The Gray Area: Confessions of a Highlights Girl

When my first strands of gray started coming in, I swore to myself that I'd never dye my hair to hide them. Um … I lied.

My friend, Cara, has long, silky gray hair. Her hair is beautiful — she is beautiful — in her natural state.

Tallulah, another of my friends, also beautiful, is completely gray and hides that fact by dyeing her hair a color that matches, as closely as possible, the color she once was: striking brunette.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has not been seen with a strand of gray in her hair since she entered middle age. My husband barely remembers her as a brunette. She makes frequent visits to the salon, and is, I believe, what’s called a “bottle blonde.” Yet she’s confided in me that she’d like to let herself go gray but that her husband, my father-in-law, prefers her blonde and, in his eyes, is therefore more youthful-looking.

When my own strands of gray started coming in, I swore to myself that I would never dye my hair to hide them. I was middle-aged and OK with that fact. I knew a lot more about life than I had in my 20s, and that seemed a good trade-off. But then I got a few more such hairs, and a few more. I wasn’t completely gray, but those gray hairs were definitely visible — at least to me, if no one else. And despite my strong belief in “going natural” and not hiding what you have become or are becoming, I didn’t like those pesky new hairs. I held on for a while, though. I let those peek-a-boo strands show, although I was secretly (or maybe not so secretly) thrilled when my girlfriends said to me, “What are you talking about? I don’t see any gray at all!”

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But I grew angry toward myself for being so thrilled. I felt superficial because I cared so much about my looks, couldn’t face the inevitable, and was allowing the “male-driven patriarchy” to define me, blah blah blah! Wasn’t I supposed to accept myself as I truly was, without artifice or trickery? Was I trying to live up to some impossible, idealized version of myself? And wasn’t I prouder of those friends of mine who hadn’t succumbed to societal pressure and who felt terrific with their totally natural, untouched gray tresses than I was of myself?

One friend, Roslyn, showed me photos of herself pre-gray, before I knew her (she’d been a redhead). I swear she’s more beautiful now, looking more grounded, wise and capable, as a “grayhead.” And when I looked at men, I was always happier to see an overtly bald, or balding man, rather than one with a comb-over or a toupee.

My mother had straight brown hair that turned silver, and she left it that way. In her final years, she sported a chin-length bob, like a '20s movie star, and the cut made the silver shine. I loved her looks, but as for me, my hair falls to my collarbone, and it’s wavy and delicately fine, not straight like hers. My gray strands still only play peek-a-boo and have not covered my whole head. Yet to my own surprise, I suspect, more than to anyone else’s, I have succumbed to pressures both external and internal, and for the past few years, I’ve been getting a treatment at the salon that’s called “full highlights.” It intersperses a blonde color with the rest of my brown and occasionally gray hair. It’s meant to look natural and as though my hair is having itself a grand old time boasting three different colors while minimizing the gray. Superficial as I may be, highlights make me feel better about myself.

RELATED: Not Dyeing to Look Younger

What will I do should I go completely gray? Highlights won’t work then. Will I follow my mother-in-law’s footsteps and go completely blonde (or maybe even red, if I want to be really bold!)? My husband swears he will find me beautiful in gray or any other color. Or will I follow my mother’s footsteps and be silvery and bobbed, hearkening to an earlier fashion? I can’t predict now because I certainly had never predicted I’d become a “highlights girl.” Whatever I do, I trust that my friends and family, with their own broad spectrum of hair color choices, will accept me and feel proud of me for following my (I admit it — growing-older) heart.

Tags: beauty

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