My hair started going gray when I was 29. There were reasons I dyed it, number one was my mom whose own hair was a startling white. I very much needed to not see her when I looked in the mirror. My salvation? A bottle of Clairol Number Five. In the intervening years I've been every shade under the sun, from a tempestuous redhead to a chestnut minx. I was even a platinum blond for a book tour. I can tell you that, in my case, blonds didn't have more fun. I have spent undocumented hours in a torture chair having my hair stripped, highlighted and the color pulled through with a comb. My scalp has burned and I've choked down plenty of ammonia-laced fumes, all in the name of beauty.
In the beginning, I only needed to submit every three months to cover the gray. But as time went on, the space between dye jobs was whittled down. When it got to be three weeks between sessions, I asked myself, wasn't it time to go natural? Yet, I couldn't quite do it. When the gray peeked out, I winced and hit the bottle again. But, a year and a half ago, something finally clicked. I guess it was the thought of becoming one of those women who couldn't tell the difference between a natural red and that terrifying orange clown color. So I stripped out as much of the color as I could and then waited. And waited. And waited some more. It turns out hair grows surprisingly slowly at my age.
Once I'd made the decision, I was totally fine with how it looked. Which was good, because everyone else I knew wasn't. My choice to go gray was apparently their Rorschach test, eliciting all sorts of helpful comments.
"Don't do it. You're not serious."
"You're going to regret it. You'll look horrible."
"Really, I think your coloring is all wrong for it."
"How about getting highlights? I have a great hair stylist, do you want his number?"
These are good people. My people. They would never ever be rude on purpose. Yet, apparently my gray hair is the tipping point. In truth, I think it's because going gray is synonymous with looking old, and our culture prizes and promotes us doing exactly the opposite. Looking forever young. Still, it surprised me. These are women who would never, ever criticize a bad haircut or an ill-fitting dress.
Just last week, someone who hadn't seen me in a while was reduced to shock and awe. "Your hair! Your hair! Your hair!" she said. Yup, it's my hair all right.
Ladies, I'm not the mirror, mirror on the wall. And by the by, that skunk line that shows up every few weeks when the hair starts growing out looks pretty bad. I never point that out, so could you stop? Please. I beg of you. Stop. I like my hair, which, by the way is white, not platinum blonde. It's not quite as white as my mom's but it's getting there.
When I look in the mirror, I think of her. Anna Rand was a proud, opinionated, stubborn and admirable woman. One of only three doctors in her graduating class at medical school, she worked for abortion reform -- she was a firebrand and a true believer in the best possible way. She knew that life was about making some difficult choices. Letting my hair go is pretty darn easy in contrast, still, it's one small way of paying homage.