Ann Brenoff’s “On The Fly” is a weekly column about navigating growing older ― and a few other things.
I believe that gray hair can be beautiful, which is not to say I ever want a single strand of it to sprout from my head. I admire women who can pull off having close-cropped white tresses or salt-and-pepper manes cascading down their backs. But me? Never going to happen. I will be the old lady in the nursing home who, with her last dying breath, asks for a touchup.
And for those who think there is something wrong with my devotion to keeping my gray hair at bay, I can only say this: My hair, my choice, and none of your damn beeswax.
The pressure is intense these days for older women to stop coloring their gray hair and instead embrace it in the name of accepting the aging process.
The gray-positive movement touts the benefits of going gray, calling it liberating, empowering, and evidence that the owner of a headful of gray hair is someone comfortable in her own body. Much is made of the idea that by allowing your hair to go gray, it means you are unafraid of aging or growing old in a society that values youth and equates it with beauty.
That’s all well and good. But I feel pretty much all those same things every time I reach for a box of L’Oréal.
To each his own, I say, and the gray-hair positive movement needn’t worry about my acceptance of my age. My pain in my left knee already does a perfectly fine job of letting me know that I am 68, and probably doesn’t need an assist from my scalp.
Sadly, we seem to have skipped a step when we made the cultural shift from our mothers’ generation, which was expected to painfully pluck out gray hairs with a tweezer as soon as they were spotted, to the current trend where women claim their decision to go gray is empowering. We skipped the part where everyone should really just get to do what they want, and everybody else should just shut up about it.
“We seem to have skipped ... the part where everyone should really just get to do what they want, and everybody else should just shut up about it.”
If flying your freak flag gray emboldens you, I say go for it. If it helps you feel stronger and more self-confident because you no longer care what others think, good for you. As Janis Joplin sang to us long ago, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Of course, life gets a whole lot easier when you aren’t trying to meet other people’s expectations. Welcome to the club, my gray-haired-by-choice friends.
Here’s a news flash for you: Mine are the only expectations I’m trying to meet. And my choice is not to have gray hair. Yet somehow that translates into a lack of acceptance from those who sport a headful of gray ― and who often want to tout the emotional well-being and enlightenment they experienced from going natural.
May I just say: There is nothing wrong with those of us who still want to color our gray hair. We are not trying to deny the aging process, nor are we trying to avoid looking our age. Nope, it’s not that at all.
I happen to think gray hair looks great on some people. I am just not one of them. I would no sooner dye my hair blonde, either. I don’t have the skin tone or complexion for it. Unlike my dark brown head of shoulder-length hair, it wouldn’t look right on me.
At the heart of the gray-positive trend is the idea that you shouldn’t do anything except accept yourself the way you are. I’d just ask that those who found enlightenment by no longer coloring their gray just let me do precisely that.