Back to My Roots: A Diary of Going Gray

Anne Kreamer decided to stop coloring her hair and embrace her gray natural look. This is her journey back to her roots.

By Anne Kreamer
Anne Kreamer, before and after.
Photograph: Photo by: Chris Fanning

September 6

I succumb. I get four inches cut from my hair. And I am genuinely happy with the results. It feels sleek and light and sophisticated. My bangs are long enough to not look stupid, and if I blow my hair dry, it looks great. It shines in the sun, looking vital and healthy. One thing I’ve noticed lately: The hair of almost any woman over 40 who dyes it looks a little lifeless. There is either too much color, deadening the look, or the color washes out and makes the hair look brittle. I genuinely love the variety of shades and nuance that are part of my natural color. And every year more white will replace the gray and allow me to feel subtly different. I won’t ever need to think about changing it because it will do so naturally. Unanticipated bonus.

September 12

By going gray now, I get a sort of Steve Martin effect. I will look older until friends adjust to my new color, but when I’m 55 and 60, I won’t look very different from the way I do now.

September 23

In yoga class a woman sets up her mat in front of mine and says, "Your hair looks fantastic. I’ve been watching over the past few months and you’ve given me the courage to think about quitting coloring my own hair." I tell her she’s made my day.

September 25

I’m waiting to meet one of my daughters at the movies, and a slightly heavy 20-something guy stops directly in front of me and says, "Hey, beautiful, what are you doing out here all by yourself?" I smile as he walks past and say nothing. He is hitting on old lady me. Not so bad.

Winter 2005/Spring 2006

November 27

I turn 50. I don’t do anything big for this birthday — just a fancy dinner out with the family — but I feel whole and happy. The year I turned 40, in some I-want-to-be-a-rock-star fantasy, I had dyed my hair jet black. A comedy-writer friend had quipped, "You look like your evil twin." When I walked into my house with my newly black hair, both of my kids, then 5 and 7, burst into tears. This year I’m not reeking with that getting-old anxiety. I’ve savored (as well as anguished over) this process. It reminds me of the slow food movement: One trains oneself to really savor the full experience of eating. I’ve come to love my real hair and my real age.

December 27

On vacation in Florida, I have an epiphany of sorts: My hair is a metaphor for how I’ve lived my life. Growing up, I changed colors all the time, particularly when I needed a pick-me-up or a sense that I had control over my life. I am a total control freak — from how I load the dishwasher to never letting my husband drive when I’m in the car, to my workouts, to wanting my kids to be perfect. (I could go on.) Perfectly dyed hair meant everything was under control. But if I can allow my hair to be its natural color, perhaps I can be just a bit more relaxed in the rest of my life. And trust me, everyone in my life would welcome a more relaxed me.

Spring 2006

The metamorphosis is complete. There is no artificial color left in my hair. It is purely, wholly, grayly me. I continue to work out regularly — more, in fact, than I ever did in my young adulthood. I intend to buy new clothes for summer: a new palette and silhouette to go with my new color and sleeker self. My husband likes it (as long as I refrain from tucking it behind my ears); my kids no longer notice it. And, like childbirth, I’ve already forgotten the pain and angst of the transition. I know now that that fleeting, heart-sinking glance at the snapshot of my daughter and me was a gift — one of those rare small catalysts that leads to a new way of looking at oneself and the world.

Anne Kreamer’s book, inspired by this piece, will be published by Little, Brown in Fall 2007.

Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2006.

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Comments

03.24.2014

I am glad I found this article it gives me hope. I have been growing my hair out for 5 months now and its at that stage where I am getting offers from colorists off the street about discounts on getting my hair done. I guess in L.A. it's hard to comprehend the going gray.
I am 55 and 2 of my younger sisters have done this and look beautiful. I made the decision without consulting the man I am dating. And he told me the other day that he thought the gray hair was sexy.

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