Going gray: Giving up the monthly chemical bath to let the silver shine through

adunn@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2013 

Never mind the image in the mirror. In my mind, I was forever 31.

That’s me, smiling back at the camera with my two sons. The oldest is wearing a yellow button-down shirt and a bow tie. The little guy is sporting a matching bow tie, a glistening dot of baby drool on his chin.

Never mind that the oldest now has his own son big enough to wear that little shirt and bow tie.

Thanks to a little mental air brushing – and monthly visits to the hairdresser – I still looked the same. Sort of.

If you looked closely, which I chose not to, you could see the wear and tear of two additional decades, the birth of a third child, the death of a parent, countless milestones big and small.

But my hair, always one of my best features, remained a soft brown with natural highlights.

Of course, it remained that lovely color only after long, smelly afternoons involving massive amounts of chemicals ending with me handing over massive amounts of cash.

So about a year ago, about the time my little guy with the baby drool started law school, I decided I’d had enough. Not only was the monthly chemical bath time consuming and expensive, it all started to seem a little fake. If I didn’t stop now, when would I stop?

Like Jamie Lee Curtis and the president, I decided to go gray.

When I announced my intentions at the dinner table, my youngest child – who wasn’t even born in that “forever 31” photo in my mind – made it clear she thought it was a bad idea. A very bad idea.

My husband, after more than 30 years of marriage, gave his diplomatic “whatever you want to do” answer. Not exactly a resounding vote of support but who could blame him?

Undeterred, I made an appointment at a hair salon for a consult.

The stylist, half my age, recommended clipping my hair short and adding blond highlights. I had not been blond since I was 4, but I reluctantly agreed. Anything to avoid the dreaded skunk stripe.

It took six months for the last wisps of gold to be trimmed away, permitting me the time to adjust to the new me.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy. In my circle of female friends and coworkers my age, only one other woman has allowed the silver to shine through.

And the first time a kid at a fast-food restaurant asked whether I wanted a senior drink, I embarrassed him and myself when I rejected his offer.

I started obsessively studying other 50-somethings, particularly couples.

The men are either bald or graying. Or both.

Like mismatched bookends, the spouses are vibrant blondes, brunettes or redheads. Take the Obamas, for example. Over the past five years, the president has become grayer by the crisis, while Michelle Obama has nary a silver strand.

I cast no stones. I get it. We 50-somethings are Baby Boomers after all, looking for ways to grow old without looking old.

These are boom years for plastic surgeons, hair colorists and the authors of a whole genre of self-help books on how to cope with/reverse/deny the effects of graying hair.

The book titles say a lot about how we feel as a culture about women and gray hair: “How to Go Gray Gracefully and Look Fantastic,” “Going Gray and Looking Great!: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Unfading Glory” and my favorite, “Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for Women Over 45.”

From where exactly am I coming back? Not surprising, that one was written by a man.

Six months into my salt-and-pepper days, I still startle myself when I look in the mirror. Who is that woman staring back at me?

But for the most part, as I mark my 54th year, I’m comfortable in my (slightly sagging) skin. Take me or leave me.

Just don’t misunderstand my surrender to silver. I may look my age, but I don’t plan to act it.

adunn@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4522

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