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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.