Going Gray for 48 Hours

A woman tries out going gray for 48 hours to find out how gray hair changes the way people treat her.

By Mackenzie Brown

Going From Blonde to GrayWomen in my family do not age gracefully. We scream at mirrors, hurl expletives at our birth certificates, and yank our skin back at the mere suggestion of sagginess. My mother sobbed on her 21st birthday, for heaven’s sake — and this apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree. So when I took this challenge to find out how the older half lives by wearing a gray wig for two days, first in Boston, then in New York, I’m nonplussed. "You mean I’ll put on my usual clothes, eat my usual food, shop in the usual places — the only difference being the color of my hair?" "Think of it as a sneak preview of your life 20 or 30 years from now," they say. I haven’t been planning to let myself go gray, ever. But I’m willing to try it for 48 hours.Boston, day one of my experiment. I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to talk myself into leaving my friend Amy’s apartment wearing this wig. Said wig is actually quite fetching, much more so than my own baby-fine mop. Sure, it draws attention to certain lines around my mouth I wasn’t aware I had, but I’m shocked to report that I actually like the way I look. It’s just that, well, this thing makes me feel like I have a cat on my head. Surely the minute I walk out the door, people will shout, "Impostor!"Okay. I’ve been outside exactly 14 seconds, and no one seems to be paying attention to the young fogy inching her way down Beacon Street. Just ahead, two shirtless construction workers hammer away on an old house. The closer I get, the less they hammer — they’ve noticed me. Could they be less subtle with their let’s-go-to-the-nearest-cheap-motel stares? Then again, I don’t speak Spanish. How do I know these guys aren’t saying, "Hey hombre, don’t you just love how women can be both beautiful and intellectually stimulating at any age?" What normally seems like harassment suddenly feels more like an affirmation. If it’s possible, I think I just enjoyed being ogled.The Invisible Gray-Haired WomanEveryone at the Boston Sports Club is huffing and puffing, frantically trying to retard the aging process. Yet here I am flaunting my gray hair, sending the message that — oh, the sacrilege! — I’m okay with looking older. Suddenly, I feel giddily rebellious, like I’m taking Communion in a see-through dress. I hit the treadmill and run a few miles, slowly, so as not to disturb my hairpiece. People are checking each other out right and left, but no one even looks at me. I guess it’s true that women become invisible after a certain age. But, contrary to what I expected, being ignored doesn’t bother me. For the first time in months, I’m actually paying attention to my workout instead of worrying that my fellow gym-goers are fixating on my back fat.For no apparent reason, my treadmill suddenly shuts down. I ask the cute blond 30-something guy to my right for help restarting it. He just shrugs and keeps running. Would you treat your mother this way, young man? Or, for that matter, your prematurely-gray-yet-undeniably-hip friend?In the weight room, trainers mill about, looking bored, so I’m surprised no one asks if I need help when I struggle with the 10-pound dumbbells. I’m usually accosted by gym staff trying to improve my form. When I finally ask a female trainer for tips, she tells me to pull in my butt, without a hint of condescension: the exact opposite of the way trainers treat me without the wig. Here’s at least one positive; service types actually respect their elders.I soar to the locker room, high on endorphins and feeling buff — until a 60-ish woman with the body of Jennifer Aniston walks by. Arrgh. I’m going to have to move into the gym if I’m ever going to look that good. When I work out in New York the following day, I get a lot more attention, most notably from a trainer who rushes over to help me lift weights, chirping, "Does your back hurt? You have the posture of a slouching 13-year-old!" I choose to take this as a compliment — it’s been a long time since anyone said I look like a teenager. Not everyone is so happy to see me. A Pretty Young Thing gives me the evil eye as she waits for my elliptical trainer. What the hell is her problem? Oh, wait.

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