the magical transformation unfold.

My grandmother always went in tense, barking at my grandad to quit driving so slow and did he see that red light he just ran. When she came out of a hair appointment, she was the Queen. She still barked orders at my grandad, but did so regally. Her perfectly coiffed ball of ash blond hair looked like cotton candy and made me hungry again.

In all honesty, I’m not sure what she had done at those appointments. I think it was a wash and set, which would mean she didn’t wash her hair all week? No wonder she was always on edge. (She’s been gone nearly two decades, so I can’t ask her.)

I’m a little nervous about seeing my still-living grandmother at Christmas. Last summer, we were standing in the morning sun when she said to me “You do have a lot of gray hair.” I thought we’d been talking about sandals but she’d been having an entirely separate conversation in her head. She then told me about the time she’d been sitting poolside with my brother, who is several years older than me, and accused him of wearing a white wig. She may have given his hair a gentle tug just to be sure.

My hair dresser inspects my roots and tells me I’m about 80% gray. If she’d said anything less than 75%, I admit I would have felt disappointed. She says the hair framing my face is nearly 100% white and I remember the time I got a 100% on a french test in 7th grade and I beam. She shares a theory that the hair on that part of our heads takes a direct beating from the sun over the years and that’s why it goes first. I watch her fill my head with aluminum foil wraps and think it’s all pretty crazy.

I go home with about two inches of exposed white root and a head full of expensive highlights. I don’t really understand how this is all going to work, so I make an appointment for 8 weeks away, just to be safe. I’m relieved I won’t have to do my roots anymore every 3 weeks at home. White would already be showing at the temples and part line after 2 weeks. My hair doesn’t want to be fucked with anymore. It’s been quite clear about that.

On Christmas, my grandmother will no doubt comment on my hair. It’s better when I can brace myself. I’m learning to be more gracious and brush off what she never intends as insult in the first place. She went to the school of Say What Everybody Else is Thinking. I’ll probably slip into defensive mode and explain I’m just trying it out, much like the conversation she forced out of me on the phone last week when she asked about church.

When I told her that I was taking the girls to church a couple of months ago, she started crying. She still surprises me. Part of me now wishes I hadn’t said anything because now I feel like we have to keep going. She asks me if I can send her literature about my religion, which is a mix of beliefs and a stretch from what she’s used to. I think how fun it might be to make up my own brochure in Word, arranging weird clip art (aka the original emojis) and funny phrases. Instead I tell her how a recent service went, which is similar to every other denomination I’ve been to. Hymns, saying things in unison, shaking hands with flu-infested neighbors, listening to the minister, staring at the floor and ceiling, chucking money in a basket, snacks.

My grandmother tells me she wants my brother to go to church, that he needs it. She wants my husband to go to church. She probably wants you to go to church if you don’t already. The thing I can’t quite tell her is that church isn’t everything I’d hoped it would be. It turns out that it’s just me showing up and feeling awkward and out of place. The hymns are lovely, but in truth I’d rather not stand and I’m still lip synching all of the high notes and at least half the low ones too. When service is over, I beeline out of there to find my kids because awkward small talk feels like gargling with battery acid. There are definite points during the service where I feel peaceful and connected and outside myself, which is a very good place to be, but as it turns out, I’m no better at embracing community at church than I am anywhere else.

How did I start talking about gray hair and wind up at church? It might be worth mentioning that while counting hats is pretty impossible at church these days, I did count quite a few white heads in the congregation. A surprising amount of women too. So maybe I’ve found my people afterall, at least for where I am right now, which is all any of us can hope for.

us gray gals gotta stick together (if only mine would come in that lovely)
us gray gals gotta stick together (if only mine would come in that lovely)

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