It was a time for all good women to come to the aid of their fellow female. I needed help. I was at a crossroads. A big, fluffy, aging decision was staring back at me from my all-too-well-lit bathroom mirror.
It all began about six weeks ago. My evening at work started like any other evening. As customers made their way up to my desk, one of them, Twiggy, smiled at me then made a proclamation that has rocked my world since.
“You’re hair looks so pretty,” she said.
Thinking perhaps there was someone standing behind me to whom she was speaking, I spun around to look. Nobody was there. Perhaps she had a few nips before coming here tonight, I thought to myself. The poor thing is delusional. Sweet, but delusional.
“What?” I exclaimed, looking at her as if she’d just landed on this planet to visit with earthlings.
“Your hair. It looks so pretty. It’s lighter; it looks softer.”
Lighter. What a wonderful euphemism. “It hasn’t been colored in weeks. That’s gray,” I explained.
“Well, it looks great.”
I couldn't think of anything else after that. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn't eat. Well, okay, I could eat cookies. But still, I couldn't function well.
Two days later, I was back at work in another location. A different woman casually commented, “I love your hair.”
What was wrong with people? It was a mess - unwashed, uncombed, uncouth.
Again, handling the situation with grace, I replied, “My hair? You’ve got to be kidding me. I haven’t even washed it today. Ugh.”
“It looks great,” she replied.
“Ummm. Okay. Thanks.”
It was as if the worse my hair looked, the more the female population commented. It was time to take an informal poll.
While talking to my friend Reba about my hair encounters, she said, “Oh, I noticed that it was lighter the other day. It looks better like that.”
“It looks great. Me? I have too much gray. I’ll always color,” said the fiery redhead.
Hmm. An eternal dyer telling me my natural gray looked good. Was this some kind of conspiracy by other women to enhance their own appearances? Did they adhere to the “If you want to look younger, surround yourself with gray-haired friends” philosophy? Did Twiggy like my hair because she, herself, had gone gray - the “light hair loves company” mentality? Don’t get me wrong. I love gray, silver, and white hair. I think it’s beautiful. On other people. I have beautiful snow-topped friends, and I know some women who dye their hair grayer on purpose. But I have a fear of the unknown, especially when it grows of its own volition from the top of my head.
It was time to poll more non-grays.
“Coco, I need help.”
She looked at me with genuine concern in her eyes.
“But you have to tell me the truth. I need to know the truth,” I said.
“Okay,” she replied.
“My hair. I need to know what to do about my hair. It’s been over three months since I colored, and now I’m getting compliments on the gray. But I don’t want to look older.” As if 20-year-olds everywhere are sporting naturally gray hair; of course I would look older, I admonished myself. “Well, you know, I want people to think I look younger than I am,” I added.
“Okay, I did notice more gray in it tonight,” Coco began.
Aha. Finally, some honesty, I thought. I held my breath, waiting for the rest of her reply.
“But I don’t think you’d look older going gray, because you have such great skin.” Ah. What a wonderful shot in the arm to my vanity. It was a new angle to explore.
Next, I questioned my friend Lylas. “I don’t think it would make you look older. Some of your hair that’s not colored is darker than the still-dyed hair,” she reasoned. But later the same evening, Lylas said, “I think you should color it.”
“What changed your mind?” I asked.
“Because you’re still thinking about it. And talking about it.” It was true. My OCD, Obsessive Coiffure Dilemma, had taken over my brain cells, and permeated our entire evening out. Nothing else mattered.
All this has happened in the midst of other life changes. And I have a history of making hairy decisions after traumatic or monumental events. After big break-ups, I’d get a perm or blonde highlights. My senior year in high school, before graduation, I cut my down-to-my-posterior hair into a pageboy style. When I turned 40, and my hair was still beautifully brunette, I cut it short again, and pretended it looked like Annette Bening’s hair in The American President.
“You dye your hair?” my brother, Doc, asked me when I was 40.
“Hmm. It sure is dark.”
“Jealous?” I asked the White-Haired Man. I suppose he inherited his frosty locks from Dad, whose dark hair turned entirely white by the time he was in his 40s.
A few years later, when I decided to dye, I kept my little secret to myself. Until my nephew Isaac asked, entirely too loudly on Christmas day, “Aunt Kim, do you dye your hair?” My youthful façade dropped to the ground, shattering into a million lying pieces.
“Shhh. Don’t tell the others. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
But it was too late. Somehow, possibly due to keen eyesight, the family figured it out, one by one. I was a fake. My fountain of youth came from a tube. There was no turning back to the days of illusion; I was out of the hair-coloring closet.
My friend Rosebud and I have discussed when we’d go gray, planning it like the unveiling of a graceful masterpiece. We both thought we’d hold out for 60. But now, I’m thinking of taking the silver plunge.
