An Experiment in Going Gray

I have friends who intend to color their hair until the day they die. I have other friends who are going grey quietly, gracefully. They need no fanfare. They aren’t having existential angst. They haven’t wasted years and dollars fighting it.

But enough about them.

Tomorrow is my 44th birthday, and I am cutting off my hair, and experimenting with letting it grow in au naturale. I started coloring it for fun in my teens, because I’d get bored with it. I’d go from my natural brunette to light brown. I’d go auburn. In my thirties, I started seeing some grey, and continued to color it(except when I was pregnant). I almost always did it myself, at home out of a box. A while back I got blond highlights wanting to look good for my 25th high school reunion. It cost a fortune. I’ve kept it up,(barely) going way long in between foil sessions, mostly looking like crap, mostly worn in a ponytail anyway.

Sitting in the chair at the salon for these “touch-ups,” I always have an anxiety attack about the money. I’ve conjured visions of home hair highlighting parties with my friends. I’ve shaken my fist (in my mind) about the cost. What the hell? Why so much money? Who gets paid this much for any service? And why aren’t hair stylists living in luxury? Someone is making a bundle, but it seems like it isn’t the actual stylists doing my hair.

I’ll admit I didn’t have so much angst before the highlights. Some concern about the chemicals, yes, but who cares if I spend ten bucks at home every couple of months?

But lately, I’ve been questioning what my real hair even looks like after all these years. I see women with gorgeous heads of silver and I envy them. I envy the self-acceptance. I envy the freedom.

In Mutant Message Down Under, a book I read years ago, the narrator goes on a walk-about with an aborigine tribe in the Australian Outback.  As her bleached hair grows in dark at the roots, they take it as a sign she is assimilating with the group, getting wiser, more like them.

I ponder this. Is it wiser not to color? Not to give in to society’s demands about how we as women are supposed to look? Not to bow down to an industry designed to make us feel insecure so we buy more products and services? Not to waste precious hours and dollars fighting the tides? Or is it smarter to go with the flow and do what the majority of women in our culture do and cover up those grays? There is no denying the lift you feel walking out of the salon, feeling “put together” after a cut and color. That is one of the reasons I continued to get the highlights. It made me feel somehow un-frumpified.

Is that in itself a bit messed up?

In my heart of hearts I know there is no “right” answer. Each woman must decide for herself what feels right and for me I honestly don’t know. I reserve the right to flow back and forth. If I hate it, I’ll go back to coloring. I don’t have to make it a big moral issue. I just have to feel good about whatever I decide.

So I’m going to try it.

But I’m vain. I worry. Will I look washed out? Will I look mousy? Will I look (gasp) old?

I am not willing to mess around with trying to blend the color I’ve got. I’m not adding gray highlights. It sounds like a whole lotta back and forth and more money and blah blah blah. I’m going to cut it off, cold turkey, let it grow in and see. That’s how I do things. I’ll take a good long time sitting on the fence, but once I make a decision, that’s it.

So I’m doing it. I’m getting a super short cut. I’m scared I’ll look ugly. That I won’t have the face for it. I might wear hats and scarves for months. I might say forget the whole thing and color it immediately. I hope I’ll be okay with it.

That photo above? That’s the day I had my hair done at the salon last time. It never really looks like that. It usually looks more like this:

The highlights are pulled back in a pony, and the grey peeks through at the roots anyway.

What exactly am I clinging to?

Friends, I’m going in. Wish me luck.

It’s just hair, right?

*Todd is fully supportive (but that might be just his wallet talking).

** This website has a lot of short hair cuts. I’m not doing a funky buzz cut, but I do like Ginnifer Goodwin’s and Carey Mulligan’s cuts. I’ve also been reading this book, a memoir about going gray. And this blog is another inspiring resource if you are considering letting your silver shine through.

*** This was written yesterday. I’m actually getting my hair cut today. Wish me luck!

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13 Responses to An Experiment in Going Gray

  1. Heather says:

    Oh, I’m betting it will look fantastic! I can’t wait to see your awesome new ‘do’! <3

  2. Kelly says:

    Good luck!
    I’ve been going gray since I was 21. I’m now almost 43, and I’m about 75% there, and the front of my hair is 100% gray (the bangs section). I suppose if I just had a smattering a gray like most friends my age I’d probably wait to color. In fact I did wait to color until the bangs started to get heavy with gray in my late 30′s. I just don’t think with that much gray I’d feel comfortable going natural just yet. The question in my mind now is at what point will I feel comfortable going natural? My mom at 67 has yet to go with her natural color. Of course this is a woman who has not gray yet. Man…I wish I had her hair genes.

  3. Meg says:

    You know my hair color history! I say go for it – it’s only hair; it can be changed again (and again, and again, and….).
    This week I tried to color mine what my best guess is my “natural” color: dark ash blonde. I am going to see how the gray looks as it comes in and I may just let it stay. We shall see.

  4. *m* says:

    Change is good! Good luck and enjoy it!

  5. Melinda says:

    You are beautiful regardless of your hair color! “Mutant Message” is one of my favorite books. :)

  6. Amanda says:

    Good luck!! I tried cutting mine short and hated it but I’m glad I tried if for size. As for greys, I colour mine and will do until its all grey, once I get to that point I’m hoping it’ll be that gorgeous silvery colour but knowing my luck it’ll be steel grey and ill still be dying it!!

  7. gretchen says:

    Okay, so now I have to spend the next 24 hours obsessively checking your website for a photo update? Thanks, Michelle, thanks a lot. :)

    Also, happy birthday!

    (I’m ridiculously excited for you, if that counts for anything. Look how brave you are!)

  8. Carrie Link says:

    I’ve often thought that grey hair is the one thing every human on the planet has in common, eventually. No matter how else we’re different, we all end up grey. I’m proud of you, and can’t wait to see the “after” pictures!

  9. kario says:

    I can’t wait to see. No matter what the hairdo looks like, your spirit will shine through and so I’m certain you will look terrific. I am somewhat vain (and it’s hard for me to think of you in that way), but my cheap nature has always won out when it comes to doing my hair, so I’m going grey, too. Viva la naturale!

  10. Well, good luck! You’ll be beautiful no matter. One thing I’ll point out about coloring hair is that women (and men) the world over, in so many cultures, primitive and industrial, have been ornamenting themselves with paint and color and decoration for thousands of years. So go easy on yourself — as far as condemning — I think it’s a natural thing to go gray, but it’s also natural to ornament yourself!

  11. jancsnow says:

    Happy birthday, beautiful girl. Hard to imagine a haircut – or anything at all – that ever could make YOU ugly. Much easier said than done but a worthy goal for us all is to see ourselves with kinder eyes. (not doing that well with it myself, as you know . . ) Enjoy your day.

  12. Me says:

    You are my hero.

    PS Right this minute my timer says 10:24 because I have color on my eyebrows… 10:16… 10:10…

  13. Me says:

    9:49… 9:44…