Not Dyeing to Look Younger

I had this idea that having gray hair would make me look older, but hello, I mean, I already look older

My hair started going gray in a way that mattered about five years ago, when I was 39. My face hadn’t really started to age yet — at least not in that kind of way where you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and jump backwards with a shriek.

I did not like it. I was terrified. I wanted to make it stop.

I started dyeing it brown. But dyeing my gray hair brown meant that I was dyeing all the other hairs on my head the same shade of brown, so my hair lost all its formerly amazing depth and luster. I looked like someone had dumped a half-cooked pan of brownies on my scalp and kind of mushed it down (and then run away shouting “Good luck!”).

Everyone said, it’s not a big deal, just get highlights. I was jubilant. What a wonderful solution! And they looked so good. I said to the woman who cut my hair, “Oh my God, it looks as good as Connie Britton’s hair on 'Nashville'!” Then we squealed. It was really expensive but it was really worth it. I was like, wow, I can look like I’m in my thirties for maybe like, six more years!

As it has a habit of doing, reality soon intruded. The hair salon had barely cashed my check for $230 (cut, color and highlights) when white pinpricks began appearing at my scalp. Which meant that every time I was talking to someone I was thinking, “Oh my god, they’re looking at my roots.” Sometimes I actually put these thoughts into words, and I don’t think I’m being hard on myself when I say that blurting out “Are you looking at my roots?” in the middle of a conversation constitutes poor boundaries.

And here’s a sad truth about highlights: Soon after they make you look really great and sexy and cool, they fry the crap out of your hair. Which meant that when I went back to get this all done again, two and a half months later, I had to have all my damaged hair cut off. So now my hair was short, and, since I was pretty intently trying to work this sort of early-middle-age yoga goddess look, well, this was a problem. So no more crazy highlights. But I also wasn’t going to do half-cooked brownies again, so I got some highlights. But that look was a little too soccer mom for me.

I am ashamed to say I did the soccer mom/split ends/cooked brownies dance for far too long. I believed I would figure it out. That I would find a balance. But here is the thing about nature: It does not care how long you think you can do a soccer mom/split ends/cooked brownie dance with your graying hair. It only cares about making your incoming hair gray. And it is so much better at its job that you are.

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And then, this summer, I went to the yoga retreat that I go to every summer in New Mexico. My roots were coming in. The idea of getting them touched up only made me think of their reappearing. My split ends had started a letter-writing campaign to Amnesty International. And, then, one morning, as the early morning mediation ended and the sun rose over the desert, I looked around me and I saw all these perfectly attractive women, some my age, some younger, some older, with gray hair. And I turned to a friend of mine who was letting her gray come in without mounting any sort of battle campaign, and I said, “I am never dyeing my hair again. It’s over.” As another beam of light made its way up over the edge of the canyon, she took my hand and said, “I believe you will find tremendous relief in your decision.”

So, I have five months' worth of gray hair now, which means about three inches. A lot of it is up front, and so there is this sort of Cruella Deville thing going on — well, a yoga goddess/Cruella Deville thing. But it really looks OK. When I’m talking to people, I never have to wonder, “Did they notice my gray hair?” because, yes, unless they are blind, I know they have.

I had this idea that having gray hair would make me look older, but hello, I mean, I already look older. Once you start messing with nature in order to look younger, you may have solved a problem but you’ve set yourself up for another, bigger, more endless one, which is worrying about how that problem is going to stay solved. I’m going to take a wild guess that whatever expression you get on your face when you’re thinking about whether whatever you did to your hair/face/ass actually works and/or what you’re going to do to keep it working makes you look a whole lot less attractive than whatever expression you get on your face when you’re thinking about, well, just about anything else.

I would like to add that if I had a job where I thought looking young in a certain way mattered, I would still be dyeing my hair. That stylist out there tending Connie Britton’s split ends, is, as far as I’m concerned, just as virtuous as I am.


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Tags: going gray