“You’re really stressed right now,” Rosebud texted me this week. “This might not be the best time to make hair decisions. Be careful.” That advice from the woman who has a one-way ticket to the Terrifying Land of Unknown Hairdressers; her own hairdresser had the audacity to have knee surgery, so Rosebud will have her tresses cut and dyed by a stranger. “I hope my hair doesn’t come out purple,” she added. Obviously, I couldn’t trust Rosebud’s input regarding my hair, if she’s so willing to sacrifice her own locks.
Apparently, my plight was affecting my friends more than I had realized. A couple of days ago, Lylas texted me an article about going gray: why it happens, what kind of shampoos can keep gray hair bright, and how to keep from looking washed out with a fair complexion and gray hair – all things I needed to know if I decided to show my true colors.
Finally, I decided to poll Flash. Mom's words regarding common perceptions of aging echoed in my head, "Men become distinguished; women get old." Indeed. And I didn't want to become, literally, Flash's "old lady."
"Do you like my hair dyed, or do you think it would look okay with more gray showing?" I asked Flash.
The last time I'd asked him about hair color preference, he'd said he liked it darker. What ensued afterwards was The Inquisition. This time, he did what any good husband would do. Slowly and deliberately, he replied, “I think it would look good either way.”
“Oh, that’s a huge help, Babe,” I replied sarcastically, knowing he’d just saved our marriage.
For a week, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror for 45 minutes every day. I pulled my hair back, away from my forehead. Gray, brunette, blonde, red, silver. They were all present and accounted for - all the colors of the Geriatric Rainbow. But the closer I looked at my part line, the more I saw only brunette, with gray and silver strands quickly taking over.
That’s what my hair will look like all over, I told myself. Am I ready?
My last poll participant was my friend Sandra, at church.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“Oh my gosh. I stared at your hair all through Sunday School today. You have lots of different colors, too.” Since my crisis started, my social skills had rapidly declined. “I need to talk to you about my hair. I’m trying to decide if I’d look older if I quit dying it.”
“I love you hair.” There it was again. Sandra loved my hair, too. “I had to dye mine because the gray is only on the top,” she explained.
“Yes,” I replied, “I won’t do that two-tone thing I see out there, where it’s gray on top and a darker, dyed color lower down. Like they need to have it colored, but they’ve been too busy or they just don’t realize how bad it looks. I’ll highlight to ease in the gray, if I have to. And I won’t do the Pepe Le Pew thing, where a gray stripe goes from the top of the head down the length of the hair, while the rest of the hair’s still dark. I’ve seen skunk women; that will never happen to me in this lifetime. With my fair skin and a skunk stripe, I’d be today’s Lily Munster.”
“Oh, no - no skunk here either,” she replied. “But your gray is throughout your hair. It has…character.”
Character? She did not just say character, I shrieked to myself. I’m too young to have character. Character – to the aging, the equivalent of “But she has a great personality.”
I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and scream, “Take that back!” Instead, I hugged her and thanked her. After all, she may be in my predicament one day, and I’ll be more than happy to offer my opinion on her character.
For weeks, as I pondered to dye or not to dye, my hair grew to lengths it hasn’t seen in years. With length, and a multitude of split ends, comes frizz. I had become an aging poodle. Last week, my neighbor’s dog ran up to me, with an amorous look in his eyes. I showed him my opposable thumbs, so he moved on to his next interest.
Two days ago, I called my hairdresser, Noni, at her home, the day before my appointment with her. I considered it a pre-briefing.
“I’m coming in tomorrow for a haircut and I may want to go gray and I need help with what color eyebrow pencil to use and how to do this gracefully and I won’t be a skunk. Please use your creative magic and help me.”
That’s right. I use an eyebrow pencil. That started a year and a half ago, when my make-up artist friend, Julia, worked wonders for me before my first photo shoot, for my website pictures. I’d wondered why so many women my age used pencils. It seemed silly. Why draw on eyebrows? We came with eyebrows; it was part of the factory design. But after seeing my brows filled in with light brown, I was hooked. I’d never noticed how much “lighter” my eyebrows had become, until I’d seen them enhanced. A whole new world opened up to me in the area of brow hair.
Accustomed to my occasional hair emergencies, Noni simply replied, “Okay, no problem.” She’s my Hair Angel.
And so, dear reader, I walked into that hair establishment, and made my decision. I’ve gone au naturel. We’ll see how my public responds over the next few weeks. In giving up my semi-permanent color, am I sacrificing my semi-permanent youth? Will those compliments keep coming? Or will boy scouts attempt to help me cross the street? Will men whisper, “Who’s that silver-haired fox?” Or will Denny’s bring me the senior menu?
Only time will tell. If I decide to go back to the World of Color, I will do so with my head held high, pretending my hair is its natural color. Above all else, I’ll do whatever it takes to never become a woman with character.